Friday, January 25, 2008

Signs of the Times

Thanks Cheesepare for your comment, but sorry to burst your bubble, our party was very moral, apart from the occasional role-playing, nothing happening behind closed doors. The only sensual pleasures came from eating, eating, eating, plus the occasional drink. There was rather a lot of food, but then it did cover many centuries. Great fun to research and make, and a sample from each made quite a history lesson in its own right. Forgot to mention the drink - that ranged from grape and apple juice to mead and small beer, with tea, coffee, hot chocolate and coca-cola available if wished. The history of cooking and domestic life is one of my hobbies and I am always delving into books on the subject. At the moment, it is a second read of Samuel Pepys diary which I keep at my bedside.
You mentioned eating a tuna steak. Now this is something I cooked for the first time this week for Beloved. Have to admit it was a frozen piece of tuna, which looked remarkably like a beef steak when thawed. He chose to have it cooked in the microwave, where the colour then went pale (as it would when fried). Not eating any myself I asked Beloved what it was like, and he said very tender but not much flavour and passed me a lump on the end of his fork which I pulled off and tried. Tender it certainly was but to me I found almost exactly the same in flavour and texture as canned tuna. This might have been because of the method of cooking. The remaining piece, still in the pack, I may cook on a griddle to see if it improves. Otherwise I will stick to the canned for it is far less expensive.

SweeterRita, thanks for your comments and recipes. Your second, and faster version of trifle is just about the same as the one I make (making up the custard with custard powder of course). I do remember watching a programme a few years ago about children being evacuated and I believe this is the one being repeated. Not that I was evacuated, but the programme brought back memories of how life was in those days. Perhaps it is time for me to admit my age. I've always hestitated about this, for I still cannot relate to being in the same bracket as being 'one of those old people'. My mind is eternally young, and at least I am certainly younger than Marguerite Patten, and a little younger than Mary Berry, so perhaps - when chatting about cooking, age does not really matter, on the other hand - experience does. Like most older 'grown-ups' I find the youngsters hard to understand. Why chat on mobile phones incessantly - don't they realise how much it cost? And all those text messages. Even my friend (admittedly eight years younger) now receives text messages on her mobile when she is staying with me, and immediately answers by texting back to her friends in the same way. I actually feel left out when sitting watching her doing that. Signs of the times.
When it comes to war years - then I have vivid memories, for I was born in Coventry and so many awful things happened they are eternally etched into my mind. Perhaps awful to a child, interesting to everyone else. So maybe that is something I can fill a page with when I have a mental block re recipes. Someone who was writing a book about wartime was asking for memories, and I sent two which he included in the book which was later made into a film. Although the film was set in London and the child was a boy, it was creepily so much like what happened that I felt like a time-warp and I was right back there again.

In your second comment S.Rita, which I picked up this morning before I began my blog, you mentioned a website which I fully intend to look up later. The recipe for making microwave lemon curd is similar, maybe not quite the same, as the one I posted up on 9th July 2007.
As to the eggs. Oh, dear - the correct way of storing and using differs from mine. So that I don't rock the boat and for health and safety this has to be don't do as I do, do as they say. Following this recommendation I pass on what I do.. Eggs are almost alway kept at room temperature using the oldest first - even if they end up older than the use-by date suggested on the box. If in doubt, I always test by the water method (see below). One the rare occasion I have too many eggs delivered (when I forget to cancel the weekly delivery from the milkman) the new ones I sometimes keep in their box in the fridge, and - in truth - sometimes forget I have them if I have put salads on top or something, yet find they seem to be (following the tests below) really fresh even after weeks (more like a couple of months) past their date. Now I'm not suggesting anyone should follow my method. Am just stating facts.

Earlier last year I did quite a lengthy posting about various ways of keep eggs fresh for months, even up to a year, but can't now remember in which month it was published. But here is a useful way to find out whether eggs are still 'fresh' enough to be used:
Take a bowl of cold water and gently place in the egg. If it settles right on the bottom, lying on its side, then it is fresh. If it shows a tendency to lift at the broad end, it is still fit to eat. If it stands up vertically, then it is stale but can still be used for cooking (the higher the heat the better. If it floats under water, it might still be able to be used in baking, but if floating on the surface must be discarded.
Another test is to crack the egg. Most of the eggs bought from the shops can be a week old. Really fresh eggs, when broken onto a flat plate, have the yolks standing in a high mound, and the whites tend to stay close. The older they get the flatter the yolks become and the whites more watery until they get to the stage where the yolks just break and mingle in the whites. At a pinch these could be used for baking but absolutely no good for anything else, and generally I tend to throw them away if they have got to this state, but it depends upon whether I have been a bit rough when breaking the egg, which breaks the yolk, or it does it easily all by itself.

Each week I have half a dozen eggs delivered and keep these on an egg rack which holds twelve, six above and six below (the oldest eggs always being kept at the top). Each time I get a new delivery I take any remaining eggs from the top and put into a basin to be used first, then move the bottom layer up to the top, replacing with the fresh delivery . This way they are always used in the correct order. There are exceptions: for boiled eggs the freshest (most recent delivery) are used. For baking, the oldest are used. When making any recipe which uses eggs cooked gently (such as poached, or lemon curd) always use the freshest eggs. Hard-boiled eggs are best cooked when the eggs are about two weeks old, otherwise it is difficult to remove their shells. If, inavertently, you have mixed up hard-boiled eggs with uncooked egg in shell, you can find find out which is which by laying them on a table and spinning them around. The hard-boiled spin rapidly, the uncooked much more slowly.

It is sad how we have now got to the stage where lightly cooked eggs are forbidden to be served to young children and the elderly, for I well remember my babies being fed a little of the yolk from a lightly boiled egg, and later dunking their bread soldiers into the yolks. So perhaps today worth concentrating on preparing baby foods, although these are equally good enough to serve as invalid food or for those who have trouble with their teeth.
The recipes below could also be used for more general use as a type of pouring sauce (the savoury with rice or pasta, the sweet with pudding or ice-cream)), and work very well as a normal and nourishing soup.
Apart from being so expensive to buy, and so very cheap to make, think to the future - for babies who have been given the manufactured foods often find it hard to accept the flavour of the home-cooked, with some ending up as very picky eaters. Being served only home-made baby food, they usually end up eating most foods enjoyed by the family.

Foods for Babies:
Always use the freshest food and make sure all surfaces, utensils and containers are spotlessly clean.
For babies between 3 and 6 months, serve only purees starting with just a bit on the tip of a spoon, progressing to a spoonful as they get older. Don't make too much for a start but you can always freeze the surplus in ice-cube trays. Never remove the cubes by running the tray under hot water, for this starts them thawing. Run cool water over the underside of the tray to release the cubes then pack them away in air-tight bags, label well, and keep frozen. Thaw out as needed.
As the baby gets older, the food can be frozen in small foil dishes or yogurt cartons. Never refreeze anything once thawed. When heating food, always bring it back to boiling point, then pour it into the baby's dish and allow to cool to lukewarm before serving.
Some foods that can be frozen pureed are: potatoes, cauliflower, swede, peas and carrots. Fruit can be apples and pears; meat can be beef, lamb or chicken; fish - plaice, cod or haddock. Or use as a guide the ingredients in the manufactured products. NEVER add any salt or sugar, and if wishing to use some of the food prepared for the rest of the family, omit all seasoning and the family can add this at the table.
All food should be mashed or pureed, then sieved to remove any lumps or bones.

This fish puree could be served to adults as a pasta sauce, or as a soup. Add a tblsp of chopped parsley if you wish your child to get used to the flavour of herbs.
Pureed Fish:
8 oz (250g) plaice fillets, rinsed and dried
half a pint (300ml) milk
4 oz (100g) carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 oz (100g) swede, peeled and chopped
1 tsp tomato puree
Poach the fish in the milk for about five minutes until just cooked. Remove from the milk, reserving the liquid. Flake the fish making sure all bones are removed. Boil or steam the vegetables until very tender, then put the fish, tomato puree, carrots and swede into a blender, adding enough of the cooking liquid to the consistency you desire. Store into chosen containers, cool rapidly, then freeze for up to one month.

Chicken and Sweetcorn:
2 chicken breasts, skinned and diced
1 potato, peeled and dic ed
3 tblsp frozen sweetcorn*
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
half a pint (300ml) cold water
Put the chicken into an ovenproof dish with the rest of the ingredients and the water. Cover, and bake in the oven for 1 - 1 1/2 hours at 180C, 350F, gas 4 or until tender. Puree, using only enough of the cooking liquid, to the required consistency (add more boiled water if you need to), then cool rapidly, place into containers, cover, label and freeze. Keep up to one month.
*Note: always use fresh or frozen sweetcorn. Canned sweetcorn contains sugar, so not suitable for babies.

Apple and Apricot Puree:
4 oz (100g) dried apricots*
2 large dessert apples
orange juice
Soak the apricots in water overnight. Drain and put into a pan and cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain, cover and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, wash the apples, leaving on the peel but remove the core. Put into a baking dish with a little water and cover. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for half an hour or until tender. Remove the apple skins and discard. Puree the apricots with the cooked apple flesh, if necessary adding a little orange juice to slacken the mixture. Put into containers, cover, label and freeze. Can be frozen up to 3 months.
* Note: use the proper dried apricots, as the no-soak may contain sugar. But read the details on packs of both as some no-soaks may be suitable. The really best dried apricots are the Hunza apricots which are smaller, darker, more expensive and still have the stones which should be removed after soaking.

Obviously, there are many more foods which can be served to babies, rice pudding for example, and many good books dealing with the subject alone. Even though many of you who read this blog may well be past the baby-rearing stage, the information can be passed on to the next generation. Once a start has been made feeding home-cooked foods to the babies, this progresses naturally to serving good and home-prepared foods through the rest of their young years, and so far less chance of junk foods becoming part of their daily diet.

Friday today - already? How fast the days fly by. These next few days will be busy with more viewings. Beloved departs for his trip the exact time one of the viewings has been booked. My best friend arrives almost immediately after for a long visit. At hectic times like this I often retire to this room to get away from it all, in the (often forlorn) hope that some of you will have sent comments to me or each other. It is the next best thing to relaxing with a cup of coffee, sitting and having a personal chat with each of you. So keep those comments coming, from this moment on, I may feel in great need of them.