Friday, 18 January 2013

Horses for Courses: Cooking from Scratch is Best

Hope you're enjoying the snow - I had a nightmare getting back from work, but it does look pretty, and I'm snug and warm in my many layers and cosy, furry Christmas slippers.

First, a story inspired by the news this week:

I was on holiday in Brittany as teenager, and as the only French-speaker, responsible for ordering the meat at the supermarket deli counter for my family (a feat for any teen veggie - oh the angst!). One day we bumped into another British family, the dad pointing enthusiastically at the mince.

"You have to try this," he said. "It's really good stuff. We've been eating it all week!"

"What," I said, "the horse meat?"

He looked puzzled. "Horse? It's not is it?"

"Do you mean the meat marked 'cheval', which means horse, with a cartoon picture of a horse pointing enthusiastically at its own flesh stuck in it?"

There was a moment of quiet as the penny dropped.

"You did say it was really nice though."

The man's little daughter started to cry. We thought we'd best go back to the meat counter a bit later. For fun, I picked up a carton of Poulain chocolate powder.

What has tickled me the most about this week's Tesco burger furore is that what horrifies people the most is not that:

 a) There has been a breach of trading standards in supplying products labelled 100% beef that have turned out not to be.


b) That people have been been placing trust in 'shop-bought' standards, relying on companies to care about what's in their food rather than worrying about that themselves (someone once told me very openly that she won't eat food that looks 'homemade' at buffets because "you never know what other people's kitchens are like". Ah, the irony...).

It's that they might have eaten something French.

Sorry, I'm being facetious! I'm a recently converted vegetarian, still slightly horrified at myself for tucking heartily into veal wellington at Christmas, but frankly a lot less squeamish than other people who've been eating meat for years. Even I think eating horse is a showjumping leap too far for me at the moment, but I've spent a lot of time in France and do admire their 'mange tout' and unwasteful approach to food.

Mind, there have been plenty of jokes knocking about. I've got some burgers in the fridge - and they're off!

It makes me laugh more though how politicians are now starting to talk about introducing more stringent and regular DNA testing in our food-producing factories. Have we really come so far now that we must sequence a pie? Oh Crick and Watson, look what pioneering endeavours your work has led to!

However, the politicians are justified in their rage, because as big companies try to sell convenience to consumers and maximise profits, it's in their interest to make ready-made foods as cheaply as possible. A circle of dependance has been created, whereby generations are growing up without confidence in their cooking skills, or knowledge of even where to start. It's a wake-up call for those who think only the poor are affected by poor food, too, as the basic, standard and higher quality types of burger were all affected by the inclusion of this meat.

In our house, we try not to use too many processed foods, but we are learning cooks ourselves, and though our confidence is growing as we try new things, I've been guilty of buying those spongy 'chicken' grills and over-processed pizzas just to do something quickly. And then of course there's fast food... but to be honest ever since we skipped some discarded burger buns from outside a well-known chain to make into sandwiches, we've been put off. Not because skipping is dirty - it's not. But the buns never went off. Honestly, we had them ages, too.

But last night's dinner wasn't from the bin, you'll be glad to hear. What do you do when all your meat is still frozen in the freezer, and you have a surprise visitor, who has twisted your OH's arm not terribly much into playing snooker? Let them get tempted by cheesy chips on the way home again? No - I just took stock of what was in the cupboards and fridge and thought I'd try something completely new.

I made my very first quiche!

How to make: Put on your woolly hat to work in the cold kitchen. Look at a Good Housekeeping recipe book for basic shortcrust pastry, realise you don't have enough white flower. Ad lib with some stoneground wholemeal flour. I put a small bowlful in a big bowl, and then added cubed butter, bit by bit, rubbing it all in until I'd put in enough for it to look like breadcrumbs, added a splash of cold water and mixed to form a ball of dough. The I rolled it out and put into a lightly buttered quiche dish. With ceramic beads in the bottom, I baked it in an oven at 200C. Then I removed the beads, then I pricked the base, and put it back in the oven for a few minutes while I prepared the filling.

Is that what you do? I don't know, I guessed.

The filling: some chopped-up leek sweated in a drop of water in a non-stick pan (there's enough butter in this thing already), stir into 4 beaten eggs and add seasoning and a splash of skimmed milk. Pour into base. Arrange asparagus tips in a circle and grate over a bit of cheese. Bake in the oven for another 25 minutes.

Result - hey it worked! OH and his bro enthused over it, amazed I'd made it myself and I was pretty chuffed because I'd managed to achieve NO SOGGY BOTTOM!! (Observe the amateurism of the untrimmed pastry!) Served with potatoes, mayo and green beans, there was enough left over for our lunches today with a bit of salad.

Well, if the OH had remembered to take his with him... he had a chicken meal instead.

I had to roll my eyes at him - bought lunches are one of the fripperies now. It would be easy to spend a fiver on lunch every day and throw hundreds of pounds down the drain for the sake of convenience.

So salad and quiche it was for tea then.

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