Food I Grew Up Eating: Mum’s Cheese Pudding

Looking back to childhood and teenagerdom, there are ordinary meals that shout out to  be remembered; those I remember with no pomp and glory; oh yes, countless glorious roast dinners and fruit pies and crumbles, but the ones to which I refer are every day foods that were eaten often and enjoyed a great deal.

The cheese flan at primary school, orangey-yellow, with so much cadmium oiliness that if you pressed your knife into the top, a shallow tide would envelop the steel surface.

Lentils and rice. The boys said they now hate lentils and rice because it used to make them feel like we were ‘poor people’, but I love daal and eat it often and in accompaniment with curry.

Chicken and almond sauce. Alas, the almond sauce recipe now lost in memoriam, but soon to be resurrected (watch this space).

Welsh Rarebit; bread toasted on one side… the other clothed thickly in grated cheese mixed with beaten egg. Nice with the modern twist of wholegrain mustard swirled within, but the old version was lovely.

Haggis, black pudding and brawn. Offal? Moi? HELL YEAH!

And mum’s cheese pudding. Simple as ever, easy to adulterate with leeks or chilli but wonderful just as is. Best with beans for understated comfort glory, but more grown up with a green salad and spinach.

Cheese Pudding
Baking Dish / Casserole Dish.
Something deep enough and not too big.
Large chunk of bread/3-4 slices of plastic bread (one of the only recipes where plastic bread sludge doesn’t matter) and turn it into breadcrumbs. You want enough to make breadcrumbs that fill the baking dish you’re using.
If you’re using plastic bread, toast first, make breadcrumbs later.
Medium-sized chunk of cheese. Has to be cheddar, really, although any hardish melty cheese will work.
2 or 3 eggs, beaten with about 300ml milk

Turn out the breadcrumbs into a large bowl, add a couple of pinches of salt, mix in the grated cheese and the beaten egg and milk and squill it together with your fingers until it is a stiffish dough.

Grease the casserole dish (oil is easiest, butter is best) and turn out the dough in a big lump. Press it to cover the dish, leaving the surface nice and bumpy.

Pop into a 180 deg C preheated oven for about 30 mins until the top is nice and browned.

The picture looks ridiculous, but honestly, I just wasn’t quick enough to get a photo of the full browned glory that was.
This is all that was left (also goes well with ketchup).

All that was left.... Magpie just wasn't quick enough



Mackerel Days

Fish is fabulous food, easy to digest, full of flavour and simple to incorporate into everyday cooking. Because we’ve somehow become a nation of fish haters, suspicious fears of bones and skin creeping into our everyday psyche, we’ve forgotten how good it can taste when it isn’t battered within an inch of its life.

The good news is that tinned fish is about as nutritious as fresh. Mackerel is wonderful out of a tin. Mix the spicy tomato sauce type with mushrooms, onion, garlic and chilli and eat with pasta for a cheap and sapiditous meal. (About 88p a tin in some supermarkets).

Plain mackerel is also good.

Break up one portion of tinned mackerel fillets (in sunflower oil is better, but brine is fine) in a bowl. Dice a small piece of onion, as much as to taste and add to the bowl with a few pieces of finely chopped chilli, a squeeze of lime, a scraping of lime zest and a pinch of salt. Mix together, not too thoroughly; it isn’t mackerel mush on the menu.

Toast half a tablespoon of fennel seeds in a small dry frying pan until they begin to pop (keep shaking the pan until they do, burning is NOT your friend). Pound the toasted seeds in your mortar, smelling the warm, heady licquorice from the forming powder. A teaspoon of this is all you need in your mackerel salad to give it a different flavour. It enhances the smoky quality of tinned mackerel and evokes warm open campfires and incense.  (Alternatively, add a teaspoon of ready powdered fennel, but it doesn’t do the same job.)

It’s best scooped into the cavities of Cos lettuce leaves (and in the case below, accompanied by a bit of caulislaw).

A Note to Bread Lovers:

Mentioned in an earlier post, the More? Bakery which is located in a small village outside Kendal has award-winning, stunning bread. One of their creations is a sourdough called Montezuma’s Revenge, presumably because it resembles a volcano with a lava flow crust of cheese rising from its centre. It also contains garlic cloves roasted inside the bread.

Sourdough is a simple but drawn out method of baking bread, a wonderful light bread that can be made from the same ‘starter’ over and over. It’s a great sandwich bread (doorstops only), being firm yet springy but Montezuma’s Revenge is just too special for sandwiches. It yearns to be ripped apart, still warm and devoured, sludgy with butter and high with the aromas of smoky garlic and toasted cheese.

Now, sourdough is wonderful, but breadmaking takes long enough as is. Having observed how the cheese sprang from the bread, I went straight home and made a Magpie Montezuma, not quite the same, but magnificent nonetheless.

Following the usual bread recipe up to the second rising and making loaves, not buns: Cut a cross into the loaf, about as deep as two-thirds the depth, almost an inch from the edges.

Cut a cross in the dough. It will widen out as it rises the second time.

Leave it to rise for its second session under a clean tea towel. When it’s twice its original size, the cross will have widened to a four pointed star, leaving a deep crevice in which to grate a serious amount of cheese (preferably emmental but cheddar will do).

Peel four (or more) garlic cloves and push them into the spaces between the points (see diagram), just making a tunnel with each clove, rather than squashing the dough.

Garlic and Cheese Dispersal

Grating the cheese all over the top of the bread is the general idea.

Cheese n Garlic Joy about to happen....

Stick it in the already preheated oven (200deg C) for 30-40 mins and smell for the moment when it’s time to rescue it. The lovely warm bread smell starts to become slightly acrid; but that’s in this kitchen and it could be different for other people.

Baked cheese n garlic joy

Eat and be happy.

***A note to commonsense: making buns may seem like a good idea at the time, but you can chow through a lot of cheese that way***


Belly Pork for the Belly’s Soul

Supermarket meat is so desperately limited. Our worlds are firmly shrink-wrapped and hermetically sealed. There is no soul available. Refrigerated shelving is lit with a special type of light that improves the look of red meat and gives white that irridescent glow, shimmering under the polyethylene. Every boxed item looks no better or worse than the next. How to choose between ‘lean pork escalopes’, ‘lamb chops’ or ‘frying steaks’? None inspire freedom of expression in cooking, with their neat little portions and the reduction in fat might make us healthier, but only in one area. What about how much protein we eat? What about our wallets? Those squiddly little ‘lamb chops’ could be as much as £15 per kg, but how many of us look at the wholesale price?

How do we work out how much we really need? Is 500g beef mince excessive? How come you hardly ever get 500g lamb mince? Can you even buy belly pork at the Co-op? Rich, full of fat and flavour, and usually attached to its skin, it’s perhaps a little too rustic for some. But oh… the flavour. And as far as soul counts, flavour is everything.

Every question above can be answered by a butcher. Torn between wanting to sell you as much as your purse can handle and giving you good advice, butchers (who are a breed unto their own in this neck of the woods) are useful sounding boards. The best advice can be listened to; but it doesn’t have to be taken. We all need to work things out for ourselves. Try putting half of the 500g mince into the freezer and bulking out the spaghetti bolognese with mushrooms, onions, peppers and the dreaded courgettes. Chop them up tiny if you have people who ‘don’t eat vegetables’ and unless they are children, they’re unlikely to notice (and it’s impossible for all but the most stubborn to sit there picking them out). Maybe that’s unethical, but courgettes and mushrooms just meld into nothing in a crock pot and is there anyone out there who doesn’t like peppers?

This week’s buy was two strips of belly pork from Steadman’s Butchers on Kirkby Stephen’s Market Street. £2.35 or thereabouts. Quite a steep price, but the meal was worth it.

Note: in future efforts, Magpie would remove the skin before cooking this stew.

Chop/cut/scissor the belly pork into even-sized pieces and fry, skinside down in a couple of generous glugs of oil. Fry for ages; it can take it. It was hard not to create confit of belly pork in the oven and make the bean stew separately, but time was limited and creativity falls into the ditch under pressure.

Wang in roughly chopped peppers (1.5 in this case, but the more the merrier) and onions and garlic and a bay leaf if you have one and let the smells waft about the kitchen. Also a chilli. Or not. Keep stirring it about. Better still, use a non-stick saucepan (but still stir). When you can smell that the peppers are releasing their juices, dump in about a tablespoon of tomato puree. Stir it about, even as everything in the pan is threatening, sizzlingly, to stick. Add some chopped tomatoes (not a whole tin), a can of butter beans and a tablespoon of treacle.

Simmer until everything is cooked through and the belly pork is tender. Salt and pepper it.

Brown rice and briefly sauteed courgettes with singed garlic are perfect light accompaniments. Not much stew is needed to make a full belly and a fuller soul.

Cooking on Books

The Flavour Thesaurus by Nikki Segnit is mouthfeel of the moment. It is the taste and texture that comes when you are forced to imagine the food, rather than seeing it in a 2D colour picture.

Its 16 sections each describe a category of flavour; Earthy, Roasted, Mustardy, Suphurous and Brine & Salt to name a few, within which are contained pairs of basic flavours. When you start to read, just dipping in, you think you are reading a clearly structured book, but the careful order fools you. You find yourself embroiled in a pattern of flavour pairs which then catapults you to another section of the book. For example:

Cinnamon & Chocolate…
Cinnamon & Clove…
Cinnamon & Coconut: See Coconut & Cinnamon, page 287

Coconut & Cinnamon…
Coconut & Coriander Leaf: See Coriander Leaf & Coconut, page 194

Coriander Leaf & Cumin…
Coriander Leaf & Garlic…
Coriander Leaf & Goats Cheese: See Goats Cheese & Coriander, page 56.

This loses the reader in a pleasurably warm sea of flavour defintions across sections, tossed from Spicy to Creamy Fruity to Green & Grassy or any other groupings.

The explanations of the flavour pairs are presented as anecdotes, recipes, cultural background and quotes and tales from older times. The author’s presence comes across knowledgably but with a chatty tone and a decent sense of humour which saves her from sounding like a teacher and is more reminiscent of your favourite college lecturer.

The book gives its reader the tools to leave recipes behind and work more easily with intuition. By understanding what combinations work, we can be released from the hells that are star anise flavoured cornish pasty pastry and bananas and beef stew.

Image courtesy of The Flavour Thesaurus

Semi-dried Cherry Tomatoes

At great expense (around £6.50 a jar), you can purchase ‘semi-dried cherry tomatoes’ from companies like Silver and Green. Sweet, juicy and oily, they have a delicious, tomatoey aroma and a chewy texture in the mouth.

Theirs are posh, produced in Italy, but for £1-1.50, you can buy a punnet of cherry vine tomatoes and slice them in halves; lay them skin side down on a baking tray and dry at about 100deg C for around 2.5 hours. Pop them when cool into a jar or a tub and cover with olive oil.

The drying process gives them an intensified flavour and they are wonderful in salads or as antipasti with olives, pickled garlic, feta and salami.

Image courtesy of Silver & Green

Soul Therapy

The happiest medium is cooking. Not in a rush, no stress and jostle from other people’s needs and opinions; just you and the food and the process. There is Zen in the act of creating food.

In doing the many processes that go with cooking, your mind has most of its subconcious babble parts occupied in making the food happen. It isn’t sifting through the day’s events or trying to work something out.

The differences between ready prepared and made-from-scratch food aren’t just nutritional. In just ‘shoving it in the oven’, or ‘sticking it in the microwave’, that simple opportunity to achieve a gentle Zen is lost.

Magpie takes the view that the more the mind has to focus on, the more recharged she’ll be.

Tonight’s effort was gargantuan but relaxed. Homemade hummus and spicy chicken wrapped in a warm flour tortilla.