Back in Birmingham …

So because life hasn’t been that interesting lately, I have come to a bit of a standstill on the blogging front – I am still eating, (things would have to be dire for that to stop), but winter is setting in and I am feeling the urge to hibernate. There is nothing like darkness and cold to just make you want to stay indoors. Just as well for semi-lockdown hey?

I would love to say that in the lockdown days I have finished a multitude of projects and that my house is immaculate – but the fact is that working from home has put a bit of a kibosh on that.

So, what to chat to you about? And then I remembered, I have promised to report back about the Balti experiment.

Firstly, I am pleased to say, that this milder style of curry developed in Birmingham in the 70s was a home cooking success. Secondly, I have to tell you that I think that if I make this again, I should actually take to planting out an onion garden. SO SO many onions (which are fortunately good for us!) followed by a reasonable number of tomatoes!

IMG_1400Of course, the thing about cooking food from other cultures is sourcing the correct ingredients – or at least something remotely similar. Onions are not an issue – I buy 1kg bags probably every four or five weeks, and most of the required herbs and spices were easy to source – or combine. But one certainly got me stuck though – Fenugreek, also known as Kasuri Methi.

I haven’t made my way to a real Asian smallgoods store yet, and maybe fenugreek will be found in one, but instead I went to Google, as we do so often now to find out what on earth to replace it with. I was figuring if it was leafy, then celery or parsley leaves might do the trick. And indeed, this was suggested, but what I was totally not expecting was … maple syrup?

Well … that was a surprise!

But it turns out there’s some chemical common to both that leads the taste to be similar. So … maple syrup it was, which gave my Balti a bit of a sweeter taste than I remember eating before, but nonetheless, the same flavour.

Food never ceases to amaze me!

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But the Balti itself? With an onion/tomato/spices sauce, (usually, although it can be vegetarian) diced meat is cooked in more onion and tomatoes and served up in its own cooking bowl, accompanied by a yoghurt dip and Naan. I might try my hand at making Naan at some stage – but I’d be hard pressed to compete with those served up at my ‘local’, the beautifully named ‘Punjab Paradise’ on Ladypool Road, where table Naan stretched in front of us to at least two feet long.

Friends and I tried making Balti once before and it was a long, fatty and complicated process of boiling and marinating and cooking … and it seemed to take literally all day. From memory, it didn’t really taste like the real deal, although the whole street could smell it.

But this time, armed with authentic Balti bowls courtesy of my sister, I was back in Birmingham in a flash, dragging my husband along with me. (Sorry Tony!) At which point, I should explain that a Balti bowl is a small pressed-steel mini-wok type of cooking pan. It is also the dish used to serve up the Balti – which is one dish per person. Cheer with me at the thought of less washing up!

I can heartily recommend the recipes on the Birmingham Balti Bowl website. I’ve only tried one so far, but it is absolutely the real deal. So, if you’re like me and you want to try a piece of cultural, authentic, nostalgic cooking, this is a go-to. Or just if you want to try something different. Because what is life, but an opportunity to try something new sometimes?

Happy trying!

“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.”

I couldn’t help but think today how multi-cultural we are in Australia – especially food-wise. I know I have yet to report about the Balti production, but I have been a bit side-tracked by other cooking.

Multi-cultural you say … are you sure? Well, if the aforementioned Balti (Anglo-Indian) on the meal plan for this week, beside Fettucine carbonara con pollo, fish and chips, burgers and yiros (although technically a kebab*) and crêpes this morning for breakfast, doesn’t scream it, then I don’t know what will convince you!

So, today’s post is actually about the fettucine. I’ve always had a hankering to make pasta. Dried is great – and very convenient – but since being put onto fresh egg lasagne sheets by a dear Italian friend, who was HORRIFIED to hear I used dry sheets, the lure of fresh pasta was definitely there. By the way, I can heartily recommend fresh lasagne sheets. You will never look back.

Now I’m sure after my last post, you were convinced I was turning into a Wild West mama, making all my preserves and jams for the winter. Hey … I thought that’s what I was sounding like … but this week brought out my inner Nonna. Neither of these have anything to do with my true heritage roots – otherwise I would be living on a diet consisting of mainly potatoes, with a variety of sausages thrown in. (My husband did remind me that last week we did have sausages … in a different meal we also had potatoes … so there you go …)

But the pasta idea was pushed along a bit further by coming across (accidentally) an el cheapo pasta machine in a kitchen appliances/knickknacks shop. It did not take me long to decide to take the plunge and purchase one. With its totally manual operation, it is compact and in addition to the flat roller (which is used for lasagne, ravioli and cannelloni) has two cutters – for spaghetti and fettucine.

Pasta is apparently easy – and my experience so far has been two-one, win-fails. The fail was definitely over-confidence on my part. Having had success with my first batch, I thought I was the pasta queen. Instead I was presiding over wet mixture that was not going anywhere useful. Lesson learnt!

Armed with flour, eggs and a little salt, the pasta machine beckoned. 140g of fine flour (also known as “00” flour, or surprise, surprise, “pasta flour”), an egg and two yolks, with a little salt. That is all you need to reach pasta heaven. (I find this does four very generous servings of about 50g each. In actual fact, it’s more like 5 servings.)

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I use a fork to mix my egg into the flour. There doesn’t seem to be enough egg to go around, but do NOT fall into the temptation of thinking it needs water to help it along. Just tip the mixed-up bits with what feels like leftover flour onto a clean surface and start to knead.

Like bread, the kneading process is the thing that gets the gluten in the flour doing its IMG_1387thing, so get your hands floured up and make the most of the next 10 minutes or so. And when is it ready? Like falling in love, you’ll just know.

Seriously though, the texture does change, and like bread, has to take a big breather before you roll it out.

If you don’t have a pasta maker, you could do as I saw demonstrated on a live video stream from Michael Bublé & Luisana Lopilato recently, where Michael rolled out his dough onto the bench and then attempted to cut it into thin slices. This works too … if you flour the bench first … a small detail his wife neglected to tell him.

So, fresh pasta. It doesn’t have a long shelf life and it does taste different to dried. Is it cheaper? Not on average, but for 200g of dried fettucine I would pay about $1.05 and for fresh, about $1.40. Is it healthier? I think most of that depends on what you eat with it. Of course, a creamy sauce isn’t going to be as healthy as a tomato based one. Most writers suggest that more substantial and heavier sauces work better with dried, just because it is a hardier beast and can cope with the weight. Plus it is convenient. Fresh pasta does require a bit of preparation in advance.

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But for show-off points, for all its simplicity, fresh does win. And so, when I’m feeling in the mood, fresh it shall be 😊

 

Today’s title is from Federico Fellini – an Italian film director who presided over many films, including La Dolce Vita. I think he makes a fair point!

* for those curious, a kebab is Turkish or Lebanese and uses a flatbread; yiros is Greek and uses a pita bread. There is a difference in the spices used for the marinade. As the one I make is a Greek marinade but with a flatbread, who knows what I should really call it …

Pump up the jam, pump it up …

It has been silence on the Cheap and Cheerful Life front lately – somehow the creative juices have not been flowing enough to sit down and write – well, they flow with ideas, but not pinned down into words and blog posts.

But just so you know I have not been entirely idle, I refer you to Peace of Pie … where Jessica waxes lyrical about the pies she makes (NB do not read if you are feeling hungry) … and where she kindly invited me to be a guest writer. A guest writer, my dear readers!! Does this mean I have really made it in blog-land???

In the bizarre times we are living in at the moment, I have to take these small wins 😊

We are not in lockdown where I live, although the streets are noticeably quieter and the stocks of toilet paper remain low (below is pictorial representation of my theory on why this is so):

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But to take my mind off things I am cooking up a bit of a storm in the kitchen. Things I don’t normally make, and for some reason have decided are necessities. To help with this, I bit the bullet and bought some Ball jars. They are not the same as my lovely 500ml mason jars, but they will do, and hey, with ten years between drinks, they are bound to look a bit different. The smaller ones are even quilted, which is all a bit fancy!

One thing I do like though, is the lack of sealing rubber band, which is what is used on my big old Fowlers preserving jars that I inherited from my mother, accompanied by a big impractical clip, thus preventing tidy stacking of jars. So well done Ball on a practical sealing solution!

But what to put in these fancy jars? Obviously the other two days of salad, since I like to be semi-consistent about my jar usage! (To my newer readers, please refer to my previous blog post on salad jars.) But how about JAM …

Jam is surprisingly easy to make, given the modern invention of Jam Sugar (thanks CSR for that!), but basically, it is fruit, almost as much sugar, a dash of lemon juice and heat. The jam sugar I used contains citric acid and pectin … and in case you were wondering (as I was), pectin is made from apple pomace, with a dash of dextrose and citrus peel, and because I am ever-learning … pomace is all the left-over bits from juicing fruit.

That wasn’t hard, was it!

All you need to do is chop the fruit up into smaller pieces, bring to boil a kilo of fruit with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (that’s 40ml) for 4 minutes, then add 4 cups of jam sugar (that would be level with 1 litre in a measuring jug) … I told you it’s a lot of sugar … and boil for 4 minutes more.

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But how do you know if the jam is ready? On a chilled saucer, put a spoonful of jam and allow to cool. If the surface starts to wrinkle, then it is ready to put into sterilised jars. If not, let your fruit boil a little more, then ladle into jars.

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I have seen lots of pictures on Facebook about people snacking away whilst in lockdown or quarantine, so making jam is probably not the best thing for weight watching, but it’s fruit, right?

Hmmm.

I don’t intend to make any more, but it was fun to try and now we have a few jars to last us for the duration.

I did find an interesting website, (Pick your own), which talks about the pectin levels in fruit and whether it is necessary to add it to your jam or not. There is a list about 1/3 of the way down which is very interesting. There is obviously more to the science of jam-making than I gave credit! If you have made jams, I’d love to hear how that went for you.

But for now everyone, do take care, remember to wash your hands, and stay safe.

 

My heading today? You know you know it … Technotronic, circa 1989/1990

“I’ve got a jar stuffed with songs …”

Happy new year my dear readers!!

And look at me today going all Pinterest-y!

Summer is in the air and so is our normal transition from soup to salad, but being a person of a short concentration span, I try to get salad making done on Sundays – enough for at least a couple of days, if not three. But where to store? Apparently I’m not supposed to use the beautiful orange/yellow/khaki Tupperware I inherited from Grandma because of the lead content, so I was left wondering what the ideal container would be.

And then there was Pinterest.

Now, bag Pinterest if you like, but I think it’s a great idea. I used to have a document filled with links divided up into relevant topics, which was fine … but it didn’t have any pretty pictures attached, so it was a bit hard to tell what the link related to, unless I was super organised and added a description too. I’m sure you can feel my pain.

So maybe I haven’t used all the ideas that I pin, and of those I have, not all have been successful, but there have been some winners. And one of the winners is salad jars.

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Now if I had known this ten years ago, I would have retained all the perfect mason jars that my pasta sauce came in and re-used them over and over. But retrospection is a fine thing, and I only have three, which is really annoying for a working week.

But are there benefits to using glass jars for salads?

Well, yes, and here’s just a few:

  • They don’t absorb the smell of constant salads (or the dressing)
  • They don’t go sticky
  • They can be sterilised
  • You can see what’s in them
  • They stay super cold (without salad-killing condensation)

But … they are glass, so they are subject to chipping and smashing. Not so great 😦 They are also not such a good on-the-run lunch, unless you’re the type who likes eating one strata level of food at a time.

img_8718.jpgThe trick to a salad jar is the layering. Wet stuff down the bottom, delicates at the top. If I am adding a meat component, such as sliced ham, I add it on the day. I’m sure my lettuce can cope with that burden for a few hours.

But what to put in the salad? I have a recipe book on my shelf called “Salad Love” by David Bez. His definition of a salad is: layering a base, vegetables or fruit, fresh herbs, protein, toppings and dressings.

Going by that, I guess virtually anything goes! For example, today I have leftover roast pumpkin thrown in, with toasted pumpkin seeds, just to make my toss-salad equivalent just a little more exciting.

I like the economical idea of salad jars – not necessarily to save money on ingredients – but the idea of being economical about my time too. One or two sessions of chopping a week, rather than five, is quite appealing. Having lunches virtually all prepared in the mornings also has a good feel about it.

And although the Pinterest look of that part of the fridge may give the false impression that I have life totally under control (or that perhaps I may spend too much time on the internet), it’s nice to know that something is organised, for a little while.

 

 

Today’s header is a quote from Julian Casablanca, from The Strokes. Here it is in context: “I’m always writing something. I’ve got so much stuff, I don’t know what to do with it. Some of it will be Strokes, some of it will be I don’t know what – stuff for pop singers. TV themes. I’ve got a jar stuffed with songs, all these ideas that are just me humming into a recording device.”

Random? yes, but do you know how hard it is to find a cool quote with the word ‘jar’ in it? that makes sense by itself? 🙂

Perfect Pumpkin

So it is winter … officially on Friday if you date Northern Hemisphere style, but weatherwise here in the southern half, the cold has struck. Oh, you may laugh at me as I rug up as if I am heading off on an Arctic expedition, when temperatures are still in the positives, but it is all relative you know 😊. I’ll remind you of that dear readers when I am toasting at 40 degrees C …

And as a consequence of the fweeeeeeezing conditions, we are on the soup bandwagon again. Five weeks of different soups and already one is leaping ahead as the favourite. It is even on repeat request this week, so it must be a magic mix indeed. Just as well its main preparation time is chopping, and not much more until blitzing time. Quite manageable really, which is nice.

So, as my title hints today, the cheerful soup on the menu this week is Pumpkin. As with many things, the title is a bit misleading, because, in actual fact, pumpkin is maybe only a third of the quantity. But as the ingredient list is too lengthy for a soup name, “Pumpkin” it is.

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I’m one for simplicity and rough estimates for amounts, so here’s the approximate quantities …

Serves approx 8

1/2 a butternut pumpkin (not your Hallowe’en variety – sorry!)
2-3 carrots
2 potatoes
1 large sweet potato
1 or 2 red capsicums
vegetable stock (about 3 or 4 cups)
turmeric, ground coriander seed, paprika in generous quantities

chop veggies, add stock and spices.

cook until soft then blitz in batches until smooth

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Serve with a bit of cream and some parsley to make it look all Master Chef-y 😊 like so:

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A thieving little magpie

I have a confession to make.

I steal recipes.

Well, not really. I am more a collector. A collector of recipes – of those which invoke memories, which are tied up with food and joyful occasions, of smells and tastes and feelings, of experiences and emotions.

Over time I have been able to gather together some recipes that bring back those memories in our own kitchen. It’s quite amazing.

There are, of course, some cooking smells or tastes that are best left forgotten. I’m left bewildered at the 70s taste buds that thought peas set in lime jelly or carrots in orange jelly would be a gourmet dish – or olives. Green olives, green jelly. I can clearly see the connection. Only one small step better than Spam, I suppose, or anything set in aspic.

Here’s a link to cause you to wonder how anyone actually survived this era … (by the way, I am a survivor!) Unbelievable recipes!!

These are definitely not the recipes that I have accumulated!! (Although my very aged copy of the Complete Women’s Weekly cookbook may have some within, accompanied by a tasteful colour picture, or two.)

It was the smell of the freshly baked bread that got me thinking, along with the essential oils that diffuse through our house at night-time. It reminded me how when I even see certain foods, they transport me to another time or place.

Here’s a classic example – give me a fresh buttered brezel and instantly I am in an open subway station in Munich, 2004, making my way in the cold to language school, Not just any old station, but specifically this one:
Karlsplatz Stachus MunichKarlsplatz (Stachus), not in its all fancy bright lights and renovated state, but all concrete-y and looking like something out of the Communist Era (and I know, before you say, that this did not include Munich, but this subway …)


I have yet to try my hand at brezeln making – but I do have a recipe somewhere …

In my mind, when I make falafels, I’m finding my way through the streets of old Jerusalem, I smell naan bread and roasted spices and I’m wandering down the streets of Birmingham’s Balti Triangle, in its heyday, with a Balti restaurant on every corner. Hot custard takes me right back to Grandma’s kitchen, sitting at her red laminate table, looking at the plastic fruit.

I tried a new falafel recipe the other week, inspired by the combination of the efforts of an old school friend and co-incidentally a recipe appearing in the local supermarket magazine. Unlike other attempts, they did not disintegrate into tiny, impossible-to-eat segments in the oil. Not only that, they were declared a ‘keeper’, which is always a good thing, especially since we’d only eaten half of the mix!

I don’t even have a photo of them, which is really sad for a foodie, blogging type person, but as I commented to another old school friend, they were hardly photogenic, although very tasty. It’s not all about looks, you know!

There’s a name for this smell/memory thing – olfactory memory – and there are some interesting studies on it, which include how the brain responds to smell. There appear to be fewer studies on the compulsive desire to have lots of recipes with lots of pictures to drool over, which are never recreated.

It is an interesting thing, considering the brain injury experience in our home, to learn about the sense of smell. Did you know it is the only sense which makes its way directly to the brain, rather than via a series of nerve endings? We have also learnt it is often triggered as a pre-symptom to a seizure, which is helpful for being prepared.

But in the meantime, with my new stove (which, I assure you, was a very welcome change to the kitchen), I am inspired to hit the pile of saved up papers and see what sorts of (nice) smells I can conjure up, to create some new memories to stack away.

My feature photo today is of some preparation for just that. I’m going to launch a balti on my poor unsuspecting husband, so I’ve been cooking up spices and sauces, turning the kitchen a turmeric shade of yellow. I’ll let you know how it all ends up (only if successful of course! 🙂 )

And just for fun, I came across this photo taken by Philipp Kester, which is kept in the Münchner Stadtmuseum … titled “Breznverkäuferin im Hofbräuhaus”, which goes to show I am not alone in my liking of Brez’n 🙂

15_kester_breznverkaeuferin-hofbraeuhaus richard wagner & louis ii

Bread of life

I have been missing a cathartic activity while the football is in recess. I am also looking to tighten the food budget just a fraction, without food compromise. In my wanderings down the supermarket aisle, wondering how I could do the latter, I came across the bread flour.

Now, although bread is considered a staple, we don’t really eat a LOT of bread, unless we are on a constant diet of sandwiches, which I try to avoid. And if you run out, according to Erma Bombeck (an astute US newspaper columnist), this happens:

“The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one.”

I know you’re nodding your head in agreement, just as I did. So, to avoid the shopping trolley explosion, I decided to try my hand out at making it instead. And then a thought crossed my mind. What am I? Some sort of reverse Marie Antoinette? Let them eat bread, rather than cake? Good old Erma has something to say about that too:

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.” (Note to self – find some more of this woman’s writings – she’s great!)

However, in a small consideration of our waistlines, bread it will be. I am liking the advantages of making bread at home, of which there are a few.

– Cathartic-ness!! I know that’s not really a word, but it suits me fine right now. Knead? Yes sir, I will bash this poor innocent flour ball to get rid of some frustration. What? Only ten minutes? Looks like I’ll have to make another loaf …

– I can make a half loaf (250g) for just over a dollar, with only ½ hour cooking time, and as a bonus, good old yeast does most of the work for me.

– I am supporting a local business.

– I can make it when we need it (pretty much …)

– I know exactly what is going into my loaf of bread, which is not choc-a-bloc with preservatives.

– Hey, eating fresh bread, straight out of the oven. All that rubbish about giving you indigestion? Not this little creature with her cast-iron tummy!

– I don’t need a lot of equipment, and so there’s not a lot of washing up.

Have I convinced you yet?

So, the flour of choice is from Laucke – a crusty white loaf, which comes in all recycled and recyclable packing.

1.  All I need is to weigh out half the flour, add my (supplied) yeast and 145ml of water at a yeast-friendly temperature.  Mix it up

2.  Knead it for 10 minutes and leave to sit to contemplate life for a while

3.  Re-knead (treading gently this time – after all, it’s feeling very sensitive after all that contemplation)

4.  Leave to again consider life

5.  Cook

6.  And EAT!!

 

I’m happy with that 🙂

A smattering of recipes, home life, history and ponderings, while fulfilling one of my personal mottos – "learn a new thing every day".