Oeufs en Meurette (Eggs in Wine Sauce)

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The ingredients: Eggs, bacon, red wine, onion, garlic and a slice of bread.

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Fry the bacon in some butter. Add some onion and garlic to the pan and soften down. Then add in roughly 1/3 to ½ bottle of red wine and rapidly reduce to, say, half maybe less.

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Strain the sauce of the onion and garlic (use later on in a stew or piperade) and return to the pan. Add a couple of eggs and poach. Put the eggs onto a slice or two of fried bread and pour over the sauce.

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And here we are. Apparently Michel Roux Jr used to make this for French President Francois Mitterrand as a breakfast!

(It is much better than the image may suggest. I’ve tried and tried to get a decent image of this and not really succeeded. I’m not a professional food photographer or food stylist.)

Pasta Alla Puttanesca

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Pasta Puttanesca. Pasta for ladies of easy virtue?

All you need: Olive oil (extra virgin), capers, olives, garlic and tomato. Another version of this also includes anchovies. Generally, black olives are used. I prefer green olives. Adding in a little basil or parsley does no harm.

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Dice everything up and thoroughly heat through in a pan with a good slug of virgin olive oil.

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When finished toss into pasta. This version uses diced smokey bacon (even better with prosciutto).

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How stupid simple is this? Fast, fresh and simple. Truly fantastic. Really fresh and really tasty and so versatile! For those who need something quick and easy to throw together on the hoof, on a busy work day, then this is a must have in the repertoire. It isn’t just good for pasta. How about using it to liven up a piece of fish.

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Maybe add in some smoked salmon.

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As an accompaniment to a piece of gammon maybe (this is really good).

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Or how about with prawns and garlic bread.

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Is there anything this can’t be used with? This sauce is so good and so clever it’s amazing. Seriously amazing.

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I first came across this brilliant little sauce many years ago in Claudia Rodens book on Mediterranean cookery where she says the source of the name is a mystery. More recently I saw this on Nigella Lawson’s website and featured in one of Rick Steins’ DVD’s. You will see it in many books on Italian food, although rarely labeled ‘Puttanesca’. Usually this is labeled as olive and caper sauce. The Italian word “puttana” literally translates to “whore” or “prostitute”. So literally, “pasta of the whores”. The idea being, according to some, that this is something quick and simple for “the generous ladies of Naples” to make on a busy work day between clients! Personally, I see this usage as a little bit of mischief. No doubt, for some, the name makes for fun dinner party conversation after a few glasses of wine! Another way to look at this name is simply as a graphic way to imply something cheap and easy. A sure thing. “even a Naples prostitute can make this!” (with due apologies and respect to the good ladies of Naples!).

In summary this great little sauce is cheap, easy and will pretty much go with anything.

Stretching the Bacon Ration

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From what I can gather, this is a weeks bacon ration for one person in the UK in WW2. Even this miserably small quantity is the very, very best I can find. Other sources I have read suggest the ration was only half this amount. The reader should realise this is what could be taken home. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there would even be this much available to buy. There were other options though. For example, restaurants, for those who could afford it, went un-rationed in terms of quantity although they were rationed by price. In turn, they also had restrictions and could only buy in what was available. For those engaged in war work also had other options such as the workplace canteen. Then there was the British restaurant. These “communal feeding centres” were created for those bombed out of their homes, run out of food stamps or otherwise needed help. Another option, I’ve been told about from those who were there at the time, was to keep a pig. This could be done individually or as a community co-operative of some kind. However, anyway you look at it, bacon, like many foods, was a scarce resource.

I recently came across a book called “Eating for Victory”, “Healthy home front cooking on war rations” (ISBN 978-1-78243-026-1). This book describes itself as “Reproductions of official second world war instruction leaflets”. Inside this book I found this:

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So then, this is it:

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Well, from our time, it doesn’t look very promising does it? But then, it is what it is, and you just have to make do with what you’ve got and get on with it. What else is there to do? After all, there is a war on you know.

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I’ve pre-cooked the bacon as lightly as I dare. Even this has reduced the weight from 8oz to 5oz. Imagine if you only started with 4oz? One thing I will not do is clean out the frying pan. I need to extract every minimal amount of flavour I can get.

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And here it is. Frankly, the potato completely swamps the bacon. If what I have done here in any way represents the reality of the time then I think I would have despaired. There was always the black market option I suppose. If it were me, back then, I think I would have used the ration as a flavouring. Fried to nearly crispy, very finely diced and sprinkled onto other things to make them more palatable. How lucky we are.

This posting is dedicated to the good work of the Women’s Institute (soon to celebrate it’s centenary) the W.V.S. (later R.W.V.S) and the late, great Marguerite Patten CBE.

French Toasts (a.k.a. Eggy Bread)

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Does this ever happen to you? You find yourself casually surfing the books on your cookbook shelfs and come across something you had almost forgotten about? This happened to me the other day when I came across these little books:

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Some twenty or thirty years ago, as a much younger man, these small slim volumes where a joy to me. Their small, slim size made them ideal for transporting from bed sit to bed sit and from flat to flat. I got great inspiration from their direct, simple, imaginative style and imagery. Flicking through I came across this. Something I used to do quite a bit but had nearly forgotten about.

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French Toasts from Michelle Berriedale Johnsons’s book “Quick meals”. It’s ever so simple, ever so quick and jolly tasty.

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Simply whizz up egg, milk, salt and pepper and pour the mix over a piece of bread.

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Leave this alone for a minute or two to allow the bread to absorb the mixture. In the meantime, remove the now nearly crispy bacon from the pan to a hot plate.

Fry the bread in a hot pan until the bread is nicely browned. Pop the bacon on top and serve.

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When I was really hungry I would sometimes pour some baked beans over the top to make a kind of posh beans on toast.

Now I’m going to see if there is something else that I can rediscover.

Brussels “Colcannon” Cakes

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This posting really follows on from an earlier post from this year when I dazzled the world with my deep insights into the world of the potato and Colcannon. Seeing as a Brussels sprout does seem a little like a mini cabbage then why not use it in a Colcannon? So I tried it and it was brilliant. Then I thought to myself why not go a step further and make it a potato cake? I tried it and it was brilliant. So here we are rapidly approaching the festive season and the inevitable avalanche of Brussels sprouts. So, dear followers, I present to you a possible alternative to plain boiling for your consideration. The Brussels ‘Colcannon’ Cake. By the way, I’m not claiming this is the most perfectly worked out dish since the creation of mankind. No doubt, any proper cook stumbling upon this could probably do a lot to improve.

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Chop up the ingredients of potato, Brussels sprouts, onion and butter. A fine dice for the onion and Brussels is good. The potato needs to be cooked until soft and the onion and Brussels sprouts need to be softened in a frying pan using the butter.

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What I really like about this is the colour. As the Brussels soften in the pan they take on a really bright and vibrant green colour. Contrasted with the red of the onion and the white of the potato it really looks the part. Mash it all into the potato. Then comes the tricky part that, I admit, I haven’t properly thought through. That is, turning them in to cakes. This is the tricky bit as they are prone to fall apart. Maybe some beaten egg as a binding would help?

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Turn the mix into “snowballs”. Form them really tightly just like you would a snowball you are about to throw. Then flatten them slightly whilst maintaining the edge. Add to a frying pan with plenty of hot oil. Fry them vigorously until you judge them to be browning (I can tell by the smell). It only takes a couple of minutes. As they cook gently squash and shape them with a fish slice. You may need to do this a few times to avoid breaking them up. You really do have to be very careful and vigilant with this. It is no time to take a phone call. Very carefully turn them over with the fish slice and continue to fry, squash and shape. When you judge the other side cooked (I do it by smell) serve them to a plate. There may well be a better way to do this. I’m open to suggestions. It’s the taste of fried potato that makes this amazing.

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So how would you use this? Well, serve them with anything you would normally serve plain boiled potatoes and Brussels sprouts with. Now here comes a variation. Add some bacon to the mix. What you end up with is the image at the top of this blog. Trust me, it tastes great. Bacon and Brussels, what a fantastic combination. Imagine this for a Sunday morning breakfast in Autumn or Winter. A Brussels potato cake made with bacon with a poached egg sitting on top. Maybe a lightly fried tomato and a couple of pieces of black pudding around the side. Imagine cutting into the yolk and seeing it run in to the potato cake and down the sides. Wouldn’t something like that just be great?

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It was 🙂

The Club Sandwich

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I don’t know about your family, but for us on Christmas day munchies seem to kick in about 7.00pm. Then it becomes turkey raiding time! This triple-decker is so easy to make and it looks and tastes great. You know what? I reckon I big plate of these in the middle of the room for everyone to have a go at whilst watching Corrie would really hit the spot. If you want to know how to make one of these there are endless examples on the internet that are much better than anything I can do. So I shan’t bother here.

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As best I can tell, this American classic was created sometime in the late 19th century probably in New York. Whilst its origins seem to be in the late 19th century it’s popularity seems to have taken off in the early 20th century. It’s history in the UK often seems linked to Wallis Simpson who apparently specialised in them. Just in case you don’t know who Wallis Simpson is, she is the American divrocee for whom King Edward the 8th gave up his throne for. Which, maybe, in a kind of way, could be seen as quite a recommendation! However, the essential truth is the origins of the club are lost. My Larousse only mentions it in passing and my late mother’s 1909 Dictionary of cookery has no reference to it at all. There was a time this wonderful item seemed to be on the room service menu of every hotel I visited. It’s not anymore, which is a shame really.

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The Bacon Sandwich

I’ve always liked the traditional story of the origin of the Sandwich.The story of how the Earl of Sandwich dismissed the call for dinner and requested a piece of meat between two slices of bread, so he could remain gambling at the card table. That’s style.

For me the unrivalled king of the sani is the bacon sani. I defy anyone, anywhere to come up with something better. I’m prepared to accept the sausage sani comes close (brown sauce btw). I’m also prepared to accept the chip butty should be high on the list too. But the king of sani’s, hot or cold, is the bacon sani and I will not compromise on that point. It is non negotiable. And please don’t even mention second division embarrassment like the hamburger or the hot dog. And things like wraps and tack’s don’t even count as sani’s at all!

With the bacon sani, it’s tempting to add in things like tomato’, mushrooms, lettuce and the like. But then it wouldn’t be a bacon sani. It would become a bacon and tomato sani or a bacon and mushroom sani or even a BLT. The beauty of the bacon sani lays in it’s elegant simplicity and in it’s purity.