Monday 7 August 2023

How To… make the most of your bacon

 My friend Cliffs of Moher, who you might know from her adventures in taste testing, told me that never a day goes by without me giving her some useful advice. She said I ought to write a book.

Apart from the fact that there are a million and one ‘how to’ books, and websites and Instagram accounts out there, I don’t think I have enough nearly enough life enhancing hacks to fill a book. However, I do have one or two pieces of advice that might help a random person searching the internet.

So, how do you make the most of your bacon?

If you eat meat, and that includes pork, you probably eat bacon. Yum yum - but obviously not if you keep kosher or halal, or are vegetarian. This is the wrong page for you.

Probably you’ve noticed that when you open a new packet of bacon with 8 or 10 or even 14 rashers (slices), but you only need 4 this evening, then however hard you try to wrap up the remainder or keep it in a Tupperware container it often goes a bit nasty. And you end up throwing some, or indeed all, of it away. My mother’s first fridge, bought about 1960, came with a large glass box specifically for keeping bacon fresh, but the box was so large and the fridge so small that it was usually left on a shelf in the larder. 

Anyway, here’s a way to keep your bacon fresh. No more rashers that have gone a funny colour and end up in the bin.

Line a baking sheet that will fit in your freezer with baking paper. Roll up each slice of bacon and put it on the baking sheet. Freeze until frozen… but don’t leave it in the freezer for too long because you want to avoid freezer burn.

Put your frozen rolls of bacon into a plastic box and store in the freezer until you need them. Don’t forget to write a label. The rolls of bacon won’t stick to each other once they are frozen so you can take out as many, or few, as you need. The bacon is quick to defrost and feels as fresh as when you first opened the packet. But make sure it’s properly defrosted before you cook it.

It’s that easy.

Monday 5 December 2022

How To… cook the right amount of pasta

My friend Cliffs of Moher, who you might know from her adventures in taste testing, told me that never a day goes by without me giving her some useful advice. She said I ought to write a book.

Apart from the fact that there are a million and one ‘how to’ books out there, I don’t think I have enough nearly enough life enhancing hacks to fill a book. However, I do have one or two pieces of advice that might help a random person searching the internet.

So, how do you avoid cooking too much pasta? 

Cliffs of Moher tells me that no matter how hard she tries, she always cooks much more pasta than she needs. And not long ago I watched in horror as someone I know quite unnecessarily cooked an entire packet of pasta without making any attempt at measurement at all. They didn’t seem to think that cooking food for 8 or more people was an issue (there were 4 of us), and made no suggestions for using any of the leftovers. Perhaps they always use a whole packet. I don’t know. Anyway, I’m guessing that too much cooked pasta is a problem that afflicts a lot of people.

I read that you need about 80-100g of dry pasta per person. Or perhaps 60-100g. Maybe 75-115g. But who drags the scales out from the back of the cupboard to weigh pasta? And maybe you don’t own any scales. In any case, not everyone will have the same appetite. Or maybe you live in the USA and might want to cook 2oz, or 3-4oz? And what about a cup of pasta per person? How much is that anyway? And who decides these amounts?

Oof! All these different suggested quantities make cooking pasta seem very complicated, so let’s use the Fabio method.

Years ago - last century anyway - my brother shared a flat with an Italian friend called (as far as I can remember) Fabio. Fabio had this method of cooking just the amount of pasta he wanted to eat. I imagine it was the way his mother and his granny cooked pasta but who knows. Fabio taught my brother and, eventually, my brother passed the method on to me. It’s really simple and seems to work quite well.

Take the plate or bowl that you are going to eat your dinner from. I like to eat my pasta from a wide flat dish that used to be called a soup plate but, as you know, any bowl will do.

Put as much uncooked pasta as looks about right into your bowl. I have come to the conclusion that about 2 small handfuls (or handsful) of this pasta is right for me. It weighs just over 60g. I weighed it specially for you. You won’t be surprised to learn that I have never bothered to weigh pasta before and probably never will again. And you will likely want more in the bowl than I do.

Add the same amount of pasta for each person you are feeding. If you are a bit anxious about quantities add some more pasta, but in my experience this extra bit often turns out to be too much.

Give it a try. 

Of course the Fabio method only works for pasta shapes not the straight stuff. 

Friday 19 June 2020

A Spot of Cookery: Pork Chops in Tomato Soup

This is my mother’s super easy pork chop recipe.

Basic Recipe: take one large London-style pork chop per person. Fry the chops until they are browned and throw them in a casserole dish. Season well with salt and pepper. Chop an onion and soften it in the same pan you cooked the pork in. When the onion is ready chuck in a can of Heinz tomato soup and bring it to the bubble. Pour your onion and soup mix into the casserole and put in the oven at Gas Mark 4 or 180 degrees for an hour. Serve with mashed potato.

I said “London-style pork chops” because I have never attempted to buy a pork chop in any other part of the UK, and you never know what cuts of pork might be on sale in, say Inverness, unless you’ve shopped there. Which I haven’t.
Our local shop here in beautiful Switzerland sells thin slices of pork. Very nice, but not the same. Plus, since Coronavirus lockdown we no longer have access to Heinz soup, so what to do? Obviously I have to make my own tomato soup... I mean sauce, for the Chef and me.
So, make a roux with about an ounce of butter and a spoonful of plain flour. Add a big squirt of tomato purée and then carefully mix in ½ pint of chicken stock. Obviously if you are cooking for more than 2 people you will want to add more stock.
Most times I can make a roux without a struggle but sometimes I get loads of lumps so if you aren’t an expert add the liquid very slowly, on a low heat, stirring all the time. Add ¼ teaspoon of marmite to the sauce and 100g passata (or more if making a larger quantity of sauce).
Season with salt and pepper and a teaspoon of sugar. It really does depend how much you want your sauce to mimic Heinz tomato soup, so add as much or as little seasoning as you like.

Cook the pork and onion according to the basic recipe. Add the sauce to the onions.
If your pieces of pork are smaller you only need to cook them for about 40 minutes.

Plain flour
Tomato purée: about a tablespoon
Marmite: the Swiss make a version called Cenovis, and you could use Vegemite, but we import Marmite from London
Chicken stock: I always use a celery-free stock cube
Passata if you can get it, or finely chopped tinned tomatoes
Salt, pepper, sugar
1 Onion: chopped
Pork chops: 1 each if they’re big and chunky, 2 each if they’re small
Mashed potato, pasta, rice or maybe flatbreads to serve.
 I used the last can of Heinz tomato soup in the local supermarket

Tuesday 9 June 2020

Books to Read Again: Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield

My Granny gave me Ballet Shoes for Christmas in 1968. I was just 9 and probably read it at once. The introduction, by editor Kay Webb, says the book is “warmly recommended for girls between eight or nine and fourteen” but I think it’s a comforting read at any time.
Pauline as the fairy godmother in Cinderella.
Cover design by Victor Ambrus. Does anyone else remember him from early seasons of Time Team?
This is a wonderful book for girls* who enjoy dancing or acting. Which I didn’t. At 6 I said “no thank you” to dancing lessons, and at 11 I was given the choice of the school drama club or Guides. I joined the Guides, which I hated, but at least it was better than acting. So considering all that you might suppose this was quite the wrong book for me.
Children at the Academy. Line drawings by Ruth Gervis who was the author’s older sister 
But you would be wrong. It’s the characters I loved. It didn’t bother me that Pauline loved acting, or that Posy was only interested in dancing. That’s their choice. I liked Petrova who couldn’t bring herself to tell her guardian Sylvia that she didn’t enjoy acting and dancing. She was interested in cars and aeroplanes but the family was poor (yes poor, but still employing Sylvia’s old nanny Nana, and Cook and Clara the housemaid) and the only way Petrova could help out was to earn money in the theatre.
Petrova reading about cars or planes
Pauline, Petrova and Posy, all adopted by Professor Matthew Brown, a famous collector of fossils, choose Fossil as their surname and vow to try and put their name in the history books. They grow up in a large house on the Cromwell Road not too far from the Victoria and Albert Museum in west London. Professor Brown (Great Uncle Matthew, always known as Gum) goes travelling “to visit some strange islands” when Posy is only a baby, leaving the children in the care of his great niece Sylvia. By Chapter II (of XIX) the family is running out of money. Gum has left instructions with his bank to provide suitable funds for 5 years, but he is gone for far longer than anyone expected and soon Sylvia has no income at all and three growing children to feed, clothe and educate. Obviously these are middle class children who must be educated privately which Sylvia cannot afford.
Seaside holiday. My mother wore a swimsuit just like this in the 1930s
In order to make a little money Sylvia feels she has no choice but to take in boarders. Luckily the new boarders are all very nice: Mr and Mrs Simpson run a garage (obviously ideal for Petrova), Dr Smith and Dr Jakes are expert tutors in English and Maths (useful for all the girls), and Theo Dane teaches dance at the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training (ideal for Pauline and Posy). After seeing Posy dance, Theo arranges for all three girls to be trained, free of charge, at the Academy.
Pauline and school friend Winifred auditioning for Alice in Wonderland 
From a modern viewpoint we might ask why on earth does Sylvia carry on employing Cook and Clara? I don’t think Nana counts: she’s more a member of the family and worth her weight in gold because she makes all the children’s clothes, quite often at the drop of a hat. And again, why can’t Sylvia look for a job instead of waiting for the children to reach the age of 12? (Children under 12 were not permitted to work.) Of course Sylvia was brought up a lady and therefore has no useful skills; it’s likely she couldn’t boil an egg let alone cook dinner for a family of growing girls. At any rate, Sylvia getting a job is never considered. And, poor thing, she is never allowed a relationship with a suitable man which might have solved some of her problems.
Posy, Nana, Pauline and Petrova waiting for a tube train 
Ballet Shoes was Noel Streatfield’s first book for children, published in1936. The death of George V in January 1936 impacts the income of both Pauline and Petrova when theatrical performances are cancelled due to public mourning. This roots the story very firmly in the1930s, as does the tiny salaries they receive. Noel Streatfield was an actress before she started writing so she must have known how little children on the stage would be paid. Of course this dates the book, but somehow more recent books like the Gemma series written in the late 1960s seem much more dated. Perhaps references to television, electric guitars and comprehensive schools don’t date so well as cooks and housemaids and organdie frocks with frills?
Posy tells Pauline she must go to Czechoslovakia to study with Manoff
By the end of the book Pauline is 15, has had a success in a film about Charles II, and is asked to go to Hollywood, and Posy is consumed by her desire to study ballet with the famous dancer Manoff in Czechoslovakia. The big house has been sold, the boarders are moving on and poor Petrova seems to have no future. At the last minute Gum turns up and suggests he and Petrova live together in a house by an aerodrome. Yes, this is all a bit convenient but somehow it doesn’t matter. It’s a satisfying ending to an absorbing story of three very real girls who get grumpy and bored and anxious just like the rest of us. You may not know what an organdie dress looks like or have a nanny to make you one for your next audition, but you can absolutely understand their excitement at an extra special birthday cake or an unexpected treat, or better yet, a part in a play that pays well.
The Fossil girls make their vow
Noel Streatfield wrote 30 books for children. Most of them are not connected (the four Gemma books are an exception) but many of them have been renamed to create the semblance of a series with the wonderful White Boots (about skating) rebranded as Skating Shoes and Apple Bough (about a child’s need for a proper home) as Traveling Shoes. I’m not sure I approve.

*Let’s be honest: this book is really not aimed at boys.

Sunday 24 December 2017

Exotic Packaging: Original Formula Holly & Frankincense Soap

Merry Christmas from this 1987 soap packet!
The soap was made with myrrh, brandy oil, cinnamon, mandarin, bay orange, holly leaf and frankincense. 
What on earth does a holly leaf smell of I wonder? Or does it have amazing medicinal properties?

Saturday 9 September 2017

Exotic Packaging: Wallace & Gromit DVD Tin

This Wallace & Gromit tin came with DVDs in. The design on the lid is raised - you can see the inside of the lid in the bottom photo - the raised design shows up much better there although Wallace's teeth look very creepy from the wrong side. And the side of the tin are decorated with line drawings of cheese and crackers. Of course.

The DVDs live somewhere else now and I use this tin to store patchwork supplies.

This is some of the fabric I keep in the tin. Yes, that snow boarder is printed on fabric. These patterns all went into a pair of curtains I made for the bedroom in Switzerland. I don't ski or snow board, but the family does.

Tuesday 5 September 2017

Exotic Packaging: Crabtree & Evelyn Assorted Flavour Fruit Teas

I don't drink tea. I don't even like fruit teas much and mint tea makes me feel fat. So I can only have bought this tin of teas because the tin itself is so fabulous. Perhaps you aren't very surprised?
So here, once upon a time, we had 40 sachets of fruit flavoured black tea. Cherry, Raspberry, Mango and Vanilla. Is vanilla a fruit? It looks like a french bean so I suppose it's just a seed pod.

Each of the four teas is illustrated by a botanical drawing style image showing flowers and fruit at the same time. Sadly we don't get a mango flower, perhaps because they don't look very interesting (check google and see what you think).

I think I have owned this tin since at least 1990. I'm sure I had it when I lived in that tiny basement flat not far from Harrods. Oh look. It says distributed 1988 on the base of the tin. Why didn't I check that before consulting my memory?

The base of the tin also reminds me that of course Crabtree & Evelyn of London is not a company based in London but in Woodstock Hill CT, USA. The tin came from England but the teas from China.

Wherever it all came from it's a very pretty tin don't you think?