Sunday, January 13, 2008

Good to be Back

Most of you may not have picked up my late posting last night, but hope many of you will be logging on today, and fingers crossed no more problems with the comp. Sorry it took so long, but Steve lives a long way away, and it is not easy for him to find time to visit that often. At one point it looked like a new hard-drive would be needed, but bless him, he managed to get it working and re-booted without losing any past info. Took him quite a while.

Before I begin answering queries (and strangely, I get more hits when I am not writing up my blog, than I get when I do), it was very good to see how the site was kept going by you sending comments to each other, and I think you for that.
Queries first. I was replying to Christine when the comp. packed up, so will start again. Am assuming, Christine, that your sons buy their own foods, so could suggest you home-cook their 'ready-meals' and freeze them away, they could then purchase them from you at a reduced price (that's a win-win situation for them for a start). This way they could eat much the same meals, but healthier and cheaper. As to the junk food. Not quite sure, but expect pizza's might come into it somewhere. Pizzas are not all that unhealthy, but again, easily made at home, either just the base with the tomato topping, or fully prepared with slices of chorizo etc. (read through one of those flyers from pizza take-aways that come through the door, and you will be able to find out what goes on top, or even better, what your son likes best). Basic pizzas (base and tomato), frozen alongside a box of grated cheese, and second son can add his own toppings.

To save me scrolling back through the comments box, I do recall a mention of bagels. Think it might have been LibrarySpy who was (possibly) interested in making some at home. The recipe will follow. Also a recipe for Cheesepare for Brandy Snaps - which start off and can remain flat if that is how you wish them to be. They can also be draped over teacups to crisp up to make containers for ice-cream etc.

Becca is needing meat-stretching recipes, and it has to be said, most recipes of mine which contain meat, already have the meat stretched quite a way. I am all for using less meat (just enough to give flavour) and padding it out with more vegetables. Alternatively, if used to eating meat most days, then eat meat on alternate days, or once every third day, and serve vegetarian dishes between times.

Many of your comments whilst I have been out of contact, have been covering the recent TV programmes about chickens. I watched all of them (also another series called Kill it, Cook it, Eat it - relating to the slaughter of baby animals) and I have to say I too am now 99% in favour of eating only free-range birds and eggs. The eggs are no problem because my milkman provides free-range eggs and these seem to be considerably cheaper than those from the supermarket which is a bonus. As to free-range whole birds, there is always the problem as to the very much higher price we pay for them. Anyone on a very tight budget cannot really afford to buy them especially when the battery hens are so much cheaper. To get round this, and this is what I intend doing myself, is now to buy free-range whole birds, but less often than I would do with the normal cheaper birds, and ALWAYS, ALWAYS, portion them myself, saving the carcase, skin and wingtips to make a good stock. Not forgetting to keep the fat that settles on the top to use for roasting potatoes etc. This way, every extra penny paid for quality, is used.
Those of us old enough will remember the times when chicken was eaten only on special occasions. There was no battery farming, and generally all chickens were kept for laying eggs, and only the old birds (boiling fowls) were freely available. There were some neutered (if that is the word) cockerels, sold as capons, but they were expensive.
As to war-time, virtually no chickens on sale (apart from the odd boiler), and for some months the rations gave only one egg per person per fortnight. So perhaps we should stop taking things for granted, and review the foods we buy and the way we cook - not just chickens, but just about everything.

A further programme last week, which Becca mentioned, was on ready meals: the cheapest, versus the top quality packaged meals, and then seeing the differences between the home-cooked. That was enlightening to say the least. A lot more fat in the most expensive, compared to the cheaper, a lot of fat, salt and sugar in all the pre-packaged meals. Even the home-produced and cooked healthy foods were higher than expected in fat, but this was put down to using full-cream milk and the oils in the many nuts that were eaten.
Seeing the piles of fat, salt and sugar contained in a week's packaged meals was astonishing. I can truthfully say that one week's salt (in the packaged meals) would last us more than a year in our house, certainly the sugar and fat would keep us going for a couple or so months, maybe longer. My one criticism is re the mention that at least one of the top of the range quality meals had more calories in it than a cheaper brand as though that was a bad thing. This I feel could be misleading, as thhe extra calories probably came from the extra meat supplied in the dish.

Also I learned something new. I do read labels on the packets to see how much salt, sugar etc things contain, and I believed that was what was in the pack. Now it seems that it is 'typical amounts' or some such term and has not a lot to do with what is actually in the packets as often there can be more, and sometime much more than stated on the pack. I had never really noticed the heading at the top re 'typical' believing the amounts given were exact. It appears not so.

Obviously, we have got to the stage where we should all be doing more home-cooking and buying far less of the ready-made, and for those who mutter they are out at work all day...well, this weekend I asked Kim, Steve's young wife how she managed to cook meals as she works long hours, sometimes weekends, and she told me she never buys ready-meals, just decides what she wants to serve that evening, prepares what she can before she goes to work and cooks it on her return (or uses a slowcooker). Advance preparation has to be the secret to easy cooking.
Kim just loves Yorkshire Puddings, with just about everything, so yesterday I made one to go with the pork chops, roasted veg. prune and ginger stuffing - a dish I just about cobbled together, but was much enjoyed. Up to now, Aunt Bessie has been the main provider of Kim's Yorkshire Puddings, and I have to say I have used them myself now and again, but I followed the advice of one of the TV cooks (not sure if it was James Martin's grannies recipe, or whether it came from the stable of Brian Turner) whereby you use equal measurements (we used a mug), of plain flour, eggs (beaten), and milk. Kim could not believe how easy it was to prepare but did not believe it would work (and I have to admit it was the first time I had tried this method, but didn't let on), and the batter, poured into a square roasting tin (a little very hot oil inside), rose and puffed up so that I had to remove an oven shelf to let it rise even higher. A great success.
There was enough batter left over to make another one, but this I will use to make pancakes, or maybe add sugar and add fruit to make Clafoutis (similar to Toad in the Hole, but fruit instead of sausages).

Now to recipes:
Brandy Snaps: makes a dozen and a half
2 oz (50g) golden syrup
1 1/2 oz (40g) caster sugar
2 oz (50g) butter
1 1/2 oz (40g) plain flour, sifted with..
1 level tsp ground ginger
1 tsp brandy (if you want to be authentic, or use water if not)
Put the syrup, butter and sugar into a pan and heat gently until all dissolved and the mixture is very smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sifted flour and ginger, then finally the brandy or water.
Take teaspoonfuls of the mixture and drop them, well spaced apart (allow about 3" between each) onto buttered baking sheets. Bake at 350C, 180F, gas 4 for about 10 minutes, by which time the mixture should have spread into lacy circles. Remove from the oven, and leave to stand for a couple of minutes then remove with a palette knife and roll each around the handle of a wooden spoon. When firming up, slide off the spoon and leave to cool on a wire rach. Alternatively place the soft snaps over the base of an upturned tea-cup or something similar and press gently to form a fluted cup shape. Again, when firmed up, remove and put on a cake airer. Or leave flat as a crisp biscuit.
Obviously, these have to be made in several batches, and if any have firmed up too much to handle, then replace in the oven for a couple of minutes to soften up again.
Brandy Snaps are traditonally filled with whipped cream, but this should be done just before serving. Unfilled biscuits/shapes will keep well when stored in an airtight tin.

Bagels are what I call 'twice-cooked', firstly poached and then baked off in the oven.
Bagels: makes one dozen
8 oz (225g) strong white bread flour
1 rounded tsp salt
8 oz (225g) strong plain wholemeal flour
1 sachet easy-blend dried yeast
1 tblsp caster sugar
2 tblsp sunflower oil
approx half a pint (300ml) warm water
1 tblsp gran. sugar
milk for glazing
poppy seeds, caraway seeds, sesame seeds (optional)
Sift together the white flour and salt, then stir in the wholemeal flour, yeast and caster sugar. Make a well in the centre and pour in the warm water and oil. Mix together to make a soft dough, then turn it out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (although I have not made these myself, I see no reason why the dough cannot be made in a bread machine up to this point). Shape the kneaded dough into a round, place it in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to stand in a warm place until doubled in bulk.
Knock back the dough slightly, then divide into twelve portions. Shape each into a bowl then using a floured handle of a wooden spoon (or even your finger or thumb) make a hole through the centre of each ball. Enlarge the hole by pulling the dough out, so you end up with rings of dough (remembering that the hole will close back a bit when cooked).
Place the rings of dough onto greased baking sheets, cover lightly and leave to rise again for about half an hour or until doubled in size.
While these are rising, start preheating the oven to 200c, 400C, gas 6, and also heat a large pan of water to simmering point. When the bagels are ready, stir the sugar into the water and when dissolved, very carefully place each bagel in the water (no more than 3 or 4 at a time) and poach for 3 minutes, turning once during that time.
Remove the bagels from the water, drain well and replace on the (greased) baking sheets brushing each with a little milk, sprinkling over the seeds (optional). Bake for 15 - 20 minutes until golden. Cool on a wire rack. Cut in half and serve warm or cold.

I dare say you could use just plain white flour, or other flours when making bagels. The first one I ever tried almost put me off. We were in New York State, visiting our daughter, and she stopped off at one of those road-side places (dare I call it a shack?) where they sold bagels. She brought one out to me and I thought it was a chocolate doughnut filled with cream (it looked just like one), so I was overjoyed, but when I bit into it I got quite a shock. Not sure what flour was used, but it was dark brown and the cream was cream cheese. Needless to say, I did not enjoy it at the time as it was much later was told it was a savoury bagel and not a doughnut.
Which reminds me of last week when I went into the kitchen to choose a bottle of sparkling pear flavoured drink to take up to my bedroom (I sometimes get thirsty in the night). I was looking forward to this, but when I began to drink it, was very disappointed as the flavour seemed overpowering and I really did not like it very much. When I almost got to the end of the bottle (after several days), I discovered I had picked up the wrong one and all the time it had been Black Cherry Flavour. I love the flavour of Black Cherry and had I know this is what it was, I would have really enjoyed it. Trouble is I thought it was Pear, and that made all the difference. It obviously helps to know exactly what you are eating or drinking before you do the tasting. Has anyone else had something similar happen to them?

The previous posting (before I got cut off) was covering economy cooking (home-cooked versus bought) and I promised pancakes. So here is the basic recipe - for sweet pancakes, just add 1 - 2 tblsp caster sugar to the batter. Depending upon the price you pay for eggs, flour and milk, the pancakes can work out anything between 2p-5p each. A pack of 8 have been seen in the supermarket for 99p. They also freeze well.
Basic Pancake Recipe:
4 oz (125g) plain flour
pinch salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
half a pint (300ml) milk
butter and/or oil for frying
Put the flour and salt into a bowl, make a well in the centre and add the egg, together with a little of the milk, and start whisking, gradually drawing in the flour to make a smooth paste, then whisk in the remaining milk and pour into a jug. If you wish, make this ahead of time , cover and allow to stand in the fridge - even overnight if you wish. Batter left to stand will thicken as the flour expands in the liquid, so a little more milk may need to be added.
Put a knob of butter into a frying pan (with a little oil if you wish) and heat until it is very hot, remove from heat and pour the excess fat into the batter, stirring as you go (this helps to prevent the first pancakes sticking to the pan). Pour about 2 tblsp batter into the pan, tilting the pan so that the batter runs evenly over the base. Cook for 1 - 2 minutes until the underside is turning golden. Using a fish slice or palette knife, flip the pancake over and cook for half a minute or so longer, then slide out of the pan onto a plate. Continue with the next pancake, stacking up the pancakes as you go, until all the batter has been used up.
herb pancakes: chop a handful of fresh herbs and fold them into the batter.
chocolate pancakes: to the basic recipe remove 2 tsp flour and replace with 2 tsp cocoa and add 1 - 2 tblsp caster sugar to the batter.
buckwheat pancakes: substitute buckwheat flour for the plain white flour, and use 3 beaten eggs instead of one, the milk remains the same.

About a week ago, Beloved came in with a bag of bananas which he bought from the town market, being a Saturday I think it was, and as it was late afternoon they were going cheap - 24 bananas for £1. Ripening up rather too rapidly I am turning some into banana bread, and tonight - making use of the surplus batter from the Yorkshire Puddings (which will be turned into pancakes) I will be making the following:
Rum and Banana Pancakes: serves 4
1 batch sweet pancakes (basic recipe plus the sugar)
4 bananas
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tblsp caster sugar
2 tsp cornflour
5 fl.oz (150ml) rum (or rum and water)
icing or caster sugar
Make the pancakes and keep warm while making the filling,
Mash the bananas with the lemon juice and sugar. Blend together the cornflour and the rum (or rum/water) in a pan. Heat until the mixture has thickened. Stir in the bananas and cook for 1 minute. Divide between the pancakes, either rolling up or folding in half and half again to make triangles, and serve at once dusted with a little icing or caster sugar.

Hope I have caught up with most of your queries. If I have omitted answering any, then please remind me.
Looking forward to catching up with your comments - I think I discovered about 46 new ones last night once the comp. had been fixed, so will enjoy reading those which I still have not yet got around to.
If all goes well (and with my record of media mishaps, you know anything can happen) , I should be back with you tomorrow.
Believe me, I missed my chats with you so much, even beginning to wondering if I would ever be able to continue, you don't know how good it is to be back.