A Proper Pasty

If I had to compile a short-list of my favourite foods, I don’t think there’s a lot of competition for what would take first place. It would be freshly baked bread, still warm from the oven, and butter — optionally accompanied by a good, ripe Camembert and some Ardennes pâté, washed down with red wine or Belgian beer (though the bread and butter are definitely the key thing).

Populating the rest of the list would be a bit harder as there are many contenders. One would probably be the Cornish pasty.

I remember watching an item about Cornish pasties many years ago on Blue Peter, and being particularly taken by a detail they mentioned, namely that sometimes pasties were baked with jam at one end (separated from the meat and veg at the other end by an internal pastry wall). The idea was to provide a desert course for the tin miners who would take the pasties down the mine with them to eat for lunch.

This struck me as being a wonderful idea (I was going to describe it as “deliciously simple and simply delicious” but I’m fairly sure I used that wee phrase in one of my previous posts not all that long ago). Sadly, there are (to the best of my knowledge) no commercially available pasties that include a jam end.

I have once or twice, though not for quite a few years, tried making my own pasties and I did have a go at making them with jam at one end. As I recall it worked pretty well. But I don’t really want to have to go to the hassle of baking pasties from scratch just to get a bit of jam in them.

This evening I was microwaving a shop-bought pasty for dinner when I was struck by inspiration. I was making a cup of tea to accompany the pasty and when I opened the fridge to get the milk my eye happened to light upon a jar of raspberry jam. It occurred to me that I could add some jam to the already cooked pasty.

Once I retrieved the pasty from the microwave, I made a small hole at one end of it with a fork and excavated the filling (which tasted very nice even without its pastry wrapping), before putting a spoonful of jam in the newly vacated end.

I then proceeded to eat the pasty from the other end, and very much enjoyed the jam when I got to it. There was a certain amount of mixing between the sweet and savoury but that actually worked quite nicely.

I probably won’t do the same thing every time I have a Cornish pasty from now on but it’s good to know that I can simulate a two-course pasty without having to do all the hard work myself.

Two sweet finds

Last Saturday I found myself at the other end of town from my usual stomping grounds.  This gave me a chance to nip into Aldi and pick up some of their pesto sauce, which I think is rather better than the one sold by my regular supermarket.

It was fairly crowded in the shop and I was in a bit of a hurry so I just dived in, grabbed 3 jars of red pesto (noticing that they didn’t seem to have any green in stock – not a problem as I prefer the red anyway) and made for the checkout.

Only later, when I got home and went to stow my purchases, did I realise that I hadn’t actually bought pesto after all.  Instead I’d picked up jars of a “Creamy and Smooth Tomato and Mascarpone Stir-In Pasta Sauce”, which happened to be in very similar looking jars (from the same manufacturer) as the pesto ones, and in the place I’d usually expect to find them.  In fact, outwardly, there was little apart from the writing on the label (which, admittedly, does fairly clearly say “Tomato and Mascarpone Sauce” rather than “Pesto Rosso”) to distinguish the two.

This is probably not something I would normally have bought unless it was on a particularly good special offer (actually it may have been, since it cost me about 50p less than I was expecting for 3 jars of pesto) but I decided that, since I’d got it, I might as well use it.  Like pesto, it appears to be the sort of thing that you can just stir into some freshly cooked pasta, though I’m sure you could do fancier stuff with it as well (I recently discovered that pesto works well in bubble and squeak, but I digress).  That’s what I like about pesto, incidentally, the fact that it’s very versatile and particularly useful for being able to put together a tasty (and reasonably nutritious) dish very easily when you’re in a hurry or feeling tired.

I opened the first jar for lunch yesterday and was very impressed by the lovely, creamy taste.  On that occasion I also threw in some sweetcorn that I had left over from the previous night’s dinner (tuna pasta – yes, I do eat quite a lot of pasta).  This evening I used up the remainder of the sauce jar just with pasta and it was still very delicious.

I found an old pesto jar waiting in my recycling box, so I was able to compare the labels.  To my surprise, the tomato and mascarpone sauce actually contains fewer calories (and also less fat, sugar and protein, though marginally more salt) than the pesto.  I guess that’s probably due to the fact that nuts (well known to be a good source of fat, sugar, protein and energy) are a staple ingredient of the latter.

Now that I’ve discovered this sauce, I’ll probably continue to get it from time to time, though I hope that Aldi hasn’t stopped stocking their pesto sauce since it’s a very useful addition to my food cupboard.

I made another exciting culinary discovery recently too.  I’d been given a little pot of cream cheese (something I don’t usually buy, though I quite enjoy eating it from time to time) by somebody who couldn’t use it and I randomly thought to try it on bread with honey.  It was very tasty and is definitely another one I’ll try to remember for future use.

 

When life gives you lemons…

Last night I had pasta for dinner.

That’s not incredibly surprising as it seems to be one of the mainstays of my diet these days – being a relatively cheap, quick and easy way to knock up a tasty, filling and reasonably healthy meal, with quite a bit of scope for variation.

The problem, though, is that I seem to have got stuck in a bit of a rut for my pasta preparation and there’s been relatively little variation of late, so I’ve been getting slightly bored with it (although, when it comes to the crunch – and I do like my pasta slightly al dente – I still enjoy eating it).

My usual approach is to more-or-less randomly select one of the two or so varieties of pasta I usually have in the store cupboard at any given time (last night it was tagliatelle, the other option being conchiglie), set that going in a saucpan (with, obviously, a fair amount of boiling water, as well as a little salt) and then use the 10 minutes or so while it cooks to knock up the sauce.

The sauce starts with a bit of olive oil in a frying pan set to simmer gently.  To this I add a chopped up spring onion and often some fresh or dried chillis (last night it was small Italian dried red chillis – just a couple to infuse a bit of bite into the oil), a chopped up anchovy fillet, a few capers and chopped up olives (green, at the moment – I usually seem to alternate jars of green and black olives), a crushed clove (or sometimes two) of garlic, some dried oregano and freshly-milled black pepper and, often (like last night) a fairly liberal dose of tomato purée.

By the time the pasta is cooked, this has all simmered down nicely so I drain the pasta, lob it into the frying pan (which I’ve taken off the heat by now), mix it all around and serve it up in a bowl that I previously warmed up either by resting it upside down on top of the pasta pan for half a minute or so towards the end of cooking or by draining the pasta water into it (either way, a quick wipe to remove the excess water leaves a lovely warm bowl ready to receive the pasta), then grate a bit of freshly grated Gran Padano cheese (which is stocked by at least one of my local supermarkets and seems to be pretty similar to Parmesan (or Parmigiano-Reggiano to use its Italian name) but significantly cheaper) on top and eat it, preferably with a slice or two of fresh bread and washed down with either water or, if circumstances allow, red wine.

As a basic method for preparation of pasta, this has (I believe) a lot to recommend it.  However, as previously alluded to, my recent pasta cookings have tended to stick to exactly the same pattern with little of the variation with which I usually like to spice up my cooking (and eating) beyond the shape of pasta and colour of olives used.

Last night, therefore, I was cooking away and thinking how I ought to try to do something a bit different with my pasta sometime soon.

Then I noticed another saucepan sitting on the worktop, in which I’d earlier brewed up some honey and lemon for the cold that’s been bugging me over the last few days (it’s getting a lot better now, thanks for asking).  This is a nice simple concoction which, as the name suggests, basically consists of one or two half-lemons (squeezed a bit to let some of the juice out into the saucepan) simmered in water for a while, with some honey stirred in (and often a bit of chopped up ginger too, if I have any to hand – which I didn’t yesterday) and then transferred into a mug for drinking immediately or a thermos flask to save for later.  The pan still contained the lemon chunks and that gave me a cunning idea.

Seizing one of the lemons, without stopping to think too much about what I was doing or what it might taste like, I sliced off a bit of the rind, chopped it fairly finely and tossed it into the frying pan (this was, as I recall, shortly before I was due to put in the tomato purée and after everything else had gone in).  The initial result was a wonderful citrus aroma that was released into the kitchen, which inspired me further to squeeze a few drops of juice from the lemon into the sauce.  When I came to eat it, I found that the lemon rind and juice had imparted a relatively subtle and definitely very welcome note (unsurprisingly, of lemon) into the taste.

Although this particular lemon had been boiled up in water, with honey, I doubt that the effect would have been significantly different if I’d used a raw lemon.  I might have got some of the effect with just a bit of lemon juice but I think I would have missed the particularly delightful whiff of the lemon rind first making contact with the hot oil, not to mention the lovely flecks of yellow in the sauce (which, admittedly, were somewhat masked by the addition of the tomato).  I’ll definitely be aiming to use lemons in my pasta sauces again in future – though not every time, as that would rather defeat the variation that I was aiming for!

 

Something to smile about :-)

As I’ve previously mentioned, the main impetus for me to get a smartphone (nearly 2 years ago now!) was the decidedly cool Google Sky Map app.

I still rate this as my favourite app ever, as I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of being able to point my phone at a patch of sky and have it tell me what stars I’m seeing (or not, if it’s in the middle of the daytime or a cloudy night, or there’s a building, a tree or the bulk of the planet Earth in the way!).  However, it’s not an app I actually use on a daily, or even weekly, basis.

By contrast, the keyboard is a feature of my phone that I use regularly.  Another of the attractions of a smartphone for me was the opportunity to use a proper, albeit touch-screen, keyboard rather than faffing around with a standard mobile phone multi-letters-per-key setup.

The standard Android keyboard is not too bad, and certainly much better (for me, at least) than the aforementioned clunky keypad on my previous (non-smart) phone.  However, there exist many alternative keyboards and after trying out a few I settled on one I’m very happy with – MultiLing Keyboard by Honso.  It’s available on the Play Store if you have an Android device and want to check it out (I don’t know whether they do versions for other phones).

The thing that first attracted me to this keyboard is the facility to switch quickly between different languages, with suitable keyboard layouts and predictive text dictionaries.  Not only does that make it easier to flip-flop between Welsh and English, which I do frequently (sometimes within a single note or text message), but it also makes it possible to write in a completely different script (e.g. Cyrillic if I want to write something in Russian, which does happen from time to time).

In addition to being able to fully switch between languages (which is accomplished by holding down the spacebar and selecting the language of your choice from the ensuing menu; NB you have to select the list of available languages in the app’s settings first), you can access menus of accented or otherwise-related versions of characters (or in some cases, unrelated punctuation symbols etc.) by holding down (as opposed to tapping) the various letter keys.  The ones I use most often are undoubtedly the numbers, which are obtained by holding the top-row letter keys (there is also a separate numeric mode, which is useful if you’re entering more than a couple of digits at once).

All this stuff I discovered quite a while back (having installed this keyboard probably within about a month of getting the phone).  This morning, however, I accidentally stumbled on another nifty feature.  Actually, it’s another one of the extra-character menus accessed by holding down a key but it’s not one I’d thought to try.  The “enter” key, located at the bottom right of the keyboard, gives you a fairly comprehensive selection of smileys (aka emoticons), as well as a tab and a few other random symbols.  I doubt I’ll be peppering my text messages with hearts or crosses (or, indeed, most of the available smileys) anytime soon but it’s nice to know there’s a slightly quicker way to insert the old standby : – ) than constructing it laboriously by hand (not that entering three punctuation characters is that laborious; NB I’ve added spaces to ensure the ASCII emoticon doesn’t get automatically converted into one of those new-fangled graphical gizmos).

I doubt this emoticon menu would, on its own, be a major selling point of the app for many people and I was certainly happy enough with MultiLing Keyboard when I was blissfully unaware of this feature.  Still, it’s quite a nice extra and has certainly given me something to smile about. 🙂