Thursday, 30 November 2006


We will be out all morning on Saturday (the girls' music school end-of-term concert) and I will be out all afternoon (the great decluttering exercise), leaving no time to cook. The alternative? A traditional Jewish Sabbath meal, cholent. Orthodox Jews do not cook between sunset on Friday evening and sunset on Saturday, so all Sabbath meals must be prepared in advance. Some are eaten cold, but this one is cooked slowly overnight. Just what I need - prepare on Friday, eat on Saturday ... and let Tevye savour one of the tastes of his childhood.

My standby Jewish cookery book (OK, my only Jewish cookery book - The Complete International Jewish Cookbook by Evelyn Rose) says about cholent that "this ancient Sabbath concoction is best defined as 'any dish that has the stamina to stand up to 24 hours in the oven' ". She also describes the origins of cholent:
The cholent ritual was an important part of Jewish life in the Polish villages of the nineteenth century. Each family would mark its pot with chalk, and tie it with string before sending it to be cooked in the baker's oven. It was a tragedy indeed if a child should drop the hot dish on the way home, and the whole village would give a spoonful to make up the family's meal. In those cholents, potatoes and 'kasha' (groats) were the main ingredients, with a good meat bone to help the flavour. But the richer communities, where kosher meat was more readily available, would put in a good chunk of boneless brisket or top rib. Jews who came to Britain in the latter years of the nineteenth century continued to make their cholent just as they had done in 'der heim', putting in butter beans or barley for variety, and topping the dish with a fluffy 'knaidel' or dumpling; they found it an ideal way of feeding their large families in the days when a joint, as we know it today, was beyond the finance of most immigrants. The cholent cooked to perfection in the coal oven, as it had done in the wood ovens of of Russia and Poland.
Ingredients (Serves 6)
1 lb butter (dried lima) beans (canned beans work fine if you prefer)
3 lb piece of boneless brisket
Salt,pepper, paprika and ginger
2 tablespoons chicken fat; or 2 oz (¼ cup) margarine
3 sliced onions
1 clove garlic, crushed (I omit the garlic)
1 bayleaf
6 peeled whole potatoes (I prefer them cut into chunks)

Soak the butter (lima) beans in water to cover overnight, drain well.
Rub the brisket with the salt, pepper, paprika and ginger, then brown quickly in the fat or margarine, together with the onions and garlic.
Put in a deep earthenware casserole (a hot-pot dish or Dutch oven is ideal).
Add the bayleaf, drained soaked beans, and the potatoes or barley.
Cover with boiling water, cover the dish and put in oven at Gas Mk 5 / 400 deg F / 200 deg C for 30 minutes or until contents start to bubble.
Turn heat down to Gas Mk ½ / 250 deg F / 130 deg C and leave overnight.
Serve for lunch the next day.

As our gas oven has been behaving erratically recently (putting itself out, but for some unknown reason only when Tevye cooks Sunday lunch - so far it has behaved itself perfectly for me!) I'm going to try using the crockpot instead. I'm thinking that an hour or so on high followed by a long, slow simmer on low should work nicely. [Edited to add: The crockpot did the job fine. I checked it in the morning, added some extra seasoning and adjusted the temperature (my slow cooker cooks ridiculously slowly on low, so I boosted it with an extra couple of hours on high). I also thickened the liquid by adding a little cornflour dissolved in cold water.]

The end result is meat that is falling-apart tender, with potatoes and beans so thoroughly soaked in the juices that they turn a deep orange colour right through. More winter comfort food!

Mustn't forget to put those beans in to soak tonight ...

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Auntie's Cook Books

As a young woman my mother left home (which was not a happy one) and found lodgings with a Methodist minister and his wife. Childless themselves, they took her into their hearts as well as their home and became "Auntie" and "Uncle" to her. For my brother and myself Auntie and Uncle were grandparents in all but name and dearly beloved. They both died over thirty years ago, but I still miss them badly.

Sorting through my mother's bookshelves last week we unearthed two old and battered cook books that were Auntie's. The first is a tatty memo book with recipes handwritten in pencil. The second is the A.B.C. Cookery Book, a small book held together with tape, published in Blackburn, Lancashire, in 1928. Both are full of simple recipes - old-fashioned home cooking (my strong point), not fancy dishes for entertaining (I don't go there!). What a joy it will be to keep memories alive through this special link between Auntie's kitchen and mine.

Here ia recipe from Auntie's notebook, to whet your appetite ...

Shrewsbury Biscuits
(or cookies, if you speak American! I chose this recipe because my mother used to live with Auntie and Uncle in Shrewsbury - home of Cadfael, Ellis Peters' monk detective.)

4 oz (½ cup) butter
4 oz (½ cup) sugar
little lemon rind or 2 oz (¼ cup) currants
1 egg
about 8 oz (2 cups) flour
pinch salt

Beat butter and sugar to cream. Add lemon rind or currants. Add beaten egg and flour alternately. Form into paste, Turn out on floured board, roll out thinly, cut, put on greased tin. Bake in moderately hot oven 10-15 minutes.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

Shipwreck Stew

Last night's dinner was shipwreck stew. I found this crockpot recipe on the internet, but now I can only find numerous other variations so I can't link to the recipe. The version I use is very, very simple to throw together, and all four of us enjoy it (we'll gloss over the fact that one daughter picks out the potatoes and her sister picks out the beans, and then they swap!). It makes a good winter warmer, and the recipe can easily be doubled or trebled to cater for a large family or guests.

Ingredients (Serves 4)
1 lb / 500g minced beef (hamburger?)
1 onion, chopped
2 or 3 large potatoes, cubed
1 can kidney beans, including liquid
1 can condensed tomato soup

Brown the mince and onion.
Put all ingredients in crockpot and stir well.

That's all there is to it! I cook it on high for 4 hours, though the recipe says low for 4-5 hours - my crockpot would need a lot longer than this on the low setting. I serve it with a green vegetable.

Sunday, 26 November 2006

Christmas Pudding

Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Collect for the Sunday before the First Sunday of Advent, Book of Common Prayer)
Today is Stir-Up Sunday, the day for stirring up Christmas puddings, an essential part of dinner for Christmas Day here in England. We won't be making ours today, but Star and I will be preparing them next week. Until this year my mother has always made them, but standing for any length of time is too painful as she waits for her hip replacement operation (she now has a date for surgery ... December 18th!), so I have inherited the job along with the family recipe she has always used.

Christmas puddings are normally very rich affairs, laced with quantities of brandy or rum, but our recipe is a lighter, alcohol-free version. It came from Mum's adoptive aunt, who inherited it from her mother. They were Methodists, hence the teetotal pudding. I love Christmas pudding in any shape or form, but often people who dislike other Christmas puds enjoy ours. Here is the recipe ...

8 oz breadcrumbs
8 oz plain flour
8 oz suet (we use the vegetarian version)
8 oz currants
8 oz sultanas
4 oz raisins
a little mixed peel
2 tsp salt
8 oz castor sugar
2 tsp mixed spice
rind and juice of 2 lemons
6 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 grated apples
2 grated carrots
4 oz glace cherries, quartered
1 or 2 tbsp black treacle (dark molasses?)
a little milk if mixture is stiff

Mix all ingredients together and beat well
Put in greased pudding moulds (should be about two-thirds full)
Cover with greaseproof paper
Steam for 3 to 4 hours.

After steaming remove the greaseproof paper and cover with foil. These puddings are not rich so will only keep for about 6 weeks, though they can be frozen if you want to keep them longer. Steam a second time for at least 3 hours, and serve with any combination of brandy sauce, brandy butter, custard or cream. I need to check just how many puddings this quantity of mixture will make, but I think it would probably be two 2 pound puddings and two 1 pound puddings, or thereabouts.

Note: If anyone in the US is interested in making these, let me know and I can post conversions into cups.

Yorkshire Pudding

Yorkshire pudding is a batter pudding usually eaten with roast beef. In Yorkshire it was traditionally served in large slabs with gravy before the beef itself - the idea being that the stodgy pudding would fill up empty stomachs if poverty made the main course meagre. It can be made either as one large pudding, or as individual muffin sized puddings (my preference).

Ingredients (makes 12)
4 oz (1 cup) flour
½ pint (1¼ cups) milk
1 egg
Pinch of salt


Mix ingredients and whisk. Leave to stand for 30 minutes.
Heat oven to Gas Mark 7 (425 deg). Brush muffin tins with oil and heat.
Whisk batter again.
Half fill muffin tins with batter.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until risen and golden.
Serve immediately.

If you want one large pudding, bake in an 8 x 11 inch roasting tin or 9 inch square cake tin for about 30 to 35 minutes.

Chicken, mushroom and potato bake

The chicken and potato bake on yesterday's dinner menu mutated from the recipe I planned to use and came out well enough to get positive votes all round. If I post the adapted recipe here, I have a fighting chance of being able to recreate it next time this week's menu comes round ...

Ingredients (Serves 4)
4 chicken portions, cooked (I actually used three large chicken breasts)
4 large or 6 medium potatoes, cooked and mashed with butter
1 can condensed mushroom soup
8oz mushrooms, sliced
Soy sauce (about 1/2 tablespoon)
Garlic salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)

Mix can of soup with half a can of water (I used water in which I had simmered the chicken breasts), soy sauce and garlic salt.
Layer mushrooms, chicken and soup mix.
Spread potato over the top.
Bake for 30 minutes at Gas Mark 6 / 400 deg

Could easily be made in advance ready to bake, and would freeze well.

Menu Plan: Week 4

While I am posting menus, here is Week 4.

Lunch: Roast lamb, roast potatoes and vegetables
Dinner: Sandwiches

Lunch: Tuna sandwiches
Dinner: Shipwreck stew, green vegetables (a crockpot recipe I found on the internet with minced beef - hamburger? - potatoes, beans and tomato soup. Very easy, very tasty)

Lunch: Baked beans on toast
Dinner: Chicken and mushroom casserole, broccoli, mashed potatoes

Lunch: French bread with chicken tikka
Dinner: Chicken pie, roast potatoes, sauteed cabbage (frozen ready-made chicken pie, not home cooked - Waitrose roast chicken pie, for anyone in the UK who wants to know)

Lunch: Egg mayonnaise sandwiches
Dinner: Oven chips (fries), fish fingers, carrots

Lunch: Cauliflower cheese
Dinner: Pasta with tuna and sweetcorn

Lunch: Vegetable soup, homemade bread
Dinner: Scones and cake

Menu Plan: Week 3

Our menu for Week 3 ...

Lunch: Roast chicken, roast potatoes and vegetables
Dinner: Sandwiches

Lunch: Turkey rasher sandwiches (we use turkey instead of bacon)
Dinner: Potato wedges, fish fingers, sweetcorn

Lunch: Cheese omelette and baked beans
Dinner: Lamb stew and dumplings

Lunch: French bread pizza
Dinner: Chicken stir fry

Lunch: Turkey sandwiches
Dinner: Baked potatoes and cauliflower cheese

Lunch: Pasta with tomato and cheese sauce
Dinner: Fish and chips (fries!) (from the takeaway, not homemade)

Lunch: Beefburgers or steak sandwiches
Dinner: Hot takeaway chicken, crusty bread

Menu Plan: Week 2

On the menu for Week 2 of my four week rotation ...

Lunch: Turkey joint, roast potatoes and vegetables
Dinner: Sandwiches

Lunch: Pitta bread and houmous
Dinner: Crockpot beef and mushrooms, peas

Lunch: Poached eggs on toast
Dinner: Pasta with chicken, red pesto and creme fraiche (very easy, Star ate this with green pesto when visiting a friend and nagged until I asked for the recipe)

Lunch: Cheese bagels
Dinner: Shepherd's pie, carrots

Lunch: Tuna and cucumber sandwiches
Dinner: Grilled chicken, potato wedges, green veg

Lunch: Pizza
Dinner: Salmon, rice or potato, sweetcorn

Lunch: Vegetable soup and crusty bread (homemade soup with carrot, swede - rutabaga? - and potato)
Dinner: Homemade scones and cake (more of an afternoon tea than a dinner!)

Most days we have fruit for dessert after dinner, depending on what is on offer at any given time. This week it has been mainly pineapple and satsuma. Occasionally I will cook something, but not often. A friend gave me surplus apples from her tree, so I ought to make something with them - probably an apple crumble on Sunday.

Menu Plan: Week 1

I am now officially organised ... in one area, at least. I have a menu plan. I used to have a rolling four week menu which worked beautifully for a while, but it somehow fell apart due to inertia quite some time before pregnancy would have rendered it useless in any case. For the last few weeks I have been writing, and pretty much sticking to, a menu for the week. Flushed with success, I decided to go the whole hog with a new four week plan. Most weeks I will have to make adjustments to allow for real life, but I know from experience that having a basic plan to draw on is a lot less effort than trying to work out a menu from scratch.

I am so proud of myself for finally getting my culinary efforts organised I thought I'd share this coming week's plan.

Lunch: Baked salmon, mashed potatoes, sugar snap peas and carrots (We usually have a roast lunch on Sundays, but tomorrow we are rushing out to Angel and Star's dance school prizegiving.)
Dinner: Sandwiches (more rush, as we are joining friends for a Bonfire Night fireworks display in the evening.)

Lunch: Jacket potatoes with cheese and / or baked beans
Dinner: Chicken and potato bake, broccoli

Lunch: Cheese on toast
Dinner: Beef casserole and Yorkshire pudding

Lunch: Egg mayo sandwiches
Dinner: Lamb chops, mashed potatoes, sauteed cabbage (currently a big favourite with Angel and Star. I never imagined I would end up with children who drool over cabbage!)

Lunch: Tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches
Dinner: Chicken fillets in breadcrumbs, curly chips (= fries!), sweetcorn (Thursday is often a busy day and evening, so gets the instant, throw-in-the-oven-from-the-freezer dinner)


Lunch: Macaroni cheese
Dinner: Cod and potato pie, peas, carrots

Lunch: Pitta bread, falafel, houmous
Dinner: Crusty bread, ready-cooked hot chicken (from the supermarket)

I have to work round a few limitations - we aren't by any means strictly Kosher, but we never have pig products in the house (no ham! no bacon!), and Tevye does not eat cheese in any shape or form, so the girls and I tend to have cheese for lunch when Tevye is at the office. I also try to cater to the girls' tastes at least to some extent - fortunately they are not particularly picky eaters, though Star is in an irritating phase of suddenly deciding she dislikes things she has eaten happily for years.

If you enjoy reading menus, tell me and I'll post the other weeks later.