Prawns in Heaven

Eating in Mum’s home has mainly been great. Of course, there have been a few odd disasters, here and there, but none that really stick in the craw. Cooking in the Murdock household has always been about flavour and quality, even when we were teenagers and ate tonnes of plastic bread and margarine on the side. If flavour means that a few bones or stones get left in, so be it; mum hasn’t got the patience to fish them out (poor dad, how he has suffered) and she’s sure it improves everything.

The guaranteed meal to cause fights over the last few droplets of sauce; the one which is devoured in mere morsels of time is my mum’s Prawn Sauce. Magpie has to admit with shame that she has no definitive idea as to how mum makes it. It appears to be a roux and we know most of the liquid comes from fish stock bouillon but whenever she’s eaten it made by Magpie, Mother has declared that it’s not quite right.

Whatever the method, the recipe below is as close to the real thing as Magpie’s imagination can take us. Since we only ate it at Mum’s house under a week ago, we can both testify that this one tasted the same, at least to our uncouth tastebuds.

Prawn Sauce with Pasta

Serves: seriously, this serves 2. If there are more of you, you need more of everything.

Make up about 450ml fish bouillon, using a fish stock cube.

Saute some onion and garlic until soft. You can either leave them in the pan or reserve them for later.

Gently melt about 1oz butter and stir in just under 1oz plain flour to make a paste. Stir in a couple of teaspoons of tomato puree and heat gently, scraping the wooden spoon or curly whisk across the bottom of the pan. Stir, stir, stir; the flour and puree must cook.

Take it off the heat for a moment and begin to incorporate the stock, a little, then more, then still more, vigorous stirring is the name of the game. Keeping the heat at medium, stir until the sauce thickens. Add the onions et al to the sauce if you reserved them earlier and let them cook in the unctuous, orange sauce.

Cook the pasta – big shells are best because they hold the most sauce and whole prawns.

Take the sauce off the heat and add about 180g bag frozen, cooked, coldwater prawns (shrimps in the States) and a handful of parsley. For the first five minutes that the pasta is cooking, just let the shrimps defrost in the sauce.
As the pasta reaches the halfway cooked point, put the sauce back on a gentle heat and allow it to go as far as boiling for a few seconds. Stir it around as it begins to bubble quietly.

A Short Rant About Should and Shouldn’t When Cooking Prawns

The prawns require protection from being boiled. Their short existence before death gives them the right to expect freedom from being overcooked. What a waste of a death is an overcooked food, whether it’s steak, a dry turkey or bacon burnt to a cinder.
Prawns shouldn’t be rubbery or chewy. They aren’t Haribo sweets; they were living creatures before and they deserve a better destiny. They shouldn’t be curled up tight, with the texture of a power ball. Their flesh should have bite, with malleable resistance between the teeth. Inscisors should be able to slice straight through them – they shouldn’t need grinding and scraping through molars. Okay, we’re done with the lecture.

Treat the prawns in this sauce with respect. They just need heating through, not boiling to double death.

Get the pasta into the bottom of a couple of deep dishes and ladle the green speckled, orangey sauce over the shells.

Oatcakes Extravaganza

Oatcakes may not have the reputation as hedonist food, but to Magpie they are the greatest. Rich with butter and plastered with whatever your imagination delimits you have, they are vehicles of destruction. Self-destruction, if you will.

If you’re buying them, beware of palm oil, that bitter, earthy (like cement) flavour permeates the taste buds and wantonly wastes the opportunity for a little bit of joy.

But wait. Stay your hand; move it away from your wallet. Back off from the supermarket and leave your trolley in the car park. There are few things more pleasurable than devouring your own creations (that, after all, is the point of this site).

This recipe works and is even easier than scones or cakes or anything.

Preheat the oven to about 190 deg C.
Take just over 8oz rolled oats and whizz in the food processor until it’s as fine as you like. Bang the full 8oz into a bowl and chuck in 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, a healthy pinch of salt (Maldon of course)* and 2 tbsp melted butter. Combine with 1/4 pint of water until you have a stiffish, stickyish dough.

Heave the dough out onto the work surface which you have sprinkled liberally with the remainder of the oatmeal. Roll it out until thin, and cut into shapes or rounds (using a glass in this case).

Using a metal spatula or a fish slice, gently lift them on to an ungreased baking tray and shove in the oven for about 15 – 20 minutes. They don’t want to be brown, but just that light honey, beige.

Cool before consuming because they crumble when hot.

* Magpie loves Nairn’s cheesy oatcakes, so she also threw in 2 tblsp grated Grana Padano cheese at the dry ingredients stage.

Granola other than for breakfast or The Hedonist’s Granola

The special thing about granola is that it tastes so good. Made yourself from oats, butter, honey and fruit, it really is good for you. It’s still high in calories, sugar and fat, but because they are from natural ingredients that taste amazing, they are more satisfying and there is a sensible quantity of nuts to help to sustain you longer with protein.

Stewed fruit (peaches and nectarines here) topped with low fat yoghurt (or even creme fraiche) and a handful of granola.

In handfuls, gobbled up in seconds (still warm).

In a bag, cooled, take it to work, devour it to the livid envy of everyone in the office. (Make sure you let them taste a tiny handful, so they can really appreciate what they are missing.

Ice cream topping.

Fruit crumble topping.

Pancakes with granola mixed into the batter.

Fresh fruit salad with cream and granola topping.

Image C/O: davidlebovitz.com

Granola, ola, ola ola oh! Whoodoopidoopidooby whoopdoobydoobydooby… YEAH!

Magpie's Magnificent GranolaUsing the quantities in the Amateur Gourmet’s blog with my ingredients I can present to you: Magpie’s genius granola. Damn it’s good. It’s like risotto. You make the basic staple first and then add the flavours to it in any combination that works. Recipes like that are incredibly freeing.

2 cups rolled oats
1tsp mixed spice
1 tsp salt
Toss these dry ingredients together like a salad. Note: I wouldn’t put as much salt in as that. I did and I could taste salt sometimes.

3 tblsp melted butter
4tbsp honey
4 tbsp light brown sugar
Mix these together and pour onto the dry ingredients. With hands alone, squeeze the nectar into the oats, making fists in the mixture until the syrup is even throughout. The oats should be lightly coated with a thin sheen of sweetness.

Now you have the base.

Preheat the oven to 160 C or 325 F and prepare 6 tbsps each of four different nuts, seed and dried fruit. This particular genius combination was chopped dates, whole almonds, pumpkin seeds and sultanas.

Spread the oat mixture chunkily across a baking tray. It’s best not to put too much on one tray because it doesn’t crisp up so well. Put into the oven for 10 mins.

Take out, turn over the pieces and sprinkle the 6 tbsp almonds across the surface. Back into the oven for 10 mins.

Take out, turn over the pieces and sprinkle the pumpkin seeds over. Back into the oven for 5 mins.

When the oat rubble is golden brown and becomes crunchy when cool, remove from the oven and sprinkle over the chopped dates and sultanas.

Mix it all up, cool thoroughly, and store in an airtight jar.

There are, of course, a variety of routes that granola can take to your belly.

Granola; a Paradoxical Health Kick

If you think granola’s good for you, look again. Read the ingredients of your commercial granola (take Jordan’s for example) and check out the Palm oil and the quantity of sugar:

British Conservation Grade™ Wholegrain Oat Flakes (65%), Raw Cane Sugar, Raisins (13%), Vegetable Oil (Rapeseed Oil, Certified Sustainable Palm Oil), Flaked and Chopped Almonds (3.2%), Honey (1%), Sunflower Seeds, Natural Flavouring

A quick look at the nutritional information shows that there is 26g sugar in every 100g, so it comprises 26% of the granola. More than all the dried fruit and nuts and honey put together.

This is a product that has been called ‘Crunchy Oat Granola with Raisins, Almonds & Honey’, yet honey makes up only 1%. Can we even taste it at that level? The almonds are sliced and diced within an inch of existence and even the raisins are less than the all pervasive sugar.

And what’s natural flavouring? The third paragraph in this article about natural flavouring explains precisely what it could be, but there are so many it would impossible to hazard a guess.

The point is; Jordan’s granola isn’t the worst it could be. It isn’t a crime against humanity, like cheese strings or Spam or Fray Bentos pies*, but it’s sneaky. Under the guise of ‘good for you’, it presents a product that isn’t quite what it says on the tin.

It sets out to deprive the consumer of the luxury of strong and plentiful flavours by using cheap oil instead of butter (palm oil can have a grating, bitter undertone in a product); and it hardly throws a touch to the wind with the honey and nuts that it shouts about on the side of the bag. Instead it relies on sugar and oil and flavourings to replace the essential flavours of the healthy, tasty ingredients which are expensive to buy.

Just…What a disappointment.

I made my own.

Images C/O: Jordans

* never mind the intensively reared animals that were harmed in the making of those products.

Death Penalty Supper

There’s a terrifying wave of opinion sweeping the UK. At best it only reflects the novelty of the government’s petition website (which appears to endorse the hysteria of the right wing masses with the respectability of parliamentary debate). At worst it really is what people think. They’re not just signing those petitions because it’s the anonymous Internet.

The Death Penalty has been the focus of so many petitions that the media have suggested that it will be discussed in Parliament. Everyone I know who agrees with it cites “paedos, murderers and rapists” as being suitable candidates for the lethal injection but it seems to be a simplified argument. Nobody wants to think about the complexities of the application of the death penalty.

It isn’t just emotional claptrap to worry about wrong convictions and other mistakes. The system wasn’t failsafe. If you get it wrong, an apology isn’t going to get someone’s life back.

In my view it is immensely arrogant to think that any person has any right to remove another’s life, whatever the reason. There is no moral high ground. It is one of the most base punishments administered and I personally cannot agree with it. Are we soon going to be also cutting off people’s hands if they steal?

However the opinion is that there are some criminals who have committed crimes so horrific that no other punishment is fitting enough.

It doesn’t really show much imagination. A dead person doesn’t care that he/she is dead. A dead person is relinquished from having to deal with the long term consequences of their crimes. Why should they get that relief? The victims’ families get none.

I have also heard people cite that one prisoner might cost £5k a week to the tax payer; is that not the total costs of salaries, catering, transport and security technologies, divided by weeks in the year and finally divided by the number of prisoners in a cell? If so, it is a false statistic, because if you took away one prisoner, the overall cost of running the joint wouldn’t reduce by £5k per week.

Perhaps it needs to be made lawful that living conditions for prisoners in the UK are more basic and the ‘prisoner perks’ situation should be removed from the equation, thus enabling the criminal to live long and miserably – and more cheaply.

Is it not the waste of life that the death penalty serves to punish? Nobody except the prisoner values his life, so the ultimate punishment is to take it away from him. If you literally take his life, he will never know, never feel the punishment or even experience it beyond those last few minutes. It seems so futile to call that a punishment. It achieves precisely nothing. Sure, it eradicates the offenders, but it doesn’t prevent offending and it also costs a fortune. Apparently 11 out of the 12 states in the US that practice it regularly are considering dropping it for the two above reasons.

Does a life given over to hard labour, hard cells and incarceration constitute a waste? To sit there 60 years, knowing that you might have been capable of so much more; that, to me, is an effective waste of a life.

Lastmealsproject.com is a rocking site, giving you an insight into the meals that people choose and the people themselves. Their expectations of food are so desperately low, there must be nothing in these people’s lives of any significant value if they are unable to value themselves and their bodies in their last hours.

Here’s Magpie’s Last Meal choice.