Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Violetta saves the game!

Australian cricket batsman Bill Woodfull faces...Image via Wikipedia
Violetta has been a good friend ever since we first bought the house here.

She is a home economics teacher at the local college and, having grown up on a farm, what she doesn't know about what to eat and how to cook it isn't worth worrying about.
We meet up once a week for cooking sessions....the chaps drink beer on the balcony while we get down to a bottle of wine in the kitchen and we take it in turns to cook from our own repetoires.....I've learned a lot!

Apart from traditional Costa Rican food Violetta is also good at  preparing something quick and tasty when coming home from work, a meal she can cook while sorting out the kids, the dogs, the housework and the endless stream of visitors.....

So....Violetta's lasagne.....qantities for four people, but not many measurements.

Use pre-cooked lasagne, or boil up the normal sort.
Poach two chicken breasts in water to cover. Don't use salt.
In the blender put a big bunch of leaf coriander, a big red sweet pepper, de-seeded and chopped, two large cloves of garlic and 250 ml - a small pot -of cream. Blend.
Remove cooked chicken breast and cut into chunks. Keep water.
Add the blender mixture to the water in the pan and whisk in one packet of cream of mushroom soup.....the normal type, nothing fancy with ceps or whatever.
Cook it until it thickens and then make up your lasagne.
Layer the pasta, the chicken and sauce and top with grated cheese.

I haven't used a packet soup for years and I suppose I could use just plain cornflour...but why be snobby?
It works.

And it works with fish and shellfish too.

I need godsends like this because England's cricketers are playing Australia for the Ashes and, thanks to the vagaries of time zones and people living in places where water goes down the plughole the wrong way round, commentary on the match starts at about five thirty in the afternoon so a meal has to be on the table at about eight o'clock...during the lunch interval in Australia......and be disposed of and washed up in forty minutes, ready for commentary on the next session.

I have been informed by Higher Authority that sandwiches are not acceptable, and that soup is also off the menu....as is a leftover balti reheated in the microwave.
Normal service is what is required.
Proper freshly cooked food to be eaten with proper utensils.
I entered a demurrer, claiming that all of the above have proved to be acceptable in other circumstances, but Higher Authority was having none of it.

I feel that suchlike sanctions would not have been imposed if England were playing South Africa...indeed, it would have been two chairs in front of the computer and a drip set up for intravenous orange juice mixed with Complan.... but as they're not, the hunt has been on for something I can make ahead and then dash to the kitchen between overs to shove in an oven, as anything involving grills and gas burners is out of the question.
And let nobody mention salad.
If there is anything for generating last minute work and a ton of washing up it is a proper salad.

I have pointed out that were we to install a Wifi modem I could get a new laptop and listen to the cricket anywhere in the house and garden...thus increasing productivity and permitting use of grills and gas burners.

Higher Authority has pointed wordlessly to advertisements for laptops - about twice the price they are in Europe - and has further indicated that as I was such a smart alec as to work out how to get a free proxy IP address...so that the BBC, who are providing commentary, believe my computer to be freezing its widgets off in that sceptred isle of mainland Britain instead of sunning itself in a banana republic in Central America...I can use that formidable brain power to producing Proper Food at a Proper Time.

So, I need twenty five recipes for things to be shoved in ovens to get me through the five days of five Test Matches.
I refuse to contemplate meals during the Twenty - Twenty matches or the One Day Internationals until closer to the time.
Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof for the moment, thank you, though I have severe doubts about the morrow taking thought of things of itself, and the problem will have to be faced in due course.


Violetta's lasagne..
Ordinary lasgane.

Rice as biryani and pilau...

Beans....as cassoulet.
Beans....with pork skins spiced with ground cloves and pepper...
Beans with smoked Bath Chap.

Chicken casserole.
Flemish stew...beef with red wine, mustard, jam, juniper berries and cloves.
Brother in law's Australian Irish stew as made ...memorably.....in Costa Rica with beef, all sorts of unknown tubers like tiquisque, nampi and yucca (cassava), but cutting down considerably on the whole bottle of chilero sauce which is what made it memorable to all who sampled its red hot delights.
People still talk about it.....through the holes in their cheeks.

Violetta's 'lomo'...marinaded meat stuffed with rice, vegetables and hard boiled eggs.....

But that's not even half of what is needed!

Is it worth it, one asks? Could one not miss some minutes of play in order to grill some fish, or make a stir fry?
Yes it is and no, one could not.

First and foremost, the game is wonderful, combining physical skill with mental agility.
I have loved it since first being introduced to it at school.

It has its own folklore, its own life...and this is echoed in the commentary on Test Match Special on the BBC where journalists and ex players describe every ball that is played in the light of their own experience, pull each other's leg, eat cake donated by the worshipping fans of the programme....and indulge in gossip.

Test Match Special  is the Womens' Institute for men.
It beats 'The Archers' into a cocked hat.

And I'm blowed if I'm going to miss one minute of it messing off to grill fish....I know that as soon as I turn my back a wicket will fall, or a catch will be dropped, or someone will spill the beans on what happened on the tour of India all those years ago...and I'll have missed it.

Luckily, Violetta is coming round tomorrow....with more good ideas for winning the Ashes.


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  1. I can't make promises, but there are a few recipes bobbing around the brain now you mention it. I'll send the "make aheads" to you via email. As they are mostly vegetarian, will you or Mr. Fly object?

  2. How about stuffed tomatoes/veg? They can be made in advance and reheated. Or baked potatoes and fillings?
    Make some pancakes in advance and rustle up a stuffing (chicken in a cream sauce, mushrooms, etc).

    Suggest to your husband that complaints to the cook can be hazardous to your health... :)

  3. I'm all for quick easy recipes!

    Just popping in to say hello and let you know I'm reading. Normal commenting will be resumed next week xx

  4. Sounds to me like you need to be a fast bowler... i.e. have you tried making enough soup to last the entire test match?

  5. Will go away to wrack my brains for quick shove-in-oven recipes...

  6. And Cricket has some of the best sports writing too. If I'm honest I'm not a natural fan, and I think that is because I was raised in the North East, where, at that time, there were no senior cricket teams. I do quite enjoy the 20 20 though

  7. e, vegetarian is fine! Nuts are expensive here, so that's cut down on a few of my favourites. That's really kind of you!

    Sarah, yes, I'd totally forgotten stuffed pancakes...and I can do stuffed peppers! Bless you!

    Ayak, I wish I could get away with soups...your lentil one would be a good candidate.
    Enjoy yourself with your daughter and Billy.

    Steve, soup was my first suggestion...goodness only knows we both like soups....and I usually make in bulk for the freezer during the gluts of soup materials...
    But soup does not fit the bill apparently. Curses.

    Pueblo girl, it is funny how the mind goes blank under pressure...or at least mine does faced with this particular ultimatum.
    I nearly suggested takeaway pizza every night...but thought that might induce a crisis!

  8. Fly,

    A slow cook curry that can be assembled the night before cooking has been sent. Let me know if it won't work as I have more recipes.

  9. e..yes, thank you..it has arrived and looks super. It's on for tomorrow...day two of the Second Test...
    Much appreciated!

  10. do you have a slow cooker? you can just keep adding to it and changing it as you go along - thats what we do when we are too busy to cook properly!!

  11. Roz, that sounds like trawler tea...you put in tea and water off Yarmouth and keep on topping up until you hit the Goodwins!

  12. Roz, Mr. Fly is much taken by the idea...thank goodness!
    Reckons it reminds him of his granny's stews...so....out with the slow cooker and away we go!

  13. Excellent! Glad to hear it xx

  14. Roz, I never turn down good advice!

  15. I have a few suggestions, here is one :)
    Arroz con Pollo: Sauté a couple diced chicken breasts with some chopped onion, some chopped bell pepper and some chopped chillies (optional)in several tablespoons of oil until the chicken has turned opaque and the vegetables are soft. The chicken doesn't need to be cooked through. Remove the chicken, peppers and onion to a bowl with a slotted spoon and cool down or refrigerate. To the remaining oil, add 1 cup of long grain rice (I use Basmati or Thai) and sauté until some of the grains are turning white. At this point you can simply turn off the heat and hold it until you are ready to continue.
    When you are ready to begin, heat the pan back up, dump the chicken, onion and liquid in with the rice and add 1 cup of boiling water and 1 cup of chopped tinned tomatoes or tomato purée, a couple cloves of minced garlic and a couple chicken stock cubes. Bring to a boil, cover, lower the heat to as low as possible and cook for 25-30 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed. No peeking! Take the pan off the heat, take off the lid and drape a clean tea towel over the surface and recover with the lid. (This will absorb any excess moisture.) Allow to sit for at least 5 minutes, fluff with a fork and eat!
    (When I say 'cup', I mean 8 liquid ounces, but, you can use any 'cup' or mug to measure, it's a volume measurement, not a weight measurement.)

  16. Don't forget Coq au Vin served with couscous and Boeuf Bourguignon served with noodles! Both can be made ahead and are the better fcr it!

  17. Kitty, super, thank you!
    I generally make a stew like dish a day ahead.
    If only I could get couscous!
    Well, i can, but when I see the price in the U.S. style supermarkets I need an oxygen mask!

    Still, long term, having to change my cooking habits according to what's available and what won't break the bank won't do me any harm and it's starting to be fun rather than a challenge.

  18. Hello, I've arrievd a bit late but are you still searching for recipes? If so I may have a few ideas :)

    I didn't know that you could convince the BBC that you were still on the island, I have been trying to work out a way around that for ages!

    I love the idea of using cooking as a way of bonding and sharing recipes, rather than just cooking for dinner parties.

  19. PigletinFrance, new ideas more than welcome...though it has to be said that having input has started me off again...out of my rut!

    I read about Expat shield in 'The Independent' and, so far, it has been fine.
    Fingers now crossed against calamity...

    My friends in France started me thinking about this...because while you're cooking you're talking about so many other things behind the actual recipes...and when Violetta offered to show me local cooking I thought we'd try an exchange.
    I've learned so much from her already...not just about food, but its place in daily life and culture, and the sharp differences that a rise to prosperity made in her parents' generation...it is fascinating..and good for improving my Spanish, too!

  20. Fly, try this: http://www.my-expat-network.co.uk. I've been using it for about a year, it's only £5 per month, and is incredibly easy to set up and use, in fact you don't have to do anything, they do it all. I did try a couple of other VPNs, but they were very difficult to get working. All you have to remember with myexpatnet is that you run the program as Administrator, by right-clicking on it and selecting "Run as administrator".

    Nice lasagna recipe, must try that one of these days.

  21. nodamnblog, I'll keep it in reserve in case this one goes down for some reason...thanks you!

    I liked that bechamel recipe on yours...I've never had trouble with bechamel, as long as the milk is hot and you don't put too much in at once, but a friend refuses to cook anything with bechamel as hers is always lumpy so I'll pass on the tip.

    Thanks again.

  22. Mmm this post has made me feel rather hungry, Im afraid if it's a toss up between cricket of preparing food, the food wins every time, I am rather ashamed to admit that I don't understand cricket at all.

  23. I'm going to have to not concur with Mark (and he won't mind this I'm sure) being a NE lass but I love cricket! I've missed out on it a lot because it has gone to SKY. (She wails.) Luckily the highlights are on ITV 4 and I keep (when I can through) TMS. Much as I love TMS I do like to see the game in action and would love it to come back to terrestrial TV.

    One of the highlights for working for CL was that I went to a course in Paris. It was utterly boring and by the end of one day I got very outspoken about something or other. There was a hushed silence from all the other CL delegates (who were there from around the world). To my fortune there were two super Aussie chaps who appreciated my outspokenness. We started chatting and got on to the subject of cricket. There was an Ashes series that Summer. They went back to Oz and I was back in London. We used the CL e-mail system to have a continuing comment on the what was happening in the matches that Summer. I shall treasure that memory! :)