Thursday, December 31, 2009

Counting Out, Counting In..

Yesterday turned out to be quite productive. Once my hairdresser had curled my locks and departed, the preparation for supper was begun. This meal was to be Chilli con carne. Went to the freezer to get some stewing steak and a bit of minced pork. The small bag of stewing steak weighed 4oz (100g), so decided (as other ingredients would also be used) did not really need the minced pork, so that was put back in the freezer to use another day.

The original wrapping for the stewing beef was still in the freezer bag. The price ticket said the meat was "cubed beef", so hoped this meant 'stewing steak'. With the price being £5.99 kg ( the same as £6, and round figures are always easier to work with), this meant the 100g bundle of beef worked out at 60p. But as it was intended to feed two of us, was happy with that, and also being THAT expensive per kg, it must have been stewing 'steak'.
Although the traditional Chilli con carne is made with cubed beef, and not minced as over here, still decided to chop the meat up and although this would have taken less time if using the food processor, was in my 'survival mode' (thinking also this would save extra washing up), so sat and sliced very thin bits off the chunk of frozen meat using my kitchen scissors, letting the 'shards' fall into a bowl. By the end of it, it looked quite a lot, but still only 4 oz of course.

Decided to cook the chilli in the morning and then heat it up at supper time, so sliced a medium onion, fried that in a little sunflower oil, added the prepared beef, let it fry until browned, then tipped in HALF a can of plum tomatoes, chopping these when in the pan. Normally would have used a whole can, but the Challenge is to use up what is in store, which doesn't mean using it up as quickly as possible. The food has to LAST as long as possible.

After putting the remaining tomatoes into a container then into the fridge, the can was rinsed with cold water and this liquid also added to the pan, lid on and left to simmer. When reduced slightly, stirred in a third of a pack of hot chilli con carne mix, and about half a pint of red beans thawed from the freezer. After heating through, giving one final stir, covered the pan, turned out the heat until suppertime. Decided not to add a cube of chocolate to the chilli as this could be used elsewhere (to find out, read on).

Meanwhile, was contemplating whether to soak some rice to serve with the chilli, as had no pitta bread, then suddenly said to myself "Shirley, what is the matter with you, it is survival time, make the darn pitta bread yourself". Now why didn't I think of that yesterday?
So up I got and searched for some white bread mix that had been brought with us. Old stock, nearly thrown out, and each 500g pack has a separate sachet of yeast to use with it. Luckily I found some of the yeast packs, and eventually the flour. The best before date was June 2007, but I thought "what the heck, it will either work or it won't".

Again working with God's own tools, the bread dough was made by hand and not in the machine. This just meant pouring the flour mix into a bowl, and adding 1 tblsp of sunflower oil, and enough hand-hot water to bind it together. First kneaded in the bowl, then tipped onto the kitchen table and kneader further, then when I got fed up with that (it could have done with being worked longer), put it back into the bowl, covered it with a towel and left to rise.

Around that point daughter arrived, we had a coffee, sorted out the Christmas trimmings from the cake she gave us, plus other decorations so she could take them back, had more chat, then after she had left, checked the dough and it had still not risen (so the yeast was too old?). Decided perhaps this was because the room was cold (the heating not on at that time of day) so put some warm water into the sink and stood the covered bowl in that. Then went into the living room to do the daily crosswords. Half an hour or so later could detect a yeasty smell wafting through the air when B walked into the room (a good sign), so went back into the kitchen to check, and lo and behold - the dough had doubled in bulk. So never throw anything out when it has got past its best-before date. Even well past. It may still be fit for use.
Knocking the dough back, kneaded it again slightly, then shaped it into a thick sausage and cut it into 12 equal portions.

Following the pitta recipe preheated the oven, not as hot as should be, but at least 230C (fan oven), at the same time heating a large baking sheet. Rolled out 6 of the balls very thinly to about 6" ovals, then when the oven was hot, laid each on the mega-hot baking sheet. Could see the first ones beginning to rise by the time the last couple were laid on. Closed the door, left to bake for 10 minutes by which time they had risen and puffed up. Looked really good. Removed them to a wire rack and covered with a tea-towel to prevent them drying out.

While they were cooking, decided not to roll out the remaining dough as did not need that many pitta AT THAT TIME (although after baking they could have been frozen). So instead, rolled each of the 6 pieces into balls, wrapping them singly in layering tissue, and then put them into a bag and popped them into the freezer. Next time there is a need for pitta bread a couple of balls can be brought out, thawed and then rolled and baked.
Even better - two or three balls could be rolled out to make a pizza base. The supermarket sells balls of frozen 'pizza dough', so had made my own version. Ended up as feeling rather pleased with myself that I had managed not only to make and bake some pitta bread, but had also put into the freezer 'something for the future' that would save me time when needed.

By then the bit was firmly between my teeth and I charged on doing more cooking, deciding first to make some microwave lemon curd. As well as zest and juice of 2 large lemons, 2 oz butter, and 5 oz caster sugar, this also needed 3 eggs and 1 egg yolk, so knowing the value of egg whites, instead decided to use 4 large eggs and save two of the whites. The lemon curd was duly made (filling three small containers), then set about making some soft-scoop ice-cream using the saved egg whites.

Four ounces of granulated sugar and 2 tblsp cold water were put into a small pan and gently heated until the sugar had dissolved, then the heat raised and boiled for about 3 minutes to reach soft-ball stage. Meanwhile was briskly whisking the reserved egg whites until thick, then - still whisking (using an electric hand whisk) - slowly drizzled the very hot syrup into the whites. When all was beaten in, kept on beating until the meringue was very thick and cooled down. Then (using the same beaters - they don't need washing first) beat up a good quarter pint of double cream until thickened, then added some rose syrup and beat again until the thickness of the meringue. Checked the flavour, added more rose syrup, beat again and finally folded the cream into the beaten whites. Grated up the chocolate (meant for the chilli - told you it would have a use), and folded this into the mixture, then put the lot into a litre ice-cream tub (have saved several of these including lids) where there was enough mixture to fill the tub. This is my version of Turkish Delight Ice-cream.

A little was left in the whipped cream bowl, and also the final 'folding together' bowl, to make it worth giving to B to scrape out with a spatula and eat. At the moment, B thinks he has gone to heaven as there is now so many good things he can have (like licking out the two ice-cream bowls and lemon curd bowl and that was just yesterday) and the Challenge has only just begun.

Beloved loved the chilli (definitely enough for two) also the pitta bread. We had two of those each, the remaining two put into a bag to be frozen. B had his chilli with watercress and the pitta. Had mine slightly later (but still warm) deciding to split the largest two pittas and stuff them with the chilli - this meant I could eat them using fingers while watching TV (suppose this could be called a Mexican sandwich) as by then felt suddenly tired and needed to relax.

So - all in all - the Goode kitchen yesterday saw plenty of action, and surprisingly more has been put back into the fridge and freezer than actually came out. Mainly because some of the basic 'dry goods' (flour etc) from the larder had been used to make some of the edibles, but as long as gaps keep getting filled without having to buy more to fill the spaces, this I find very pleasing.

Beloved mentioned we are running out of bread, so two loaves (one white, one granary) will be baked this morning. Dough made in the machine, the loaves baked in the oven.

The problem always is - when doing a lot of cooking - never then feel very hungry. At Christmas could barely eat my helping of the main meal, while everyone partook of seconds and thirds. Perhaps I absorb the aromas. When working as bar-maid was warned that the smell of beer alone (don't need to drink it) often makes some people gain weight. Had heard this before, so there maybe something in it. Maybe that is why some chefs are very overweight, despite not eating that much. Just cooking the food for hours on end is enough to add those extra pounds.

With any luck, after several weeks (and hopefully months) of working through the Challenge, by the end of it, lots more cooking will have been done than usual, and despite the danger of gaining lbs because of the aromas, not eating as much means I could be pounds lighter.
It is not often we can save pounds(£££'s) and lose pounds (lbs) both at the same time. Which makes attempting the Challenge worth doing if not for the right reason.

With next Christmas in mind, my dried orange slices studded with star anise in the centre, have been put into a box. Might even sprinkle cinnamon over and put them into a small bowl as a seasonal pot-pourri before putting these away until next December.
Noticed a few empty potato crisp packets in a waste bin. The insides of the packs are very shiny and metallic, and turned inside out could be cut up to make decorations. Will certainly save some over this coming year with a view to making all decorations from recycled things like crisp packets, colourful plastic carrier bags (make good festoons) and empty boxes. it is not just because it saves money, it is just that it is fun to do.

Today it has become normal to buy what we want, then throw it away when we don't want it, then buy something else, and then throw this away, and so it goes on... It might be that retail therapy is behind the purchasing, but we can gain even more pleasure when we stop shopping and start making. Let us try and make 1210 the year when we spend as little as possible and make as much as we can.
For those who really love to buy things, plan to buy only what is needed - such as presents for family and friends (or the makings for them if you make them yourself), and search the charity shops, jumble sales, and car boot sales rather than just pop into a shop and buy something on the spur of the moment. Searching for the perfect gift can take weeks, quite long enough to keep the addictive shopper happy. Often receiving a gift that has cost very few pence but what you really like is far more acceptable than one that has cost pounds but not what you really wanted.