Cauliflower cheese

I found a recipe on the “Strands of my life” blog for Jamie Olivers’ 30 minute Cauliflower Macaroni Cheese and I decided to make a variation of it without the Macaroni. I didn’t try to do it in 30 minutes.

(Note: the recipe is lifted from his book, to which there is a link on the blog. Of course, you don’t have to buy the book to use the recipe, so the ethics of posting a recipe from a book might be a bit dodgy. On the other hand, the blog entry does act as an advertisement for the book.)

Jamie's 30 minute meals
Jamie’s 30 minute meals

Anyway, I did as the recipe suggests and put the bacon into the dish that I was going to use and put the dish in the oven, then started the cauliflower cooking. I actually needed to cut the cauliflower a little smaller than the recipe suggests as I was only cooking a small amount of cauliflower so used a smaller pan.

I grated the cheese, mixed it with the crème fraîche and some garlic powder. As the recipe directs, I took the dish with the bacon from the oven and processed the bacon with the bread and some rosemary leaves. I had expected the bacon to be crunchy, bit it was still soft, but I pressed on. The recipe calls for a little olive oil, which I added and which serves to cause the topping to crisp up nicely.

At this stage the cauliflower was cooked and I strained it, keeping the liquor as directed. Then it was just a matter of putting it together. The cauliflower went into the dish that the bacon had been cooking in. There was a fair bit of juice from the bacon in the dish, then in went some of the liquor from cooking the cauliflower, then the cheese/crème fraîche mixture. The mixture was a little too liquid, though the recipe calls for it to be “loose”, so next time I will add a little of the liquor first, then more after I see what it looks like.

Finally I covered the top with the bacon, breadcrumb and oil topping and cooked it as directed by the recipe. It came out of the oven like this. It could have been a little crisper on top.

Cauliflower cheese with bacon and breadcrumb topping

Here’s a picture of it on a plate. The mince was cooked the other day!

Cauliflower cheese and mince

Hoki and parsley fish cakes with Béchamel sauce

I had some left over mashed potatoes so I decided to get creative and make some fish cakes using some frozen hoki fillets. For added points I decided to make a Béchamel sauce. That’s a fancy name for a white sauce.

I started off by cooking the Hoki fillets in a little milk with a few herbs. (Did I mention that I’d thawed it first?) I used “Tuscan seasoning” by MasterFoods, which the label says contains salt, sugar, garlic, pepper, rosemary and parsley. The fish was cooked in about 15 minutes (at 180 degrees C) to the point where it flaked when poked with a fork.

Meanwhile I chopped some fresh parsley from the garden and added it to the mashed potato and stirred in two eggs. The mixture looked a little stiff so I added some of the liquid that the fish was cooked in. That was a mistake! I added too much and it went sloppy. Oh well. I added the cooked fish and put dollops of the mixture on a baking tray and cooked it at 200 degrees C for 20 minutes. “Dollops” is the right word. It was far too sloppy to form proper fish cakes.

I then made a roux. A “roux” is a fancy name for a 50-50 fat/flour mix which is cooked for a while. It is made into a white sauce (Béchamel) by slowly adding milk and cooking it (stirring all the time) until it is the desired consistency. I used the liquor that the fish was cooked in.

Here’s the “fish cakes”. I didn’t brush them with milk or egg, so they are a little palid. They are cooked though.

Fish “cakes”

This is what it looked like on my plate.

Plated up

Well, they tasted OK, but could have looked better! I’ve had enough runner beans for a while, but thankfully they seem to be taking a rest at the moment. Only one or two beans today.

Bangers and mash (with onion gravy)

I think I mentioned how to cook sausages in the oven the Jamie Oliver way before. Maybe not. Anyway the way to do it is to cook them on a wire rack. I didn’t have a suitable one so I made do with a roasting pan and the rack from another roasting pan that has long gone.

Makeshift sausage rack!

It didn’t quite fit but it worked. In summary Jamie’s method is to cook the sausages on 180 degrees C for 20 minutes, turning once.

The mash was no problem. I boiled the potatoes, drained them and mashed them with a little low fat milk and olive margarine. Of course, you could use full cream milk and butter if you wish!

The onion gravy was a new venture for me, but there are plenty of recipes on the Internet. I referred to this one. The basic idea is to cook the onions on a low heat, then add stock and then thicken as required. You have to watch the onions carefully, even on a low heat to ensure that they don’t caramelise. Of course a little colour doesn’t hurt. I put too much thickening in and the result was paler than I’d prefer, but it still tasted good. I used flour and water, so I had to cook the gravy a bit. If you use cornflower it isn’t necessary, according to the Internet anyway. I’ve not tried it.

Bangers and mash with onion gravy


Math Class
Math Class (Photo credit: attercop311)

On and off over the years I’ve been thinking about the concept of understanding, most particularly in the field of mathematics. When one encounters a new branch of mathematics, one is (conceptually) presented with the definitions, axioms and theorems in the field. Of course, one doesn’t necessarily understand them at first. However, after delving into the field, studying the axioms and definitions, and following through the proofs one soon gets the general feel for the field.

I might for instance read a ‘popular’ book about mathematics and read about ‘hyperreal numbers‘. By a ‘popular’ book, about maths, science or practically anything else, I mean a book which provides a non-rigorous introduction to a field, intended to give a feeling for it. If a reader of such a book requires an in-depth treatment of the subject, the reader would no doubt have to spend a long period studying the necessary maths to even start to address the topic. Such a ‘popular’ book could not possibly give one an understanding of ‘hyperreal numbers‘ of course. It’s more of a geography lesson, in that it would provide an understanding of where the topic fits in to the topography of mathematics, just as one might read about Greece, but one would not understand from the guide book what Greece is really like. For that one must go there.

Tired of studying!
Understanding mathematics requires study!

So you need to study something in maths to understand it. When do you know that you have understood it? I believe that there are at least three stages or signs that you understand it.

In the first stage, you have studied the axioms or the basis for the field of mathematics that you are trying to understand and you have seen and understood a few of the proofs of theorems in the field and you can reproduce them if asked. You have arrived in Greece, you are getting to grips with the money, you know how to purchase something in a cafe or restaurant, to extend the analogy.

In the second stage, you understand the ‘why’ of the proofs, you start to get a feel for the way that proofs are put together in the field and what can be achieved in the field. The concepts are sinking in. In Greece, you know how to find the best bars and restaurants where the Greeks drink and eat, you know what to order from the menus, and you are picking up a smattering of the language.

In the third and final stage, you are using the mathematics in the field with confidence, either to develop your own ideas in the field or in further study. When you look back at the difficulties you used to have in the field you are astonished that it took so long for the concepts to sink in. They seem obvious now. In the Greece analogy, you speak the language fluently, you have married a Greek person and you have lived in Greece for years. You mock the foreign tourists, and also you realise that there is more to Greece than your particular corner of it.

Greece (Photo credit: robynejay)

So, my point is that to understand something you need to immerse yourself in the topic. I don’t mean to say that you won’t have “Eureka Moments“, but even Archimedes had to immerse himself in his topic of study to come up with his Principle!

archimedes (Photo credit: Sputnik Beanburger III)

Cheese straws

OK, I ran out of snacks for Hamish and Duncan so I decided to try some cheese straws. I used the recipe here. The Guardian’s recipe promised “perfect Cheese straws”. Sounded good. The article actually goes into the topic of cheese straws in some depth quoting various chefs, but has its recipe towards the bottom of the main article, above the comments.

I made half quantities again, but even so, it only took a few minutes before my hands started to ache as I rubbed the butter in. I abandoned the manual approach and used a food mixer. This was the first time I’d seriously used a food mixer, so I’m not sure if I used the right blades or not. They were sharp-edged metal things.

I discovered a couple of things about processing stuff in food mixers.

Firstly, if you have to add a lot of an ingredient, a quantity of cheese for example, it’s a lot easier to add bulk ingredients by stopping the mixer and taking the top off and dumping it all in. Shoving it through the tiny hole at the top doesn’t really hack it! Doh!

Secondly, the recipe says to add water slowly until the dough ‘comes together in a firm dough’. What this means is that the dough suddenly goes from a breadcrumb-like consistency to a single sizeable lump and the mixer leaps about the work surface.

Anyway, here’s the dough in cling film ready for the fridge.

The dough ready for putting into the fridge for 30 minutes

After the dough had been in the fridge for 30 minutes, it was just a matter of making the straws and cooking them.

The dough rolled out

Making them was simple enough, but I misread the instructions and cooked them for only 5 minutes instead of 20 minutes! So I put them in for 5 minutes at a time until they were cooked. Actually they tasted a bit doughy so perhaps I should have cooked them longer. Here’s the finished product.

The end result
The end result. They are a little pallid as I misread the recipe!

The Pope thing and predestination.

I can understand the Pope, who is old, sick, and reportedly tired of the job, resigning. I can see that it has come as a surprise to many people. What I can’t understand is the reactions that people have to the announcement. It isn’t unprecedented, as Popes have resigned before.

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI

However, some people believe that the Pope is elected for life and that resigning as Benedict XVI has done is close to sacrilege. I believe that the thinking goes something like this: God has chosen a particular man to be Pope. For that man to relinquish the post is for that man to, by his actions, imply that God is mistaken, and that cannot be.

If there is a God, and I’m firmly in the other camp, then He, being omnipotent and omniscient, not to mention omni-temporal, must know that His chosen candidate will resign the post, and has arranged matters so that this happens. In other words the resignation was ordained. It seems that one cannot get away from predestination! (The above description of God ‘knowing’ and ‘arranging’ is of course anthropomorphic).

pope and me
Someone similar in appearance from the back to the Pope contemplates the works of God or nature.

Put into a religious context, the debate over predestination versus free will comes down to the following:

If God is all-seeing and all powerful then He has control over everything and nothing happens which He hasn’t caused to happen. If there were something that He hadn’t caused to happen, then that would have to (de facto) be caused externally to God. God and whatever outside of God that caused the event would have to exist in much the same sense and such an existence would have to have a frame of existence, a ‘container’ if you like, that contains both God and the other thing. However, I started out by crediting God as being all-seeing and all powerful and that doesn’t seem to leave room for things outside of God as that implies something greater than God. So given the concept of an all powerful God there can be nothing that He hasn’t caused to happen and which he does not know about.

OK, so if God causes everything, then he causes every event to happen. He (ultimately) causes us to make the particular decisions that we make. So the concept of free will evaporates, as God causes us pick the options that we do, even if we think that we make a choice.

God, the Father watches us all everywhere.
God, the Father watches us all everywhere.

Of course God may be a compatibilist – He may believe that if he presents us with a number of options, we have the free will to select an option, even though the selection is in fact predetermined by Him.

Thomas Hobbes was a classical compatibilist
Thomas Hobbes was a classical compatibilist

Of course, shorn of the religious tones, the above argument still applies, if, for example, you replace the references to God with references to ‘Nature’ or ‘the natural laws’.


Damper or camp bread is a quick and easy bread which does not use yeast as a raising agent. Since it does not use yeast it needs either ‘self-raising’ flour or rising agents like baking powder.

The reason I was considering it was that I found that I’d forgotten to bake any bread. I decided to make some damper from a recipe that I found on the Internet. I chose to make half-quantities and may have miscalculated somewhere as the dough was dry and flakey even after adding all the specified liquid. (The recipe referred to uses water – some recipes use milk).

I added a little more water to get a reasonable dough and cooked it as specified. It came out a bit ‘blond’ probably because I didn’t glaze it with a little milk. It was very crumbly. I’ve not made or had damper before so I’m not sure if this is usual. The taste was more like scone than bread. Anyway, here it is.

Damper or camp bread. It is made without yeast.

Android app

I discovered an Android app for WordPress, so I’m giving it a try. (I may remove this post later).

The trouble is I don’t yet have a topic. Well, I haven’t yet posted any photographs, apart from the ones that I’ve used as illustrations.

Back lit tree fern frond.
I’m not good on plant names. This might be an azalea.
Grass. I was trying to capture the shape of the grass in the rather long lawn.
Grass and weeds. At this level the lawn seemed to be a battleground of competing species.


The crop of beans rescued from the disaster.

We nearly always grow Scarlet Runner beans and they grow well here in Wellington. Unfortunately the Wellington weather gave them a severe battering yesterday and blew down the poles. (We had a month’s rain in 24 hours!). I raised the poles and made them secure with an anchor to a tree at each end and hopefully they will survive. In spite of that I still managed to get 1.5 pounds (750 grams) of beans off them!

I put some by for today and looked on the Internet to find out how to preserve them. The site that I came across recommended blanching them and freezing them..

Topped and tailed and cut into lengths

So I washed them, and then topped and tailed them and cut them into lengths as shown in the image.

Then I set out to blanch them. This process involves giving them a quick boil and then cooling them equally quickly, so I put on a pot of water and got the ice out of the freezer.

Here the logistics got slightly tricky. I didn’t have a lot of ice so I filled up the sink with cold water and put the bowl of ice in it. The idea was for the cold water to slow down the melting of the ice. I don’t know if this actually works or not.

The second issue was that I couldn’t do all the beans in one hit. I boiled half the beans for the recommended three minutes and then hit a snag. I couldn’t drain them into the sink as it had the ice in it surrounded by water! OK, a spare pan solved that one. I dumped the first lot of beans into the ice and filled the original pan with boiled water from the jug and boiled the second lot of beans for three minutes.

Bagged beans ready for the freezer

The rule of thumb was for the beans to be chilled for as long as they were boiled, so just when the second lot were done the first lot were scheduled to come out of the ice. I didn’t worry too much about this – I just dumped the second lot of beans in with the first. Most of the ice had melted by then. After another three minutes I drained all the beans and put them into a ziplock bag and here is the result.

Next time, if I get as many beans, I will arranged the ice and boiling water in advance so that I don’t have as many (minor) clitches as this time!

Determinism : Going out of your door.

Bilbo’s poem “The Road Goes Ever On” from “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” encapsulates the opposed and surely incompatible concepts of “free will” and “determinism”. Wikipedia puts it this way:

Earlier, when leaving the Shire, Frodo tells the other hobbits Bilbo’s thoughts on ‘The Road’: “He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step onto the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.'”.

Firstly Bilbo refers to the many choices that a journey forces on the traveller with the metaphor of a river, its branching and its tributaries, but he also acknowledges that one might be “swept off”, of the travellers path being beyond his control.

Journeys of Frodo
Journeys of Frodo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I feel that the second case (of one’s path being beyond one’s control) is a nod to the concept of determinism. I never set out to post mainly about food, though that is what has happened. I intended, as I stated in my very first post that there would be a triple focus to this blog. So this is in part an attempt to address the lack of balance.

So I’ve chosen to tackle a philosophical topic this time. Or did I? Did I actually make a choice, or was my switch to a philosophical topic pre-destined, and simply predetermined by previous events? Could I have chosen not to have written on this topic?

English: Choice of bridleways The unnamed road...

There are three main views expressed on the topic of freewill versus predestination. The first is that we do have freewill and many people consider this “obvious” and not really worth debating. The second view is that each and every action is pre-destined and that choice is an illusion. A third view tries to sidestep the debate by claiming that the two views are not mutually exclusive. Compatibilists (who espouse this third view) argue that, provided we were in a position to make a choice between two courses of action and we later turn out to have taken one of them  (or as it is more usually put, if we could have chosen to do take the other course) then we have made a choice, even if the outcome of making the choice was predestined and therefore both of the other two views are valid.

Conditional support
Conditional support (Photo credit: Pulpolux !!!)

I’ve always thought that the compatibilist viewpoint was a cop out, or a case of trying to have your cake and eat it. I’ve thought that it devalues choice, which to me means the ability to opt for one course freely and without the outcome being decided or predestined. However I’ve recently thought of an analogy that could support the compatibilist viewpoint.

The analogy is a computer program. There are “decision points” in a program. Should this bit of code be executed next or that bit of code? Should the program perform the loop one more time, or just carry on with the next bit of code? In each case the decision is made depending on the state of the program at the time, perhaps determined by the state of a variable. It could be said that there is a choice  involved in each of these decisions, but when the program is executing and it comes to a decision point its state is determined and the course of the execution is completely determined.

So, humans are not computers, are they? But the underlying point of the analogy is that the programmer writes the software program to make a decision depending on the situation when the program is run. When the program is run, the decision is made depending on the situation at the time. Similarly with humans, perhaps. At one level there is the choice “programmed into” the situation by the past state of the universe. At another level the decision is predetermined by the current state of the universe. Asking the question “Is there free will, or is everything predetermined?” is comparing apples with oranges.

Possibly. I’m not completely convinced. The compatibilists still have an ethical issue – is it ethical to punish someone for a crime even though they (presumably) chose to commit it, because their choice was predetermined.

English: The courthouse of Tours. Français : L...
English: The courthouse of Tours. Français : Le palais de justice de Tours. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)