Sunday, 31 October 2010

Would all saints please report to the kitchen

The feast of All Saints has lots and lots of traditional food associated with it already. You do not need me to help with the menu. So, today, I thought I would just make a post about what happened in our house. I am at home in Bedford. And, for Gemma, we made a Japanese Feast. The great thing about this was it is a serious team effort. Four people in the kitchen, working together for at least three hours. I think this will make a suitable post for All Saints because, well, it is a feast about people working together, in this life and the next, for the greater good. In this case, a party meal together! How very, well....theological. :)

The menu:

Miso Soup (just simple and warming)
Pumpkin Korroke (these are a nod to the season of Halloween - and they are really yummy)
Vegetarian Sushi (we made a variety - sushi refers to the rice, not, as is commonly thought, to raw fish - this is a strictly vegetarian household)
Vegetable Tempura (heaven on earth), with dipping sauce - naturally!

And also, it needs to be mentioned, that we made lots of different sauces - the best one being Katsu - recipe to follow!)

Bertie cat watched on, thinking, this is Halloween, where is mine? I do not like vegetarian sushi!

So, a community of saints with excellent communication skills and a plan of action was called for in the kitchen and in the preparation. Gemma and Keith headed to Sainsbury's whilst I was at Church. I cleaned the house up while they went to see Keith's folks. We all reported for duty, together with housemate Emma, by about 2pm. The music went on, the jobs were alloted, and everyone got on with chopping and dancing round the room. Gemma said that the sushi rice recipe in Yo Sushi! said the rice needed to be listened to. So we had to turn the music down for a bit, while Gemma put her ear to the pan. Seriously. It came out perfect, so she must have heard something. Perhaps the Japanese for 'we are cooked, we are cooked!' I was sub-chef to Keith on the Pumpkin Korroke, so I will share the recipe for that and the sauce that goes with it. Please note though, we used Butternut Squash and a Sweet Potato instead of Pumpkin.

You need:

300g Pumpkin, (ahem, Butternut squash and a little Sweet Potato) peeled and de-seeded
1 Onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp Vegetable oil
1 tbsp Butter
1 tbsp fresh Parsley, finely chopped
1/2 tsp Salt
grated Nutmeg
2 Eggs lightly beaten with 2 tbsp of water
100g Breadcrumbs
100g Flour
Vegetable oil for frying

For Katsu Sauce

6 tbsp HP Original Sauce
3 tbsp Tomato Ketchup
1 tsp runny Honey

Chop the pumpkin into small chunks and steam for 10 - 12 minutes, until soft enough to mash. Meanwhile slowly fry the onion in a little oil. Then, mash the pumpkin in the big bowl, with the butter and season with salt. Add the onion and the chopped parsley. Using your hands, form the mixture into small balls. Roll each ball into the flour, dip into the beaten egg and water and cover in bread crumbs. Fry the balls in small batches for 3 - 5 minutes, until golden brown.

Katsu Sauce is ace. Just mix HP Sauce with Tomato Sauce in a 2:1 proportion and add some honey. Trust me. It is great with these little treats, and it is great with other things too. You'll soon find out about that.

The teamwork involved in making our feast is not necessary for just making Pumpkin Korroke. But, what is essential is that you eat them with friends (your own personal collection of earthly saints). Great party snack too!

Just by way of a goodbye, happy Halloween! Here is a little picture of the pumpkin I carved for my nieces and nephews who had a little seasonal party during half term last week.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Lost at the back of the fridge

I have been a little busy these last few days. I know that is hard to believe, but sometimes looking for a perfect job causes a flurry of activity. Also, my brother was visiting with my nephew and we had to go out and have lots of fun, which we did. October is always busy in our family anyhow because we celebrate the birthdays of 4 people, myself included.

I missed the feast of St. Anthony Mary Claret, which is a shame, because I would have loved to cook up a yummy little Catalan dish to remind me of all things Claretian. Those is the know will be savvy to the fact that I lived for a year with some of the UK Claretian community, in Cambridgeshire, when I was 19. So, they have a fond place in my heart. The feast was on a Sunday this year, 24th October, also it is the birthday of my Ma - a double cause for celebration.

Anyhow tomorrow, the feast of Saints Simon and Jude. It seems to me the perfect day to make dinner from those ingredients lost at the back of the fridge. A time to make a celebration of a few lost causes. Unless you have the time to make persian lamb, of course, which would be great. I might get the recipe for that up later. Some Ancient Christian writers have said that Simon and Jude went as missionaries to Persia and were martyred there. That is why we know so comparatively little about them.

Distractions aside, the 'soon to be lost forever' candidates in our fridge at home were: chicken strips (you know the ones cut from the breast that look like you are meant to make a stir fry from them), bacon lardons (who got those? and what for?), a bag of salad and some watercress (these always hang out in the drawer of the fridge as if just buying them makes you healthy), and hanging out on the work top, onions and garlic beginning to look a bit sad, a lemon and some red potatoes (not yet sprouting, but threatening to). I do not know about you, but I never know what to do with chicken cut this way. I am not a big fan of stir fry; put it in a big sauce and the chicken gets lost; I suppose you can grill it, or better still, turn it into BBQ skewers, but, I am normally a firm believer in cooking meat on the bone. So, what to do?

Chicken Patties with Red Roasted Chips and Salad

For the Patties (for 4)

a large onion
3 garlic cloves
bacon lardons - 200g
chicken strips (yes, free range) 680g
groundnut oil for frying (it heats up hotter that ordinary oil)
chicken stock 375ml (OK, I bought it from Waitrose - if you want to make it, go ahead, be my hero)
4 bushy sprigs of Rosemary

For the Red Potato Chips

err, Red Potatoes, a little ground nut oil and salt.


Put the watercress and spinach in a bowl, dress with olive oil and salt if you like. A squeeze of lemon doesn't go amiss either.

This is a Nigel Slater recipe really, although with a few changes here and there. he calls for minced chicken. I have never heard of it and do not have a mincer.

So, first things first, chop up your chicken pieces very finely and place them in a bowl. To get the minced effect I used my hand held blender, just a little bit. I did not want to decimate the pieces, but if some of the chicken were blended the patties would hold together better.

Thinly slice the onions, crush the garlic and gently fry both in a pan with the butter. If you are me, you then have to run to the end of the garden, with a torch in the pouring rain to find the four sprigs of rosemary you need. Other people will have already brought that in, apparently. So, rub your finger down the rosemary stalks backwards to release the leaves, and then finely chop those and add them to your gently frying onion and garlic. The place should now smell wonderful. Add the bacon lardons to the pan and cook through. When this is done, turn out the heat and leave to cool.

Once cooled mix the onions, garlic, rosemary and bacon to the chicken. Get your hands in, you want everything to be properly blended together. Form this mixture into little patties, about the size of a good biscuit and lay them on a clean plate. My mixture made 14 patties. Allows the patties to rest for 30 mins. to settle. Preheat the oven to 190C.

Get a big pot of cold water on for the potatoes. Chop the spuds length ways, and then into big long wedges. Place them into the pan of water, season with sea salt and bring to the boil. Once par-boiled, drain place back into the pot, and with the lid on give a good shake. This makes the final chip fluffy, which is nice. Place the spuds onto a metal cooking tray, pour over a little groundnut oil and mix around to make sure they have a good covering, season with salt and put them in the oven. they will take at least 40 mins.

Clean your onion frying pan with some kitchen towel, add some groundnut oil for frying and heat up. Fry each little pattie on both sides to colour golden brown. This takes about 3 mins. a side. Once browned place the patties into an oven proof dish (like a lasagna dish), and ladle over the chicken stock. Cook in the over for 25 - 35 mins, until succulent and cooked through. Serve in bowls, with a little of the stock ladled over. Serve the chips and salad in large bowls for the table, so as people can use them, in their bowls to mop up all the yummy juices. Classy. Oh, yes, and cut the lemon into thick wedges, the chicken patties taste even better with a squeeze of juice!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Frying for Friars: Fish Curry for a Friday

Over at Godzdogz the Dominican Friars have a wonderful recipe for cooking up a feast....I mean fast...for a Friday. Inspired by the food of Goa, their coconut fish curry looks truly great. I should go and have a quick look, if I were you!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Why is Luke the Patron of Artists?

I discovered something I never knew today. Why is Luke the patron of artists? Lawrence Lew OP, told me here. Thanks LL.

Unconventionally Lukan - a fish dish

I was working today, and out all day, so I did not have time to choose my ingredients as carefully as I might like. I had to just raid the fridge for the ingredients for dinner when I got home. My parents know better than to cook me dinner: if I have had a long day I need to unwind in the kitchen, with stereo, no interruptions. I'll be sociable when dinner is ready. So, St. Luke - the patron saint of artists, physicians, students and butchers as far as I recall. Some people say you should cook a beautiful cut of beef today to commemorate Luke's patronage of butchers and his symbol, an Ox. But not me, I do not like to eat too much meat, once a week being a maximum, ideally. Anyway, there was none in. So I thought I would go for something artistic and good for you, cheap, cheerful and colourful. If you use your imagination you might get the Lukan connections, but what we are really looking at here is a recipe created by someone who is tired, is working from the ingredients in the fridge and wants whatever dinner is to be simple and relaxing to cook.

Baked Mackerel with roast tomatoes (for 3)

You need:

3 whole mackerel, cleaned but with heads on
6 squishily ripe tomatoes
6 cloves of garlic
1 lemon
greek basil
salt and pepper

I washed the cleaned mackerel under the tap to make sure the job had been done properly by the fishmonger. I lay each fish on a separate piece of tinfoil big enough to make a baking parcel for it. In a bowl I thinly sliced the tomatoes, crushed the garlic, a squeeze of half a lemon and two great handfuls of chopped greek basil and seasoning. Then I took a nob of butter for each fish, ran it along the outside of the fish, then placed it inside. Using my hands, I stuffed each fish with the tomato mixture and placed the excess all over the top and sides. I parceled up each fish so as the air and juices could not escape, and placed them into a deep metal pan (these parcel have a tendency to leek no matter how good you think you are). I baked the fish at 200C for 30 mins.

I served these with sauteed potatoes, and sauteed samphire (yes, it was in the fridge - I'm not cheating!). I tipped each fish out of its parcel and onto the plate with all it juices, so as people could mash their potatoes into the sauces. Classy.

Juniper, new feline resident, tasted some too - and she liked it.

Lukan connections are a bit sparse. I am going with, colourful and arty looking, greek basil for an evangelist who wrote in Greek, and is meant to be good for you. Wax lyrical on the symbolism of fishes and wine (which we had as an accompaniment, naturally).

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Queen Of Hearts she had a Tart

Today is the feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. She is known for founding devotions to the Sacred Heart. I used to be terrified of those images of Jesus and his sacred heart. Creepy. It took me ages to get over it and to work out that a devotion to the Sacred Heart was a simple commitment to a radical type of love. Not that that is Maggie May's fault, she didn't draw the pictures. So, today instead of heart shaped confectionery, which has a tendency to remind me of St. Valentine and is also creepy, I am going to go for something from the heart of the kitchen that reaches the heart of the recipients. Bakewell Tart.

I have never seen a recipe for Bakewell. My Ma makes it, see? And she never uses a recipe, neither does she measure anything; it is always a handful of this and a spoonful of that. So, to produce this post I had to sit and take notes - then pass on the best advice I can. It is truly a heart warming tart though, I promise. Serve this during in Parliamentary questions and everyone would start talking about how much, really, they have in common and start a joint effort towards the common good. It stops a family row in seconds, believe me.

You need:

Caster Sugar
4 oz Ground Almonds
Half a jar of Apricot Jam
A few drops of Almond Essence
A handful of Flaked Almonds
8 oz Self Raising Flour
Tsp Baking Power
6 1/2 oz Butter
3 medium eggs
2 Tblsp Icing Sugar
Some Water

Heat the oven to 190C. Grease a tart tin - ours is round, with a loose bottom and a shaped edge. It is about 12in across.

Sweet Pastry

Rub 4 oz of the butter in to the flour with a tablespoon of icing sugar and the baking powder. Use your hands. You can't rush this, it takes a while. Have a cup of coffee at the ready to drink as you go along. It goes into buttery crumbs, eventually. Then take two handfuls of these crumbs out, and put them in a bowl to one side. Add two tablespoons of water to your big bowl of crumbs, and bring the pastry together with a knife. Flour the work surface, and roll out the pastry to the shape of the tin. Place the pastry into the tin and carefully 'knock it in'. This means fit it to all the ridges round the edge of the tin to give a beautiful shape to the final tart. There was a lot of pastry sticking up over the edges of the tin, and Ma used a rolling pin to cut the off using the sharp edge of the tin. Basically, make sure everything fits well.

Spread very carefully, 4 tablespoons of Apricot jam over the pastry. Get into all the edges and corners, but be careful not to make any ripples or holes in the pastry. OK, so today is a feast relating to the Sacred Heart - go mad, use Raspberry or Strawberry jam if you like.

The Filling

Put 2 1/2 oz butter in a sauce pan and melt gently. In your bowl (which is now empty) crack three eggs and place 4 oz of sugar. Whisk until creamy and a bit fluffy. Add 4 oz of ground almonds, and the crumbs you saved from earlier and mix with a spoon. Add 1/2 teaspoon of almond essence. Add the melted butter and keep stirring. Pour the whole lot into the pastry casing.

Here is where you can get creative. If you have any pastry left over you could roll it into strips and and cut it into the traditional criss cross Bakewell pattern. Or, make a heart shape. Or whatever. We just threw a handful of flaked almonds over the top though.

Bake in the oven for between 20 - 30 mins.

Then have with a nice cup of tea.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Helping Paws

Cloister has a new assistant! She is only little, but already has demonstrated her typing skills. Her name is Juniper, although I call her Fluffs. This is not an approved of name.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Don't Panic! It's up to you.

I tried to look for a proper translation of the poem, which I published here at the beginning of the year, and first found written in St. Teresa's Breviary after her death in 1582. I failed and couldn't find one. Rather than plague you with my own poor effort at translating the beautiful words, I thought I would leave you with a translation of the first and most famous part. So, today, 15th October, the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing upset you,
let nothing frighten you.
All things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins
all it seeks.
Whoever has God
lacks nothing:
God alone is enough.

In addition to this, there is another poem of St. Teresa that is special to me, also famous. On the day I went to Avila, by bus from Salamanca where I was living, I was very tired and fed up of struggling on with my studies in a language I could not understand. I was in one of those temperaments when you find everything hard. You know what I mean. This poem, written, predictably, in the Spanish I was struggling to learn, set a challenge for me. I hadn't heard it before. Since I have found that it is very well known, but to me it is special because when I first read it, it rocked my world.

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Teresa of Avila, Carmelite - 1515 - 1582.
PS. If you haven't read it - The Interior Castle is ace.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Nada te turbe over breakfast

OK. I am posting this early to make sure you have these few simple ingredients at home to make your Friday morning a little glimpse of heaven. A close relative of French Toast this one, but a very special start to the day to remember St. Teresa of Avila. Anything Carmelite should be sweet. It is an excuse to make caramel! Butter and sugar are the order of the day. This is great for breakfast - take your time over your coffee this morning. It will be Friday after all.

Pan de Santa Teresa

3 cups of milk
3 tablespoons of sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 Lemon zest
12 slices of French/Italian uncut bread (can be a little stale)
3 eggs
1 tablespoon cinnamon mixed with 1 tablespoon sugar (for sprinkling)
Olive Oil or butter for frying

Mix together the milk, sugar, cinnamon stick and lemon zest. Gently heat the milk mixture to ensure the flavours mix. Slice the bread into slices about 1/2 inch thick. Place the bread in a large flat dish and cover with the milk. Beat the three eggs and pour them into another large flat dish. Take each slice from the milk and cover it quickly through the egg, then fry until it is brown and crusty. Try not to let the bread get too too soggy in the milk. Sprinkle the fried slices with cinnamon sugar. Enjoy with coffee slowly. St. Teresa's prayer to 'let nothing trouble you' is the order of the day today, and it happens, it was the order of my year too - so can be read here (sorry it is in the original Spanish - I'll get a proper translation before Friday). This is enough to feed 4 hungry people.


Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Wilfrid wouldn't know the place

What? No gales? The temperate weather of late is distracting me. It should be windy, raining, cold and dark. Instead there is a pleasant breeze, the sun is shining beautifully and I keep seeing people eating ice creams. This is distinctly strange for October. How am I meant to provide recipes for comfort food when the weather keeps suggesting you have not quite missed the last alfresco opportunity?

Anyhow, St. Wilfrid comes up on the calender today. He does not get a feast, or even an optional memorial as far as I can make out. He just gets a mention. He was born c.634 in Northumbria and educated in Lindisfarne. After a visit to Rome he became a promoter of Roman customs, which he successfully championed at the Synod of Whitby. It is the mention of all these Northern coasts that makes me think this is a day for fresh scampi. No, not frozen. No, not like you get in a dodgy inland pub. Proper scampi prepared in your kitchen, with proper chips cut from potatoes with a knife and proper mushy peas, freshly made with a sprig of mint from the garden. The lack of a gale force wind and biting temperatures though makes me wonder if I am going to have to wait.

Good old Wilfrid seems to have got into a bit of trouble later in life. He became archbishop of York, but when his diocese was divided without reference to him, he appealed to the Pope (the first English bishop to do so) and on his way to Rome spent a year preaching the Gospel in the Low Countries. On his return from Rome he went as a missionary to Sussex and the Isle of Wight. Although he had been reinstated in York, he then fell out again with the king and the other bishops, and had to exercise his ministry in the East Midlands and finally at Hexham, dying in 709, possibly at Oundle in Northamptonshire. He is remembered for his forceful personality and his apostolic spirit, as a founder of churches and monasteries, and as a patron of the arts. What a traveler. Maybe that is how fish and chips became a national favourite from Whitby to the Isle of Wight? By the way, if you think 'scampi' is too 'chav' for your dinner table, called it breaded langoustine tails and have done? Its the same thing. Want to give it an Irish twist? Breaded Dublin Bay Prawns - again, same thing. Just make sure they are as fresh as you can possibly possibly get them.

250g scampi/langoustine/Dublin bay prawn tails (depending on how posh you would like to sound - remember though, they are all the same thing!)
seasoned flour
2 eggs beaten
150g fresh breadcrumbs
hot oil for frying

Pat dry the scampi tails on some kitchen towel and roll them in the seasoned flour to coat. Heat the oil to 180C. When the oil is hot dip the coated scampi into the beaten egg and coat them in the breadcrumbs. Fry them for about 4-6 minutes until golden brown. serve immediately.

If you are serving with your own homemade chips, it is best to do these first. Heat the oil in a big pan to about 180C. Chop your potatoes into fat chip shapes, skins on! When the oil is hot place your potatoes in the pan and fry until golden brown and yummy looking, about 10 minutes. Rescue the chips with a slotted spoon and drain them on kitchen towel. These will be okay waiting while you do the scampi, but don't take too long!

Proper mushy peas only take a second. In a salted, boiling pan of water pour in your yummy frozen peas (this is winter, I am taking it there are none in your garden). Boil them for just a minute or two. Drain and place in a bowl, add a sprig of mint from the garden and season to taste. Use a hand held blender for a second to make mushy. Yum.

Serve all of the above with fresh salad leaves and tartare sauce. Comfort food.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Newman's Vintage

Vintage Oxford Marmalade Cake

I chose Frank Cooper's Vintage Oxford Marmalade to make this cake because, well, Newman is 'vintage' and he loved Oxford.

You need:
6oz self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
5oz Golden Syrup
5oz butter
4tblsp milk
8oz Oxford Vintage Marmalade
2 large eggs
4oz cream cheese

Grease and fully line your baking tin. It should be an 8in square, but I do not have one of those, so mine was round and did not measure 8in. That's life.

Sieve the flour into a large bowl with the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Weigh the butter, golden syrup, 6oz of the marmalade and milk into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring. Make a well in your sieved flour. Beat two large eggs in a bowl. Pour in your melted ingredients to the well, add the beaten eggs and mix the whole lot together until it is smooth. Pour the mixture into your lined and greased tin. Bake at 150C for approx 35 mins, cover with greaseproof paper if it is browning too quickly. Check if it is cooked by inserting a sharp knife into the centre, if it comes out clean, it is done!

Remove from the oven to cool while you are making the topping. Mix together the remaining Vintage Oxford Marmalade with the cream cheese until smooth. Wait for your cake to cool completely on a rack. Spread the cheese topping thinly over the cake. Cut into very polite squares or triangles - think 19th Century England. Serve with tea, in front of a roaring fire. Sneak a glass of Sherry. Or, go all Oxford College pudding and make some Bird's Eye Custard, or bring out the vanilla ice cream. Read Apologia Pro Vita Sua. The first feast of Newman - sorted.

Choosing for a tricky customer

Today is the first feast of Blessed John Henry Newman. This means he doesn't have a traditional food yet. I have been weighing up the options, based on what I know about his attitudes to food and how I imagine him to be. As a young man, Newman was impressed by College food and drink: 'Fish, flesh and fowl, beautiful salmon, haunches of mutton, lamb etc and fine, very fine (to my taste) strong beer, served up on old pewter plates, and [in] mis-shapen earthenware jugs. Tell Mama,' he wrote to his father, 'there are gooseberry, raspberry and apricot pies'. Excellent.

Okay, he found the drinking culture of his fellow undergraduates a bit hard to take, remarking, 'if anyone should ask me what qualifications were necessary for Trinity College, I should say there was only one, - Drink, drink, drink', but all in all he seemed a happy chap. His college bill for his first full term included six bottles of the 'Best Sherry' and eighteen of the 'Best Port'.

In his 30's Newman traveled to Italy. Food and drink not being his particular concern, he doesn't write much about it, until he is ill with fever when we hear that he 'tried a rhubarb and ginger pill and sent out Gennaro for Camomile'. Sheridan Gilley has it that, 'Newman considered the tea from the leaves too rough, but one made with flowers was 'beautiful' and 'most refreshing'.

Newman moved to Littlemore in 1842, where he lived a very austere and simple life. On the evening of 8th October 1844, Bl. Dominic Barberi, a Passionist priest traveling through Oxford on route to Belgium, and a friend of Dalgairns, stayed at Littlemore. He arrived on top of the Birmingham coach, dripping with rain. As he dried himself by the fire Newman asked to become a Catholic. I mention this because Newman's feast has been chosen to commemorate the day of his conversion, not the anniversary of his death. He felt that it was this day that his life began again. Also, an open fire provides many opportunities for cooking snacks.

By this time he is 44 - at a feast for St. Cecilia (the Patron saint of Music) he visits Oscott Seminary where he finds 'the whole establishment turning fiddles and making punch'. Wiseman gives him a glass, which he insists is 'lemonade', and Newman finds it so strong he 'was obliged to dilute it twice or thrice of its quantity with water.'

The Birmingham Oratory is first established on the site of on an old gin factory. I am quite sure that Newman would not have had a liking for gin, but I did look up ingredients that hail from Birmingham. I came up with: Limes (being imported to Edgebaston in the mid to late nineteenth century), Bournville, Birds Eye Custard, Blue Bird Toffee, Cadbury's, Typhoo Tea and HP Sauce. I am not sure whether I can go anywhere with that little lot, but Bournville might make an appearance one year.

In Ireland, whilst working to set up a Catholic university, at the table of the Bishop of Limerick, Newman trembled at the sight of rare mutton, 'how it blushed on the first cut, but his Lordship was merciful and let me dine in the brown.' So, I am thinking meat is out. He just didn't seem to have much of a passion for it in his later years.

I don't know about you, but when I look at images of Newman as an older man, there is something of the Werther's Original about him. He is just so....English. I can imagine him taking tea in a sunlit lounge with a view of the garden, declaring everything is simply 'splendid'. I can see childish delight on his wizened face when someone treats him to a light tea cake. I am almost certain that he would have taken light meals and been fond of sweet treats. There are many ingredients to choose from here, lots of inspirations - but I think in the end, I am going to head for Vintage Oxford Marmalade Cake served with tea, or (perhaps) sherry. Another close runner was to make toast on the open fire and smother it in butter and Oxford Marmalade. Whatever is chosen, I think, it has to be something you would look forward to if, having walked for miles in the cold, dark rain, you entered a room with a blazing fire, an armchair and an ambition to talk far into the night with a warm hearted friend.

(Click Vintage Oxford Marmalade Cake to see the recipe)

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Cloister Organised

I have been organizing my blog this evening and so there are a few changes. Firstly, the buttons on the side still direct you to the most recent post in any given theme, so that's good. I also wanted to make it easier for my readers (i.e. me) to find older posts on different topics. Particularly, I thought it might be nice to look up authors and books I have written about. And, what with my new series on food, I wanted people to be able to find recipes. So, I have added a section along the sidebar for indexes. Each one shows up the different posts so they can be easily found. Okay, it is not strictly alphabetical or numerical, but if I did that I would consider myself a changed human being. The lists are fairly short at the moment, but I hope I will have the determination to allow them to grow gradually. The first series of this blog, back when it was called Under the Cross, has also been logged more effectively so you can look up each of the Stations of the Cross. It nice to feel that everything is getting into order!

Blue is for Rosemary

I am sure that many of you think that recipes and food can have very little to do with odd religion. However, never one to disappoint, I though would just share with you a delicious dish which is great shared with friends AND some stories about the ingredients which make it appropriate for Marian feast days and family parties.

Rosemary Oven Roasted Potatoes

Peel and chop into little 1/2 inch cubes some fresh waxy potatoes and place them into a non stick oven dish. Drizzle them liberally with olive oil and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Grab a good sized handful of rosemary sprigs. Taking two or three of the sprigs, hold each one upright and run your forefinger and thumb down the central twig to release the leaves. Stir these into the potatoes and tuck the remaining whole sprigs into the dish strategically. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes turning the little gems over frequently until they are golden.

This is a great side dish, it is great at a barbeque, as an alternative to chips, as a snack served in paper cones....anytime really.

Now, those stories:


Rosemary originated in the Mediterraean, but has now spread to most temperate climates. It holds the ancient Latin name lamiaceae, which means 'sea dew'. You may thing that this is because of the oceanic colour of its' flowers, and perhaps you are right, but there are more entertaining tales to be had about its' foliage. Rumour has it that during their flight into Egypt the Holy Family had cause to hide from some soldiers. Mary threw her cloak over a rosemary bush and knelt behind it with the child, Jesus. When she rose again, in safety, the flowers of the sweet smelling plant miraculously turned from white to blue in her honour.

You might think that one miracle story would be enough for rosemary, but no. The plant is also said to bloom at midnight on Christmas eve (no I have never checked, don't spoil it). It apparently will only grow for 33 years, the age of Christ, and then will wither and die.

Shakespeare's Ophelia famously says 'There's Rosemary, that is for remembrance", and indeed, it used to be common practice for mourners to throw rosemary onto the coffin from the graveside. Strangely, it has also been a traditional plant for the bride to have in her bouquet and is said to bring happiness to the couple. Often grown at the front of the house Rosemary has the reputation of being able to keep spirits, thieves and witches at bay. Medicinally it is a good cure for headaches and, the oil makes both excellent antiseptic and insect repellant.


Put the first new potato of the year in your overcoat pocket and you will be cured of rheumatism for life, so says the old folklore cure. The humble potato once fetched £300 a pound as an aphrodisiac. For Irish Farmers the best day to plant a field of spuds is the feast of St. Patrick, but should this day be missed Good Friday is a close second. Traditionally potato fields in Ireland were dressed with the blessed Easter Palm in the hope of a good harvest. At 'Lughnasa', celebrated on the Sunday nearest the 1st August, the first new potatoes should be tasted by the whole family for prosperity and good health to flourish during the year.

Now you are fully informed you can choose the most prestigious day on which to mix these two yummy ingredients! I think they are good for today, Our Lady of the Rosary. And I think they might be good for every other day too! (is that cheating?) Now, I know some (very few) of you might be thinking that I should have written something with a Dominican connection as well today. Maybe so. My best advice is to make up for it by serving these with some excellent wine, good friends and laughter.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Bruno's Soup

As luck would have it there was spinach in the garden and potatoes in the basket, so I decided to jazz up the supper of the Carthusians in Into Great Silence. Similar budget here, I am unemployed after all. So, two handfuls of spinach, three potatoes about the size of your hand, three small onions, two cloves of garlic, vegetable stock and grated nutmeg. And some pepper for seasoning. No salt though, the stock is salty enough.

I sliced the onions and garlic finely, and gently fried them in a little oil. Then I grated a generous amount of nutmeg over the top. It smelled yummy. Then I roughly chopped the three potatoes, skins on and threw them into the pot. A few minutes later I sprinkled a teaspoon and a half of the vegetable stock powder over the top of the frying potatoes and boiled the kettle. When the water was hot I poured enough over to just cover the potatoes, put the lid on the pot and made a cup of coffee to drink in the garden. Once the potatoes were soft I added the spinach and put the lid on again for a few moments. Then I whizzed the whole lot gently with a hand held blender. My un-Carthusian touch was a splash of cream to serve. Eat with fresh crusty bread.

Ages ago I wrote a post about my favourite sounds of silence, and today, thinking about Carthusians has had me remember it. Silence is really very noisy, there are so many sounds to a very quiet place. I made this soup while the house was quiet, just taking the time to myself. I could hear the birds, the sounds of the kitchen, the passing of a car on the road outside. Here - listen! The sound of the making of Bruno's Soup. :)

A bear called Bruno

I had a bear called Bruno when I was little, so I will always associate the name with him and with a frantic search to find him under the bed before I could possibly consider anything so restful as sleep. (Okay, I still have a bear called Bruno, but he just sits quietly on a cupboard now). Saint Bruno, whose feast it is today, was born in 1085. He was educated in Paris and ordained priest - he taught theology. However, wanting to lead a solitary life he founded a monastery called La Grand Chartreuse. He didn't get away with that peaceful existence for long though, he was called to be an advisor to Pope Urban II. He died in 1101.

The thing about Bruno, aside from the bear, is that he also reminds me of an adventure to see a film in Cambridge some years ago. My brother was home from one of his many travels. Into Great Silence (2005) was on at the Cambridge Arts Cinema and I really wanted to see it. But, having explained the plot (?) to a few people I couldn't get any takers. The film, directed by Phillip Groning, is an intimate portrayal of everyday life in the Grand Chartreuse. Groning proposed the film to the monks in 1985, and 16 years later they contacted him to say they had agreed to his project. Everything takes time. Groning then went, by himself, to live with the monks in the monastery where visitors are not normally allowed. He stayed 4 and a half months from March in 2002. The sounds in the film were recorded by Groning alone. No artificial light was used to create the remarkable images. My brother said he would come. So, we booked tickets and drove the 30 or so miles to Cambridge, parked the car and went in. For me, it was one of the most amazing films I have ever seen. I loved it. Dan said afterwards it wasn't so much a film as a meditation, and I guess that is right. There is no commentary, just the sights and sounds, the rhythm of monastic life. I bought it on DVD afterwards and used it in the classroom. Then I lent it to someone and never saw it again.

I guess there is a theme here. Bruno - the bear - has to be found for peace to reign, but Bruno -the Saint - shows that silence can never last forever, there are jobs to be done. The film was just a moment to be caught and appreciated like the precious silences that come our way, every now and then.

Those of you who saw the film might remember this still image of dinner. Okay, so it is spinach and potatoes - very simple - but you have got to be able to do more with it than that. Simplicity is no excuse! With that in mind, two books that might help can be found here and here. Cook with them quietly! If I grab a moment today I am going to make spinach and potato soup, and maybe a loaf of bread.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Wolf Paw Cookies

This post about cookies for the Feast of St. Francis really makes me go, 'awww, ahhhh' almost as much as watching a squirrel burying a nut in the herb patch of the garden today.

:) i lufs him. :)

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Pimientos de Padron

I have come to Bedford to visit my sister, and she has bought pimientos de Padron for me to prepare! I am very excited! It is quite unusual to find these peppers outside of Spain. Basically, in my experience, eating these is a bit like playing Russian roulette. Some of these beautiful green peppers are so sweet they will make you melt, and others are super hot and will have you running for a cold beer (which, incidentally, doesn't help). As the Galicians say: Os pementos de PadrĂ³n, uns pican e outros non" . The peppers of Padron, some are hot, some are not. Fairly self- explanatory really!

I learnt about pimientos de Padron whilst living in Salamanca, in a bar very near the beautiful Dominican church of San Sebastian. There was a guitarist in the bar who was very handsome, and he sang traditional Spanish folk songs most weekends. Also, the bar man was very keen to encourage strangers to test his food, especially these capsicums. Part of the fun was that sometimes tourists would squeal with the heat, and the locals would laugh.

Pimientos de Padron are about the size of your thumb. They are fried in olive oil, salted and served. Some say that the largest ones are the hottest, others say one in five will have you begging for mercy. There is only one way to find out for sure, pick one up and eat it whole, from the stem!

They take a whole 10 minutes to prepare, and can have a group of friends laughing for hours.

You need: Olive oil, pimientos de Padron and good quality coarse ground salt. Wash the peppers and dry them properly. Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan with a healthy splash of olive oil, add the peppers and fry them until they blister and get some colour. Tip the peppers onto some kitchen towel and pat dry, then salt them (don't be shy). Serve with bread.

Eat and enjoy. Don't eat the stalks - they are just handles to save you on washing cutlery.

Pimientos de Padron are one of the oldest non hybrid peppers. As the story goes, Franciscan monks brought them to Spain from Mexico in the 16th Century. They gained a name for themselves in the town of Padron, Galicia (that's near Santiago de Compostela everyone - my favourite place in the whole wide world!). OK, so the fiesta of the Pimientos de Padron is on the first Sunday in August, but it is held in the courtyard of the Franciscan Convent of Herbon. In keeping with the Franciscan spirit of poverty, this little delicacy is cheap and cheerful! I am claiming it for the Feast of St. Francis, even though it is, technically, not Italian.

A little internet research informs me that, aside from a magic place in Bedford, pimientos de Padron can be sourced in the UK from here. For those of you who are finding the peppers hard to source, might I suggest growing your own?

Maybe later I will add some pictures of myself and my sister enjoying our capsicum adventures. I am going to serve them up as a starter before our main meal, comfort food of the highest order, patatas a lo pobre con setas, or 'Poor Man's potatoes with mushrooms'. I might get the recipe for that up too, when I have decided what it is. :)

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Nature is an angel's favourite hiding place

Whoop! Whoop! It is the feast of Guardian Angels today - a much neglected memoria in the Church Year. One of my Facebook friends has suggested that today would be a good day to have a post about Angel Cake, and preferably a recipe. And that is true, today is an appropriate day for Angel Cake. But, I am all caked out following Michaelmas, and today I have lots and lots of tidying to do so no time for baking. If you feel up to the challenge though, there is a good recipe here.

Trying to suit your cooking to the time of year is very fashionable these days, and rightly so. It is also a source of great fun! I am tempted to make pineapple upside down cake with my nieces today, and arrange the pineapples into an angel shape at the bottom of the tin. Yeah! After all, GK Chesterton did say that 'the reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly!' Sadly, what I have said above still applies. Housework. Boo! Still, I might make time!

Anyhow, because finding something appropriate for dinner according to the Church year is very similar to finding something appropriate for dinner according to earthly seasons, today is the day to compose something beautiful out of these great ingredients - all in season, at their most abundant and cheapest right now.

Heavenly Food of the Day

Oysters -
they can take people to heaven and back (apparently)

Other Seasonally Angelic Suggestions

Vegetables: artichokes, aubergines, beetroots, broccolis, butternut squashes, carrots, celeriacs (the shek of root vegetables - makes great chips), parsnips, celery, chillies, courgettes, fennel, garlic, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuces and salad leaves (especially lambs lettuce), marrows, onions, peppers, main crop potatoes, radishes, rocket, sweetcorn, turnips, spinach and watercress (eat with red wine for a taste bud explosion!)

Fruits: apples, blackberries, elderberries, pears, plums, quince, tomatoes

On the wild side: cobnuts, nettles, mushrooms (especially puffballs - particularly angelic looking) and all the fruits above (obviously)

Meat: rabbits (awwww - you wouldn't!....ok, you would), chicken, pork (it's that hog time of year again!) and things like pheasant

Herbs: sage, thyme, mint, parsley, chives

From the Sea: Mussels, clams, crab, haddock (get it smoked and make chowder - heaven!), mackerel, monkfish, lemon sole, john dory, lobster, plaice, prawns, scallops, squid, sea bream, hake, skate.

Skate Swimming: Looks like a proper angel see? None of your 18th Century cherub nonsense here. Oh no!

Selecting a heavenly feast from that little lot has got to be easy. It's the choice that is tricky. I think I might, if I had the time, go for: Pan fried skate with a black peppercorn and butter sauce (like my brother does it), served with spinach and crushed spuds. The vegetarian option would definitely have to be something adventurous with a puff ball mushroom. And dessert? Blackberries in a pie with vanilla ice cream.