My sprout

It was supposed to be a term of endearment for the sous-chef: that lithe sprite.   Have I mentioned it before?   I can’t remember and there’s the rub.   One of the enduring problems since the accident is a bit of cognitive damage: lost words and memories.   It’s more of a challenge when combined with blindness as I forget the space around me, the obstacles in my path, even the wall into which I crashed and broke my hand.   As for the sprout, he accepts the wrinkliness but is less happy with the colour.

The next free on-line cooking demo features my easy answer to lunch for Easter entertaining: roast chicken, potatoes and stuffing made-easy.  You can sign up for free at: https://roast-lunch-open-sight.eventbrite.co.uk

In these days of bitter cold, I thought a good beef chilli would fit the bill: delicious flavour, lots of vegetables and enough beef to give it flavour.   Not a dish I’ve cooked for years/decades but good to use aging tins of kidney beans and tomatoes with more space in the cupboard as an added bonus.   This might seem a huge quantity but it produced 15 meals meaning some could be frozen, ready for another rainy day at the touch of a microwave button.

Chilli con carne

4 tablespoons olive oil.

4-5 onions, peeled and chopped.

5 cloves garlic, ditto.

4 carrots, ditto.

4 sticks celery, ditto.

2 -3teaspoons ground cumin.

2 teaspoons smoked paprika.

3 teaspoons ground chilli.

3 small, dried chillies, deseeded and finely chopped.

1.5kg minced beef.

2 courgettes, trimmed and chopped.

6 tomatoes, chopped.

1 red pepper, de-seeded and chopped.

2 400g tins kidney beans.

2 400g tins tomatoes.

1 small tin tomato paste.

3 beef stockpots.

 

Sauté the onions, garlic, carrots and celery in the oil in a large ovenproof casserole for about 10 minutes.

Add and sauté the cumin, smoked paprika and chilli (ground and dried).   You might add half of each and then the remainder to taste when all the other ingredients have been added.

Add the meat to the pan in small pieces and stir to break up and sauté.

Add all the remaining ingredients, bring to a gentle bubble and check the flavour, adding more of the spices as needed.

Transfer the covered pot to the oven on the lowest slow cook setting for about 5 hours.

Adjust the seasoning and serve with plain rice.

Latest radio interview: https://audioboom.com/posts/8052225-activating-enterprise-episode-9-penny-melville-brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bee Myth

It was one of the worst bits of bee nonsense that I’ve ever heard: that honey isn’t a good thing to buy/eat because commercial bee farmers clip their bees’ wings.

A commercial hive contains around 70,000 bees.   All have wings but only about half of them are flying during the last three weeks of their six week lives.   That suggests, if the myth is true, that a bee farmer would need to clip at least 10,000 pairs of wings per week per hive.   First catch your bee … less easy than you’d think!   Multiply that by perhaps 100 or more to reflect the number of hives a commercial beekeeper has on his/her farm and you are into such high numbers that the whole prospect becomes hideously expensive and utterly mad.

In reality, only some beekeepers may trim the wings of their Queen Bees (one per hive) to limit them swarming and being lost.   This is certainly not universal practice.

Anyone who suggests that commercial or any beekeepers cut off the wings of their bees is incorrect – and probably living in a parallel universe!

Here’s another Back-to-Basics cooking demo covering ways of preparing fruit.   One of the highlights was the class of students from Farnborough College cheerfully making sure we knew they were there.

The outcome was this baked fruit salad: perfect for transforming pieces of fruit that are getting a bit weary and creating a superb winter dessert: https://youtu.be/QuqnwVQwtQQ

 

2 each eating apples, pears, cored and chopped.

2 bananas, peeled and chopped.

1 fresh pineapple, skin and core removed, chopped.

2 oranges, zest and juice only.

1 mango, peeled, stone removed, chopped (optional).

1 Galia melon, seeds and skin removed, chopped (optional).

1 kiwi fruit, peeled and chopped (optional).

2 handfuls sultanas or raisins.

2 handfuls each dried dates and figs, chopped.

3-star anise.

2 sticks cinnamon.

about 250ml apple or other fruit juice.

 

Place all the prepared fruit, dried fruit, zest, juice and spices in an oven [proof dish and cover with foil.

Cook in a pre-heated oven at 160C, Gas 4 for one hour.

Reduce heat to 140C/Gas 1 for a further hour.

Serve hot and reheat leftovers in the microwave on another day.

My Tips:

Use a tin of pineapple in juice if the prospect of using a fresh one is too terrifying.

Vary the fruit according to what you have available.   I’ve added a jar of bottled cherries, an extra apple or pear, a handful of frozen raspberries.

If you have a spare vanilla pod, throw it in.

I don’t add sugar but perhaps some honey?

You could reduce the amount of juice and top with a crumble mix.   The proportions for my basic mix are: 2 oats:1 butter: 1 soft brown sugar/honey: 1 crushed hazelnuts.   Rub together and keep a bag in the freezer for ready use.

 

Next time, we are doing eggs so make a note for your diary: 1030 on Monday 14 February.   Its all free and you can sign up here:

https://open-sight-maringue-roll.eventbrite.co.uk

 

 

 

“It came away in my hand, Chief”

How well I remember that standard Royal Navy response to anything that got broken.

You may recall smug tales of filling 5 litre bags of home-made grape juice last summer.   They have worked exceptionally well but you would be amazed as to how far that amount of liquid spreads!

The sous-chef was adjusting the nozzle tap on a new bag-in-box of the dark red sticky stuff and, as he says, “It came away in my hand, Chief.”

It splashed off the work-surface, all over the floor and anything in-between.   So far, it has taken four swabbings to make some in-roads on the stickiness and you’d be staggered as to how much can leak on to the top of the dishwasher.   Heaven knows where else.

One of the joys of being blind is that I’m completely useless at trying to resolve such situations.   My only contribution was to shuffle up and down the floor with a hot soapy cleaning cloth under my feet (2-in-1: my shoes and the floor).

But he did satisfy all the senses with an extravagant heart-shaped box of chocolates and super tactile and fragrant Valentine’s Day card.   The card company was amazed to learn that very many blind people don’t use Braille.

Quickest winter salad.   This is what I knock up when we want some fresh vegetables with the least fuss.   Delicious with a home-made pork pie and chutney plus a little baked potato.

2 celery sticks, peeled.

1 carrot, peeled.

1 eating apple, cored.

2 or 3 Welsh or Spring onions, peeled.

1 tomato.

1 handful sultanas or raisins.

1 handful pumpkin seeds, dry roasted.

 

Finely chop and slice all the vegetables and mix with the dried fruit and seeds in a bowl.

Serve with a vinaigrette dressing or mayonnaise.

My Tips:

Keep a supply of roasted seeds handy: place in a pan over a hot heat until they start popping and browning.   Remove from the heat and cool before storing.

Add other peeled vegetables to hand e.g.  a parsnip, cucumber, even some butternut squash.

 

 

Valentine’s treat

Clearing out kitchen cupboards sounds hardly romantic but is highly therapeutic: all that new clean space to fill again.   I had no problems throwing out the gravy granules: two packs, each Best Before 2006.   But I did resent having to dispose of home-made plum ketchup dated 2003 (3 bottles) though I’m not sure we would ever have eaten it.

Massive triumph: very mature (Best Before October 2008) tin of condensed milk consigned to oven on lowest temperature possible for six hours while delicious lamb tajine cooked.   Cooled the tin overnight and opened to reveal perfect caramel for Millionairess shortbread https://www.pennymelvillebrown.com/free-christmas-cookbook/

Much easier than simmering the tin in hot water for hours.   And the possibility of doing several tins at a time, still unopened so that the contents are ready in the future.

The lamb tajine was a great success too and cleared out a sachet of Moroccan spices and a lingering jar of harissa, lots of last week’s vegetables from the fridge, a tin of chickpeas and 1.5kg lamb.   It has made 12 servings.   The upshot is that the cupboard and fridge are emptier but the freezers are groaning.

Back to Basics with baked fruit salad on Monday 14 February at 1030.   Salad with the shortbread treats will make the grade for Valentine’s Day.   Tidier cupboard plus happier spouse: bargain.

The demo is free and you can sign up at:

https://baked-fruit-salad-open-sight.eventbrite.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Hobnobbing with Honey

Hampshire’s Open Sight charity celebrated 100 years of support for visually impaired people across the county this week with a Covid-safe on-line drinks party.   While I’m keen, booze at 1130 seemed a bit excessive so a hot drink (not toddy) was the answer.   The great and good said their pieces and, most remarkable, the scale and scope of support activities for local people received great coverage.

I’m playing just a small part: the monthly cooking demonstrations.   Last year culminated in the free Christmas recipe booklet https://www.pennymelvillebrown.com/free-christmas-cookbook/

.   This year we are going Back to Basics to increase kitchen-confidence.   The next session at 1030 (London time) on Valentine’s Day 14 February is all about preparing fruit for a super baked salad https://baked-fruit-salad-open-sight.eventbrite.co.uk

We did vegetables last month https://youtu.be/WCztho-h0_Y

These very simple biscuits would go with both the hot drink and hot fruit salad:

Honey Hobnobs.

130g honey.

112g butter.

160g self-raising flour.

160porridge oats.

half tablespoon bicarbonate of soda.

 

Melt the honey and butter on a gentle heat and cool slightly while weighing the other ingredients into a bowl.

Pour the honey mixture onto the dry ingredients.

Mix thoroughly and form into walnut-sized balls (about 18).

Place the balls three fingers apart on a baking tray lined with baking parchment.

Cook for 12-14 minutes at 180C, Gas4 until golden

Allow to cool (if you can wait!): the edges will be crisp and the centres soft, not too sweet.

My Tips:

My adaptation of Louise’s recipe via Karen!

These biscuits cry out for variations: add some crushed hazelnuts; chopped crystallised and powdered ginger; desiccated coconut and chopped glace cherries; other dried fruit; orange zest; chocolate pieces; dip in chocolate – there’s no end to the invention possible.

If you don’t want so much honey which makes a less sweet biscuit, adjust the recipe by replacing the honey with 112g caster sugar that is added to the bowl of flour (reduce to 112g), oats (reduce to 112g) and bicarbonate of soda (reduce to a quarter tablespoon).   Add a half tablespoon each of syrup and water when melting the butter and then carry on from there.

Words:

Blind cook, hobnobs, honey, oats, biscuits, Open Sight centenary, fruit salad, hot fruit,  https://youtu.be/WCztho-h0_Y , https://baked-fruit-salad-open-sight.eventbrite.co.uk , www.pennymelvillebrown.com, https://www.pennymelvillebrown.com/free-christmas-cookbook/

Marmalade Master Class

January is fast running out and now is the best and, perhaps, the only time to get hold of Seville oranges for marmalade.  If you buy lots, they freeze well if you have enough room.

I’ve been developing this recipe over the last couple of years, looking for a result that is as fresh and tangy as possible to do justice to the fruit.   The secret is to add the juice last, have good organisation and allow enough time.   There are three main steps:

  1. Juicing and then simmering the oranges.
  2. Slicing the oranges and making the marmalade.
  3. Potting up.

I aim to complete the first step one evening, let the oranges cool overnight, make the marmalade next day and wait at least an hour before completing the process.

 

1.5kg Seville oranges, scrubbed.

4 lemons, scrubbed.

water.

2 kg granulated sugar.

 

Organisation needs:

Chopping board and knife

Preserving pan and heat-proof plate plus wooden spoon.

Container with lid for juice (I like an ice-cream box to make pouring easier) plus another similar container.

Kitchen scales.

Bowl lined with muslin or other thin fabric for pips plus string or clip for securing

Electric juicer.  (The old-fashioned manual version works just as well but takes longer

Cooking thermometer.

Jars with lids.

Roasting tray.

Jam funnel and ladle.

Step 1.

Weigh the two empty containers and make a note of their weight.

Cut the fruit in half and extract the juice, pouring juice into one container, pips into the cloth and fruit halves into the pan.

Weigh the container of juice so you know the weight of the juice, lid the container and store in the fridge.

Enclose the pips in the cloth and tie or clip into a bundle that is then suspended amongst the fruit halves in the preserving pan (making sure to keep any ends of the cloth away from the heat of the hob).

Place the plate on the fruit halves to stop them floating and then add enough water to cover the fruit.

Simmer the fruit until soft (a couple of hours) and then leave to cool (perhaps overnight).

Step 2.

Remove the plate from the pan.   Squeeze the bundle of pips to extract any juice and then discard.

Remove each piece of fruit from the pan; scrape out any remaining pith and discard.   Slice the fruit as finely as possible, setting aside the strips in the bowl.

Remove the simmering liquid and strain into the spare empty container and weigh.

Wash out the preserving pan and place all the strips of fruit into it.

Calculate the weight of water needed to bring the total weight of liquid (water, simmering liquid and juice) to2kg.

Weigh that amount of water and add to the preserving pan with the simmering liquid.

Bring the pan of fruit pieces and liquid to a gentle simmer before adding the sugar.

Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved and then increase the heat to bring the pan contents to about 105-106C, stirring occasionally.

Add the fruit juice and continue heating until the temperature reaches 106-107C, stirring occasionally.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 30-60 minutes.

Step 3.

Wash the jars and place in a roasting tray in the oven at the lowest heat for 30-60 minutes to sterilise (and heat up to avoid cracking when the marmalade is poured in).

Remove the roasting tin from the oven and, using the jam funnel, ladle the marmalade into the jars and screw on lids.

Once cool, wash the jars to remove any spills and label.

In broad terms, there will be over 2 kg each of oranges and lemons, water/juice and sugar to produce about 4kg marmalade (this week, I made just over 16 250g jars) They make perfect presents for next Christmas!   How’s that for forward planning?

Blind cook, Seville oranges, marmalade, Covid cookbook,  www.pennymelvillebrown.com

 

 

 

 

My life in their hands – and not safely

I should have guessed.   Directions to a black door set between two shops should have alerted me to the fact that this was a bit of a back-street dive.   Clearly an old over-shop accommodation that had been rather badly converted into business premises up precipitous, winding stairs.

Those premises were equally unprepossessing with uneven floors and unexpected steps up and down.

Most I was there for some further treatment following the accident and, most depressing, was that the therapist was asking my (male) taxi driver where he would like to have the consultation.   I had thought that my (female) name on the appointment would have been a clue.   She was clearly convinced that I’d be happy to go through all my medical details and history in the public surrounding of the reception space.   Thankfully, driver John has been around me long enough to reject all attempts to talk with him rather than me.   I began to wonder if she had ever noticed or talked to anyone with a white cane.

Through more difficult passageways to the consulting room where I was plonked on an uncomfortable couch.   She rattled through a long list of clearly unfamiliar medical conditions and was stumped by some clearly contradictory legalistic statements.   I wondered if anyone else had ever properly read all this verbiage.   I kept asking for details of their contractual terms and conditions, insurance cover, health and safety information without success.   I asked the therapist about her own qualifications and an add-on to Level 3, whatever that means, wasn’t very reassuring.

She was absolutely trying to do her best but had clearly never been trained to interact with anyone with a disability (20% of the population/market) by the doctors running the service.   If they could manage an operation that was so blatantly failing to comply with equality legislation, what other safeguarding laws were being broken too?

The final devastating and decisive realisation came as John collected me later: she hadn’t even been wearing her face mask properly, I had no idea as to how long it had just been covering her mouth and chin when, in close proximity, she’d been exposing me to risk of Covid or other infection.   This wasn’t just discrimination but high risk.   Even my local hairdresser has far higher professional standards.

Alternative arrangements with a different therapy organisation are going to be needed in the future.   How could anyone contemplate charging money for such an amateur service?

 

 

 

 

 

Laziness rather than a recipe.

Have you ever tried eating with your eyes shut?   The main problem is trying to cut up food that you can’t see: how big is the piece?  Is it completely detached?   Is it dripping with sauce?

Instead of all the messy confusion, as a blind cook, I tend to do all the chopping up while I’m cooking: meat; vegetables; anything else.   That way, I can just use a fork to find each mouthful with more chances of success.

But, again, cutting, chopping, peeling etc aren’t as straightforward when you can’t see.   Next week, we are doing a Masterclass of roast vegetables with all the right equipment to share tips and practical solutions: Monday 10 January at 1030 (London time).

You don’t need to be blind to take part so please sign up – no cost and there will be lots of time for sharing ideas:

Eventbrite link:

Register here for Roast Vegetables baking session 10th January 2022

 

OSH Website link:

https://www.opensight.org.uk/event/baking-blind-with-penny-roast-vegetables

 

Facebook link:

https://www.facebook.com/events/218142287175775

 

On a similar topic, roast potatoes that you could part-prepare were a whole new concept this Christmas but they worked perfectly.   I peeled enough for two days, tipped the chunks into cold salted water and brought them to a simmer for a couple of minutes.   Drained and tipped into foil trays, they just needed liberal anointment with goose fat or oil.   One tray went into a hot oven (200C, Gas 6) for 30-45 minutes, basting halfway.   The other tray was covered and popped in the fridge overnight.   Next day, they cooked even more quickly and were just as good.

 

Hope you can join us on Monday.

 

Words:

Standard plus:

Blind cook, chopping food, Masterclass in the kitchen, roast vegetables, roast potatoes, Covid cookbook, tips for blind people, https://www.pennymelvillebrown.com/free-christmas-cookbook/

www.pennymelvillebrown.com

 

 

 

 

Joyeux Noël

One of our Christmas packages caused all sorts of questions.   The trouble and cost of sending several thousand little parcels to ex-military blind people was truly kind.   Although the card wasn’t accessible, I’m told it used an image of First World war men injured and blinded in the trenches, leading each other to safety.   It is a famously poignant statue of remembrance that conveys the pathos and spirit of men supporting each other during conflict.

But it does rather beg the question as to whether this is how we want to be seen over a century later.   Nowadays, the vast majority of blind ex-military people include both men and women who left the Services decades before losing their sight.   There is a much smaller proportion of us who were blinded by and during our time in uniform and, with 21st century attitudes, adaptations and accessibility, we are capable of so much more than was possible 100 years ago.   Enabling us to achieve fulfilling and rewarding lives, embark on new careers and fulfil our potential should surely be the key goal and more powerful image for all those who so generously offer us support.

The remainder of the package was just as thought-provoking: a sachet of hot chocolate drink and a shortbread biscuit!

Let me also share a perfect recipe for any mass entertaining you might be planning: Crème Noël.   This is my answer for advance mass production of desserts.   I was able to use my sous-vide water bath, but a bain marie in the oven should work just as well.

This quantity filled more than 24 small screw-top jars which provided an ample portion for each guest.

 

800 ml double cream.

400 ml milk.

16 egg yolks.

192g honey (or caster sugar).

4 heaped teaspoons mixed spice.

4 teaspoons vanilla extract.

mincemeat – 1 teaspoon per serving.

Preheat the water bath to 80°C.

Warm the milk and cream together in a small saucepan to 60°C

Whisk the remaining ingredients (except the mincemeat) together in a bowl.

Gradually whisk in the warm cream and milk.

Place a teaspoon of mincemeat in each jar and then fill with the whisked mixture.

Screw the jar lids in place tightly and submerge in the water bath for 60 minutes.

Remove and chill quickly.   Store in the fridge up to 2-3 days.

My Tips:

I used the homemade mincemeat and served with little star-shaped shortbread biscuits (recipes in the free recipe booklet https://www.pennymelvillebrown.com/free-christmas-cookbook/).

Simply divide all the quantities by 4 for just six servings.

If not using a sous-vide, fill a deep roasting tin with water and heat in the oven until the water reaches 80C.   Place the jars in the water and monitor the temperature during the cooking time.

I gave away 8 egg whites and am experimenting with freezing the remainder.

 

My next on-line cooking demo is at 1030 on Monday 10 January (details to follow) with roast vegetables as the focus for cutting, chopping and peeling when you can’t see.

Check out my new website: www.pennymelvillebrown.com