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10 October 2010 @ 12:10 am
Austerity Cooking  
I recently pulled an old cook book off the shelf, to have a flick through and giggle. It's called Fine English Cookery, and was printed in 1973, so is filled with the meals of my childhood.

Until I read it, and indulged on my massive Agatha Christie binge of the last six weeks (twenty novels and counting!), I had managed to completely remove the memory of tongue from my conscious mind. Happily, due to a few massive thwacks to the noggin over the years, I can still only recall that I have eaten it, and the vaguest distaste when it comes to trying to recall either actual taste or texture. I feel this is for the best.

However, thanks to the aforementioned reading (and I was then obliged to pull out my WI and CWA (Australian WI near-analogue) cookbooks), I have been cooking retro food for the last few weeks. With the credit crunch still biting bums in most of the world, and a lot of students out there, I want to share my two fave recipes, both of which are considerably adapted from their source material, due to the source being a bit mingy in the flavour department. The first is vegan, the second thoroughly not, but still vegetarian! Both cheap to make! (Admittedly a little less so if you use everything organic.)

Italianesque beans
Serves 2 really really hungry people as a meal, 3 normally hungry people as a meal, or 4-6 people as a side

A bucketload of garlic: half a head of Russian or Italian garlic, more if it's older, a little less than half a head of normal garlic, or else at least a teaspoon of bottled garlic. You can adjust this if you are fussy about garlic or going out on the pull later in the night.
A splash of olive oil
2 tins cannellini beans (white Italian kidney beans)
2 tins tomatoes (whole or crushed) or a similar amount of sugo or passata
(All tins should be roughly 400-450g, the standard size, but weights vary according to brand)
Salt and pepper
A small amount of caster sugar if the tomatoes are bitter
Basil or other Italian herbs (optional)

1. In a large non-stick frypan, heat the oil over a medium-hot hob.
2. Chop garlic roughly. When oil is just beginning to spatter, but well before it starts to smoke, toss garlic in and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to soften and turn translucent/golden.
3. While garlic is cooking, open the tins of beans and tip into a large sieve. Rinse under a cold running tap until the water runs clear without foaming. Drain and tip beans in with soft garlic.
4. Cook, stirring, until beans heat through.
5. Add tomato (drain some of the liquid off first if using whole tomatoes that have been packed with a lot of water). Break up large tomato pieces as necessary -- it's easiest to do this with your spoon after they have heated through. Cook over a medium-hot heat until the sauce has thickened and reduced. Season as desired (it often does not need salt as many tinned products have a little salt added), taste, and if the tomatoes are bitter, add a quarter-teaspoon at a time of caster sugar and stir in well before tasting again. Add herbs just after tomatoes if using rosemary, oregano or marjoram.
6. Turn off heat and stir in torn basil, if using. Serve with crusty bread, if desired, or just eat from a big bowl. You can also cook the beans to this point and then pour them into ramekins, cracking a raw egg into the middle and putting the ramekin in a moderate oven until the egg is cooked (about 8 minutes in my oven) for a delicious non-vegan breakfast. And I have added a sliced onion to the garlic in step 2 for a more allium-centric version of this dish.

Baked custard
Serves six as a dish, or four hungry people as dish, or eight as an accompaniment to steamed pudding, stewed fruit or similar)

450mL milk (preferably organic)
300mL single cream (preferably organic)
Vanilla bean, or a good splash of vanilla extract
6 medium-large free-range eggs
100-110g caster sugar (the organic golden is delicious! Use the upper level if you like it sweeter.)
Nutmeg, if desired.

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C conventional, 180 fan-forced. Prepare a 1.5L ovenproof dish or ring mould: the original recipe suggests buttering it, but I never bother. Instead, stand it inside a larger ovenproof dish, on an oven tray. Fill the outer dish with water to halfway up the sides of the inner dish. Old Pyrex dishes are perfect.
2. In a 2L pan, heat the milk and cream together. Split the vanilla bean (if using) with a sharp knife and scrape out the seeds: drop seeds and bean into milk. Stir occasionally to prevent milk sticking to pan.
3. Crack all the eggs, whole, into a medium bowl. Add sugar. Beat together with fork, whisk or hand-held beaters until the sugar is dissolved and egg mix well incoporated.
4. When the milk is starting to simmer, use a ladle or cup to scoop about 100mL into the egg mixture. Beat in well. Repeat twice more, until the egg mixture is starting to warm. Stirring as you do, pour the egg mixture into the milk still on the hob. Turn off the heat, but continue to stir until thoroughly incorporated. The custard will start to thicken a little as you stir.
5. Pour the custard mixture into the inner dish.Grate nutmeg over the top if using. Lift the tray carefully, so the water does not slosh, and place in middle of oven. Bake for about 50 mins. Test by giving the tray a jiggle: the custard should just be set: it will wobble in the middle, but not be liquid. Remove from oven and remove from water bath soon after: if left in it will continue to cook and the outside can become over tough. Can be served straight away hot, or left to cool to near room temperature and then refrigerated, covered, for a minimum of an hour to serve cool.

It's that Bucket woman!: can't sleep humans will eat mecuria_regis on October 9th, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC)
I might try the first recipe tomorrow. *looks in cupboard* The only thing I have is mixed beans though. Will go shopping! I think I've made something vaguely similar before that involved a pot rather than a frying pan.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on October 9th, 2010 01:48 pm (UTC)
It would probably work with mixed beans, though I do like the softness of the cannellini. It's one of those infinite family of bean and tomato dishes that spring up in most cuisines, but tasty!
inamacinamac on October 9th, 2010 01:38 pm (UTC)
I love tongue - and occasionally buy it for 'comfort eating'.

I vividly remember my mother preparing pressed tongue for Christmas - curled into my grandmother's aluminium cooking pot, covered with an old enamel army plate and weighted down with the granddad's cast iron shoe last...

I'd make it myself, but you can't get the equipment these days ;)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on October 9th, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
I remember my father and grandmother both presenting it as a treat, and me eating it because they liked it, but not really liking it at all. I've never been a big meat eater, and the tongue was so identifiably part of an animal :-( If I'm going to eat meat, I want to save it up for a good bit of beef or lamb, or some nice venison or kangaroo. (Oddly, I adore fish, and always have.)

Tuppence Beresford, on the other hand loves it, and she is a wonderful fictional creation!
ecosopherecosopher on October 9th, 2010 03:38 pm (UTC)
Yum, that bean recipe sounds good, and the baked custard brings back wonderful memories... I can't say I've ever eaten tongue, but I was disgusted to discover that I ate sheep's brains as a toddler, and loved it O_o Other delicacies on my childhood menu were lamb and kidney stew *shudders* and kangaroo tail soup, but fussy as I was, I refused to try either, ever.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on October 10th, 2010 01:50 am (UTC)
I definitely ate brains, I think it may have been a causal step in my years of veganism and vegetarianism (not as causal as being surrounded by hippies, obviously ;-))

The baked custard came out of a memory. My grandparents had one cook who did an amazing one, and I fiddled with the original recipe until it matched my memory of the taste.
wemyss: dry flywemyss on October 9th, 2010 04:13 pm (UTC)
You call this cuisine you're rediscovering 'retro'...
... I call it, 'luncheon'.

There's a reason I am forever adverting friends to



blamebramptonblamebrampton on October 10th, 2010 01:38 am (UTC)
Re: You call this cuisine you're rediscovering 'retro'...
Hee, it's true. I have spent far too long in the realms of South East Asian cuisine, but am enjoying this return to the staples of my childhood.

I am liking the experimenting, though! The majority of my pudding repertoire is steamed puddings and cakes, with the occasional ice-cream and sorbet. I do make a good pouring custard (and a good ice-cream base custard), but it had been years since I tried a baked one.

The original recipe called for just milk and about half the sugar, and was quite disappointing, I had to stew some fruit to perk it up. But going wild with my 21st century fats and sugars led to a very satisfactory conclusion!

My old bean dish was far more down the baked beans path and needed quite the dollop of vinegar, which made it all too acidic for me as a main meal. This one I can guzzle cheerfully!

Thank you very much for the links, I can see myself losing a great deal of time there.
pioniepionie on October 9th, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
I see what you mean about the baked custard, it sounds like heavenly, creamy perfection! Especially with nutmeg.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on October 10th, 2010 01:52 am (UTC)
We have half left of last nights, I am trying to talk myself out of having it for brunch ... failing ...

It's also good if you sprinkle a little caster sugar over it after it's been in the oven for a while: gives it a little caramel crust. (Yes, I did discover this through clumsiness rather than design.)
Meredythmeredyth_13 on October 9th, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
The man up the road gave me six duck eggs from his ducks yesterday - I've been debating trying my untested hands at a duck-egg creme brulee. But I've never made a plain custard either, and that looks very similar to the creme brulee process, and doesn't look too hard. Hmmmm


My world for a blow torch. :D

(I buy organic raw sugar, which is readily available now in both Woolies and Coles generic brands, and stick it in the blender for a few seconds if I need caster sugar - I find it saves money and I prefer the taste of raw these days)
quatrefoilquatrefoil on October 10th, 2010 12:21 am (UTC)
If you have a gas cooktop you can manage without a blow torch - the way that creme brulees used to be made. Heat up a sacrificial teaspoon (holding on to it with an oven mitt) until it's really hot and use it to melt the sugar on top of the CB. This works almost as well as the traditional salamandar which is basically a flattened, pointy teaspoon which fits into the edges better.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on October 10th, 2010 02:10 am (UTC)
I love the fact that this flist is full of clever, helpful people :-)
Meredythmeredyth_13 on October 11th, 2010 07:20 am (UTC)
Thank you! I knew there had to be a more traditional way of doing it. (I had to think for a minute before realising that you didn't mean some medieval use of small reptiles ...) :D
blamebramptonblamebrampton on October 10th, 2010 02:09 am (UTC)
Oh Yum Yum Yum!

Custards are very easy, the only thing to worry about is curdling if you add the eggs wrongly or heat too quickly. You can get around this in several ways depending on the recipe. If it's one where you heat the milk and cream, then add the eggs, add some of the milk mix into the egg mix first to bring it up to temperature, beating all the time, then pour the egg mix into the rest of the milk.

If you do everything over the hob, either have some cold water in the sink and take the pan off the hob and put it into the cold water and beat briskly at the first sign of curdling, or take it off the hob and add a good big dollop of cream (double cream is better) and beat thoroughly to reincorporate.

The sugar tip is a great one! And I agree, the extra molasses in the golden sugar really adds an extra dimension of taste. And QF's tip below is excellent. If you have a gas griller, you can turn it up to high and flash the tops underneath it, too, but it is hard to time.
Meredythmeredyth_13 on October 11th, 2010 07:19 am (UTC)
I did wonder if doing it under the grill would work, but I only have an electric grill, so the spoon idea is awesome (if a tad dangerous for me and Mr Shaky Hands).

But I also found the MOST BASIC recipe for duck egg sponge cake, so I may try that first, because simple is my first, last and middle names. :D

quatrefoilquatrefoil on October 10th, 2010 12:18 am (UTC)
I too have been revisiting my childhood and traditional English cuisine in recent years. I am a huge fan of the traditional pudding especially rice and bread and butter puds, and of those staples like shepherd's pie and bubble and squeak. They also have the advantage of being extremely frugal. I tend to do Australianised versions of a number of things - substituting kangaroo for beef or pork on environmental and cost ground, and I'm particularly enamoured with my take on a traditional dish, which I christened 'cane toad in the hole' - made with the low fat kanga bangers instead of the canonical pork snags.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on October 10th, 2010 02:24 am (UTC)
Cane toad in the hole is proof, if one were needed, of your genius!

I need to work n a good rice pud. Should probably learn at the feet of feryl next time I am up the mountain. And shepherd's pie! I haven't made one in ages! What a good idea!
quatrefoilquatrefoil on October 10th, 2010 02:43 am (UTC)
Ms Feral uses my rice pud recipe which, as she says, would kill a brown dog. It originated with my great uncle, an Anglican Canon, and is therefore the Canonical rice pudding. Its salient feature is that it starts with a tin of condensed milk. I'll dig out the recipe and post it.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on October 10th, 2010 03:15 am (UTC)
Not only a genius, but a sainted one! Thank you! (I have a tube of condensed milk and a tin of baking apple in the cupboard for my next foray into boarding school food: I do not need to explain any further as I am certain you know exactly where that recipe is going ;-))
(Anonymous) on October 10th, 2010 01:06 am (UTC)
A note from Sorrel
Hurrah for the CWA! Not so much on account of the offal, but it its publications have made a wonderful contribution to documenting our culinary tradition. (Though I was shocked and dismayed to find that the CWA stand at the last Royal Show made heavy use of packet mixes. That is Just Not On!)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on October 10th, 2010 02:25 am (UTC)
Re: A note from Sorrel
I bought their most recent cookbook, and it's just wonderful! But packet mixes? That's terrible! (And HI Sorrel ;-))
bare_memabonwitch on October 10th, 2010 04:21 am (UTC)
Hmmm. Do you know what sounds good with that first recipe? Polenta! Possibly with sage.

Also, what is caster sugar? I'm a fair hand at cooking these days, but I've never heard of it.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on October 10th, 2010 04:48 am (UTC)
British, Australian and Kiwi term for what I believe is sold as superfine sugar in North America. meredyth above tells me that you can make it by running regular sugar through the food processor. Billington's sugar does a great golden caster sugar that is delicious!

And yes, polenta would be a great addition! I'll give it a go!
Dedicated Escape Artist: Coffee Timejadzialove on October 10th, 2010 04:50 am (UTC)
YUM! Someday I'll try the custard, but the beans are definitely something I can do any day. So simple, all things I love and just never thought to put together like that. And, as I'm an allium-based life form, I will be using the onion...
blamebramptonblamebrampton on October 10th, 2010 06:58 am (UTC)
I'm the same! I've had baked beany type recipes for years, but they are all really fussy and overly spicy or overly vinegary. I was thinking recently about how much I love the simple Tuscan fagioli, and trying to remember what went into them, when I suddenly realised that I could make a tomatoey bean dish and just leave half the fuss out!

And Mmmmmmmm, Alliums ...
Dedicated Escape Artist: Cupcake Lovejadzialove on October 10th, 2010 06:44 pm (UTC)
Sometimes things just taste better when you leave out the fuss!
silent hallucinationalex_s9 on October 10th, 2010 08:20 pm (UTC)
I just this conversation at the party two days ago, about tongues (bleh), tails (yummy!) and kidneys (double bleh). I remember my mum preparing the tongue, it's quite popular here in Poland, but I yet have to taste it (I refused to eat different kind of meat since I was a child and tongue looks mushy when you cook it).
(Anonymous) on October 11th, 2010 07:24 am (UTC)
Top for cooking garlic or onion:

Chop and add to COLD pan with the oil. This way it cooks more slowly, but thoroughly, and it's almost impossible to burn. I discovered this by accident and I now swear by it.

Burnt garlic is nasty, but can happen easily if you toss it in oil that's too hot.

Cheers, Charlotte

PS: And offal is awful!