Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back to Basics

Had one of those revealing moments yesterday, realising that with all animal life (as far as I know) the female seems to do most of the work! Even King of the Jungle, the magnificent lion, just lies there while his harem works their socks off chasing and killing so that he has something to eat. Most of the time male animals fight to protect their territories and to prevent new blood coming in and taking their 'womenfolk'. All in the cause of making sure of survival of the fittest so that life continues. So who am I to dig my toes in at that sound sense? There must be a good reason (as yet undiscovered) for this great scheme of things, so from now on will bend with the wind and try and suffer in silence. Still not fair though.

Thanks to those who sent in comments - and areas in which they live. Am now compiling a list and when the map goes up will take a photo of it.
Nice to hear you agree with my grumbles T.Mills, next time you write (hope you do) let us know which part of the country you live. Not obligatory of course, but it helps to make readers less 'impersonal'.

Debbie in Essex, are you the same 'Debs' that writes in? There are several readers who share the same name, so do not want to get any of you mixed up. Lynn in S. Staffs, is presumably not the Lyn who also sends comments. We also have several 'Sue's' sending messages, so would like to make sure these are not mixed up either, although when sending in a query, suppose it doesn't matter if there is a mix-up as long as an answer is posted up (that all can read).

Regarding where you live LizBeth. Er - Texas, USA: Even when we know you live at the top of that state (the bit called the Panhandle ) this is still a bit vague. Being that the Panhandle on its own is probably larger than all of England, do I pin your flag in one of the corners, or in the middle? Mind you, America will not be on my map of the UK, so perhaps a teeny weeny North American map can be pinned to the side as believe there are several readers in the US, and at least two in Canada, in which case Panhandle won't be much larger than half a postage stamp (or even less), so perhaps no need to be that specific. With maybe more readers who live abroad making themselves known, might be a good idea to have a world map pinned up as well. This could be fun.

"Bangers" (in this country) is our affectionate name for all sausages Lizbeth, although not called this until the last war, when sausages were made in wartime filled with hardly any meat (and lot of rusk and water) and so 'exploded' when fried. Well remember the time my mother was convinced it was a mouse tooth she found in a sausage she had bought then cooked. Funny how things stick in your memory.

Because sausages now have strict rules on the amount of meat they must contain (the best quality having the most meat, lower quality less - but still within limitations), once the meat percentage goes below a certain level they not to be sold as 'sausages', but allowed to be sold under the name of 'banger' (some of these are so dreadful they contain very little meat at all, and no guidelines to how little it need be). Maybe some really good sausages are still packaged with a given name followed by ".....Bangers", to tempt those who remember this 'traditional' name, but it is worth checking the percentage of meat in all sausages before buying (this is printed on the pack) so that we get our money's worth.
Yes, maybe I got some of the above wrong because the info was gleaned via the media, but am sure someone will let us know if I did.

Adding a little cornflour to yogurt will prevent it 'splitting' when simmered, although not sure whether this is normally mixed into made yogurt before cooking, instead of adding it when making. Do we have an extra-fine cornflour in this country? Not sure. Just the basic one I think (US cornstarch). We sometimes use arrowroot (sold at the supermarkets) as a 'thickener' when making clear gravy or sauces. This is especially good used with fruit juices due to the 'clarity'. Using cornflour the sauces end up opaque.

Good to hear we have readers in the Midlands. Envy you living in Warwickshire Donna, as that is the county of my birth, and many generations on my mother's side. My dad came from Staffordshire. Have always wished I could return to my roots to end my days. A farmer once told me this is a common thing 'in the animal world', so maybe am more like a wild creature than I care to admit.
On the other hand, it seems much further back in my family tree, ancestors came from Cumbria, so maybe am living in the right area after all. Having said that, am pretty sure there is Viking blood in me, so probably the end result of a bit of raping and pillaging! Quite like the thought of that. With nine grandchildren no fears of our line running out (although no sign yet of our first grandchild).

My dad came from Staffordshire Lynn, so a small connection between us there. The way our country is, those of us who have a family line that goes back to the days of King Arthur, if we go far enough back, many of us may find we share an ancestor. Stranger things can happen.

A pity that you didn't get to watch any cooks demonstrating at the Good Food Show Lynn, and feel a bit sorry for Gordon Ramsay who's bubble has really burst. He is a clever cook, and worth watching if he can button his mouth and stop all those four-letter words. Mind you, he is not one I would choose to watch, preferring a cook who has more my way of thinking: making the most of what we've got that cost as little as possible.. Not a lot of those about I suppose.

Central heating can cause the air in a room to be too dry, leading to chest problems (or making them worse). Many people fit 'humidifiers' over their radiators (filled with water that evaporates when warmed up). An expensive way to do this I've always thought, and so (as other readers do) prefer to hang my washing in front (or over) radiators to dry it off during the winter.
N0-one likes to see racks of washing standing in a room when using the room, so used to load up the airers prior to going to bed, and then put them in the warm room to catch the last of the heat. Or put them in another room that is not being used. To keep the air moist, a shelf above the radiator with a dish of water on is a good idea.
Sleeping in a dry room really gives me a sore throat, one reason why we always keep the small top window slightly open, even if this cold weather. Our 'smalls' are dried off over the bedroom radiator during the evening, so that helps too.

Managed to buy Nella Last's book (life in the 1950's) from the boat museum in Barrow when we visited recently - in fact bought all three publications of her diaries. So far have read the first two, and am half-way through the third, although found the first one the most interesting. In the later books, she (like me) tends to ramble on a bit.

Our daughter asked me if the 'Housewife 49' drama had brought back bad memories when they showed the time of the blitz. Did not see this, so obviously shown in the first hour of the programme which I missed. It may well have affected me, and - in a way - hope it did disturb my daughter as she would then know what life was really like in my childhood days. All youngsters should know what their parents went through when times were hard (in war or recession), for they were much, much harder times than they are today.
Parents tend to shelter their offspring from things like that, as long as children are fed and clothed, and can still play games, they often never seem to notice the hardships that cause adults much worry.
There are some things that a child cannot be sheltered from, and living in Coventry during the first part of the war, the Blitz there still remains in my memory, and can be instantly be taken back in time by unexpectedly hearing the sound of a siren, the scream of a bomb dropping, or a plane flying very low overhead. Even now - 70 years later - these can get me instinctively wrapping my arms tightly around my body, screwing my eyes shut, and my heart races.

But enough of the past, it is too beautiful a day to drag up bad memories. We appeared to have no further snow last night, and the sky at the moment is a cloudless blue. The outside temperature was expect to be - 20C in Wales last night. so maybe not much higher further up the coast (where we now live). Much the same weather that our ancestors haven't had to deal with, and without all the mod.cons. of today. Think survival of the fittest really stood for something then.

Beloved had his lamb shank, new potatoes, green peas and the usual tracklements for his supper. Myself made myself a Spanish omelette (fried onion with diced new potatoes and then beaten eggs poured over). To which I added a few rashers of crispy bacon. Lost another half pound of my continual weight loss overnight, although hoped for more - perhaps it was the toast with my 'brunch' soup, and the spuds in the omelette that slowed it down. Today must try harder.

Time has fast moved on (due to me getting up later than normal) so no recipes today, and hope to come up with something more interesting tomorrow. For those of you who will be logging on - see you then.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Start the Week

Here is an easy recipe for a dessert made with yogurt that will freeze well, so worth making now to eat during the festive season.
Yogurt Nut Pudding: serves 4 - 6
2 'Crunchie' type chocolate bars
2 x 16 oz (450g) cartons natural yogurt
5 tblsp runny honey
4 oz (100g) chopped mixed nuts
Put the 'Crunchies' into a polybag and crush with a rolling pin. Tip into a bowl and mix with the rest of the ingredients.
To serve on the day: put into a dish and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.
To freeze: put mixture into a solid container, seal and freeze. Use within three months. Thaw overnight in the fridge, stir and serve chilled.

The recipe for devilled sauce is worth filing away as this sauce is useful when wishing to 'sharpen' up the flavour of 'quick-cook' liver, steak, chicken etc.
Instead of cooked cold lamb, cooked beef could be used.
Teenage 'Bangers':
1 lb (450g) scraps of cold lamb, minced or finely chopped
4 oz (100g) or less of shredded suet
8 oz (225g) cooked rice
salt and pepper
beaten egg
dripping or oil
Mix the lamb with the suet and rice, adding seasoning to taste. Roll up into 'sausages', then coat each in first egg, then breadcrumbs, and fry in hot dripping until golden brown. Serve with mashed potatoes, carrots and gravy, or with oven chips and baked beans.

Devilled Sauce:
1 tsp mustard powder (or 1 - 2 tsp made mustard)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp chutney or relish
half tsp curry powder
1 tsp tomato ketchup or tomato paste
2 tsp vinegar
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of sugar
1 oz (25g) butter
Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan. Heat gently until the butter has dissolved, then bring to the boil.
Best freshly made, this can then be poured over slices of tender meat or poultry and cooked in the oven at 180C, 350F, gas 4, for 10 minutes, turning once, then remove meat from dish and grill on each side for a further 3 minutes. Serve very hot.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Flavour of the Past

As I've been harping on the advantage of using the cheaper grains, today am giving a couple of recipes based on pearl barley. The first being a substantial winter soup, guaranteed to warm us up on the coldest of days. It also makes good use of other ingredients we may already have in store. As some foods can be substituted for another - am giving alternatives in the list of ingredients. Despite the first recipe serving a large number of people, worth making this amount a day or two before wishing to eat, to give the flavours a chance to develop. Keep chilled, and then reheat thoroughly when wishing to serve.

Beef and Barley Soup: serves 6 - 8
1 lb (450g) stewing beef, cut into small chunks
2 large onions, finely chopped
3.5 pints (2 ltrs) cold water
1 beef stock cube
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) pearl barley
2 oz (50g) split peas (green or yellow), or red lentils
2 white turnips, peeled and diced (or use swede, parsnip etc)
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 - 3 large carrots, diced
1 large leek, thinly sliced (opt)
chopped fresh parsley to serve (opt)
Put the meat and onions into a large saucepan pan with the water and crumbled stock cube. Add seasoning to taste (when using a stock cube, omit salt and just add pepper). Bring to the simmer, stirring from time to time to dissolve the stock cube, then add the barley and split peas. Bring back to the boil, skimming off any scum that appears. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for half an hour, then add the rest of the prepared vegetables, return to the simmer, cover and cook for a further hour or until the meat and vegetables are tender. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
Serve in large bowls, garnishing with a sprinkling of chopped parsley (if using).

This next recipe uses butternut squash and shallots, but pumpkin (or other squash), parsnips, turnips or swede could be substituted for the squash (or a mixture), and leeks or onions for the shallot. Any type of mushroom works well with this dish, and if you have dried shiitake mushrooms (or similar) these - when hydrated - add a really rich flavour to this dish. Although Parmesan is the chosen cheese, no reason why a well flavoured hard cheese (such as Cheddar) can be finely grated and used in its place. Always worth keeping oddments of hard cheese unwrapped in the fridge to grate down, as the harder it is the finer it will grate. Then store it in a container in the freezer to use as and when.

Barley Risotto: serves 4
6 oz (175g) pearl barley
4 tblsp olive oil
1 small butternut squash, peeled and seeds removed
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
1 oz (25g) butter
3 large banana shallots (or two onions) sliced
1 clove garlic
5 oz (150g) mushrooms, sliced
2 carrots, grated
5 fl oz (150ml) vegetable stock
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
2 oz (50g) Parmesan cheese, grated (or other hard cheese)
2 - 3 tblsp pumpkin or sunflower seeds (or chopped walnuts)
salt and pepper
Rinse the barley, then cook in simmering water, part covering the pan, for approx 45 minutes, or until the barley is tender, then drain and set aside.
Put the prepared squash in a roasting tin with the garlic clove and half the thyme. Season with pepper and sprinkle over half the oil, toss well, then roast at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for half an hour or until the squash is tender and beginning to char at the edges.
Meanwhile, heat half the butter with the remaining oil in a large frying pan. Stir in the shallots and saute for five minutes, then add the mushrooms and remaining thyme and cook until the liquid from the mushrooms evaporates and true frying begins. This is the time to stir in the carrots and fry for a further 2 minutes, then add the cooked and drained barley, and 3 fl.oz of the vegetable stock. Season well, and part-cover the pan. After five minutes check and if necessary add some or all of the remaining stock if the mixture is too dry.
Finally, stir in the parsley, the remaining butter and half the cheese. Squeeze the roasted garlic to release the soft centre,and stir this into the mixture, followed by the roasted squash. Season to taste, and serve with a sprinkling of chosen seeds and the remaining cheese.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Whole Hog or just the Trotters?

Here are some old ways of dealing with certain household problems. You too may find them useful.

baking tins:
wash and dry immediately after baking, and put them back into the cooling oven. This way they should dry off completely, leaving no damp bits to go rusty or stained.

plant tonic:
don't throw away left-over tea in the pot. When cool, it makes a good fertiliser for indoor plants.

epsom salts:
as well as helping to remove a splinter (just soak the finger in a strong, warm solution of Epsom salts), the salts, diluted with a little hot water, when painted onto a window will dry off to give a 'frosted effect'. Useful for painting Christmas shapes on window glass. Or frosting all over to prevent people looking in.

keeping out flies:
flies dislike the colour blue. In Holland, many stables are painted blue inside to keep flies away from pestering the horses. In hot countries, many rooms (and window frames) are painted blue to keep out flies.

prevent steamy windows:
soak a clean cloth in a strong solution of detergent, then let it dry without rinsing. Wipe this across windows, and the film of detergent deposited will break down the steam and prevent them steaming up for hours (useful to keep a similar cloth in the car to keep the windscreen clear).

caterpillar prevention:
an infusion of elder leaves poured over plants is said to keep away caterpillars.

home-made gravy browning:
put 9oz (225g) demerara sugar and 2 tsp salt into a frying pan with a very small lump of dripping. Stir well over medium heat until a dark brown colour, then add half pint (300ml) boiling water. Stir until dissolved and simmer for five minutes, then bottle up, seal and use to brown soups and gravies.

burnt on food:
to remove burnt on food from a glass (ovenproof) dish, fill with hot water and drop in a denture cleaning tablet, then leave overnight. Next day rinse off and all the stains will have disappeared.

storing dried herbs:
keep the unused little mesh bags provided with some laundry tablets. Fill with fresh herbs and hang up to dry. When ready to use, either hold the bags over a sheet of paper and rub with the fingers so all the dry herbs fall out (and can then be stored in small jars), or just rub enough out enough needed. The coarser herb stems will remain in the bags and can be disposed of (or blitzed in a blender to make a herb 'powder').

'stock'ing up:
dont' throw away peelings. Bag up carrot peel, onion skins, celery stumps, parsley stems, mushrooms stalks and peelings, for use in preparing vegetable stock. Likewise, separately bag up fish trimmings, prawns shells, chicken and meat bones etc. and freeze to make stock later.

removing odour from hands:
after preparing garlic, fish, onions and other highly flavoured foods, to remove the smell simply rub the hands over stainless steel - could be the inside of a sink, a bowl or just the taps, and the smell should disappear.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Early Birds.....

Here is an updated version of Bubble and Squeak. The traditional version was always made by my mother on Boxing Day, served with cold turkey, although she used to make it using up the leftover roast potatoes mashed with the leftover Brussels sprouts (normally made with mashed potato and cabbage). The recipe below is a lot tastier, and the 'greens' could be either cabbage or sprouts. Other root veggies could be used instead of the parsnips, and no reason why some cooked potatoes couldn't also be mashed in with some parsnips instead of using all parsnips, so plenty of room for adaptation. Of course this dish doesn't have to be kept just to be served on Boxing Day, and as so often happens with me, have given it a name that might just get help children to eat the greens they profess to despise. Serves 4 as a main dish, up to 8 if serving with cold meat etc.
Boxing Day Squabbles and Beak:
1 3/4 lb (800g) parsnips, cut into chunks
1 tsp turmeric
pinch of salt
half Savoy (or similar) cabbage, finely shredded
quarter pint frozen peas
juice 1 small lemon (or half a large lemon)
2 oz (50g) butter
salt and pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds (or half tsp ground cumin)
1 tsp garam masala (curry powder)
1 bunch coriander (or other chosen herb) chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
Put the parsnips into a pan with the turmeric and salt, cover with cold water and boil for about 10 - 12 minutes until the parsnips are very tender.
Meanwhile, in another pan, blanch the cabbage for 3 minutes in boiling water, until this also is tender, then add the peas and boil for a further minute. Remove from heat and drain.
Drain the cooked parsnips, and put back into the warm pan with the lemon juice and HALF the butter. Mash together, adding seasoning to taste, then - setting aside the remaining butter - beat in the remaining ingredients.
Heat the reserved butter in a large non-stick frying pan, and when hot, tip in the parsnip mixture, pressing it down to make a shallow flat 'cake'. Fry over medium heat until crisp and brown on the bottom, then using a fish slice, turn the cake over to cook the other side. It doesn't matter if it breaks, in fact this seems to improve it if the mixture is kept being turned as it browns, then broken up a bit to be, then pressed back down so that it eventually gets crispy bits throughout.
To serve, slide onto a warm plate and cut into wedges.

A similar recipe to the above (in that it is a savoury 'cake' fried in a pan) can also be adapted, using other cooked root vegetables but as the basic veggie used is onion, and most of us keep these in our kitchen, along with the secondary veg: the potato, hardly any need to find a substitute. Based on a Welsh dish, this is great comfort food. Hence the name I've given it.
Conway Comfort Cake: serves 6
4 oz (100g) butter
1lb (450g) onions, sliced
pinch of salt
sprig rosemary
2.2lb (1kg) potatoes (Maris Piper or Desiree type)
salt and pepper
Put one ounce of the butter into a frying pan over medium heat, add the onions, salt and the rosemary, cover and and cook for about 20 minutes until softened, then discard the rosemary. Remove from heat and set aside.
Melt the remaining butter in a small pan, then pour this into a bowl. Peel the potatoes and cut into wafer-thin slices (easiest way to do this is use a mandolin, the thinner the slices the better the dish will be) dropping them as cut into the bowl of butter, and turning them so they are coated. Add seasoning to taste.
Line an ovenproof frying pan (or flame-proof/oven-proof dish) with baking parchment, then layer the potatoes into the pan slightly overlapping each. Best done in ever decreasing circles as once turned out this becomes the top layer and the more attractive it looks the more appetising it will be.
Once half the potatoes have been layered, spoon over the onions, then finish by layering over the remaining slices of potato.
Set over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes to help brown the bottom. then remove to the oven and cook for a further 45 - 50 minutes until the potatoes are cooked and soft when pierced with a knife. Remove from oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes before inverting onto a warm serving plate. Peel away the paper and serve cut into wedges.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Christmas on the Cheap?

An old cookbook gives a method of drying onions for storage, and as it says these crisp up in the oven, maybe some of these could be eaten to garnish a dish while still hot. As a way to prevent waste of any kind, drying is a useful way to store some veggies, so here is what to do:

dried onions and leeks:
These well repay drying, as so often they do not keep. When onions in store start growing green shoots, or becoming soft, others stored at the same time will soon follow. So peel them, removing any bad parts, and cut them into slices, laying these on a wire cake airer covered by muslin. Place in the oven, using a constant gentle heat leaving the door slightly open to allow a current of air to carry away moisture. A good idea is to use the heat in a turned-off oven once a baking session has finished.
Keep moving the onion and leek rings about occasionally to help the drying, and when crisp take them out, and after a little while store them away in airtight containers.

dried mushrooms:
These dry very readily. Cut off the stalks short and remove the peel*. Lay the mushrooms on oven racks and dry off as above. When dried quite stiff, store them away. To use, first soak in water and then simmer them in a little stock.

dried beans and peas:
Leave haricot (type) beans on the plants until dry and withered, then pull up plants and hang in an airy shed. Shell and store for seed or for later soaking and cooking. Young French and runner beans may be sliced, blanched for five minutes, drained and then dried in thin layers.
Treat marrowfat peas in the same way (drying and storing). Treat young, sugary peas in the same way as runner beans, shaking off moisture before before drying in thin layers.

The ideal heat for drying is between 120F - 150F as the aim is to dry, not cook. Drying can be done in the oven, a warm (airing) cupboard, or a rack over the stove, and (as said above) as long as the heat is constant and gentle with a current of air to take away moisture.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Writing Thing Down - Helps a Lot!

Now then, with the thoughts of having to report back to you, decided I had better be a bit more active yesterday so took an old envelope and began writing down things done. Began the morning with putting 6 chicken portions (4 drumsticks, two thighs) a carrot, rib of celery and an onion, all roughly chopped into quarters, three bay leaves and two pints of water into a saucepan. Below you see the photo of the food AND the saucepan.

Then I began to clear the kitchen table. Did take a photo of the mess it was in, but then deleted it for was too ashamed for you to see it. The fact there were things like a volume of Shakespeare perched on the top of a box of eggs, and three empty (but clean) jam jars, an empty tub of margarine, three different sized baking tins, and umpteen clean different sized bowls stacked hither and thither gives you an idea of what it looked like (and that was only the tip of the ice-berg).
But 'clean kitchen table was on my list' and it was done (you will see a photo of this later), but even then had to use some space to 'get on with what I was doing'.

Took the Christmas Cake (still wrapped in foil on the kitchen table - at least what was left of it) and neatly cut it into fingers and boxed them up for B to eat with his cheese.
Then made a batch of EasyYo yogurt (peaches and cream flavour). When that was put to one side to 'cook', removed the eggs from their box and put them into a basket (they look prettier that way).
Then took a large empty coffee jar (I save these for storage containers) and decanted three packs of crystallised ginger into it. B LOVES ginger, so make sure I have enough for both him to nibble and me to cook with.

Two bowls of garden apples were sorted, the grottier ones put on top to use first, then decided to re-fill all the pepper pots with peppercorns. I tend to use special peppercorns as these have a really good flavour (buy them from Lakeland). Quite a few left in the pack so found an empty spice jar and put them into that (tucking in the name from the tag so that B would know it wasn't cinnamon!

By then it was 12.50 - and not a bad morning's work considering I hadn't begun until just after 11.oo. Decided it was time for my cuppa soup, so took it into the living room, sat down and read the new TV supplement, marked off what I wanted to watch this coming week, noticed with great annoyance that there is a footie match on one day, England playing someone else, and this coincided with at least 5 other programmes that I want to watch, so am hoping I can persuade him to walk down to our local pub where they show football matches on a large TV screen.

Needless to say I nodded off!!! It was 3.00 before I roused myself and went back into the kitchen to turn off the heat under the chicken, strain off the liquid into another saucepan to boil and reduce down to one pint.
The veggies were removed (to be added to a soup), and the chicken flesh carefully picked from the bones.
Despite the portions being quite small, managed to remove about 10oz of flesh, which - with other ingredients could be enough to make a pie for a family of three.

As Beloved had fried himself some bacon for breakfast and left the pan on the hob with a little bacon fat still in it, decided to add the couple of teaspoons of duck fat saved and add to it. Removed the crusts from one slice of toasting bread, then cut the slice into cubes and browned them off in the hot fat to make 'croutons'. After sampling them (about six in truth for they had a wonderful flavour) took a photo of the rest. As seen below.

Beloved had taken himself off for the day to Fleetwood as he needed some special shoes for sailing, asking me if I'd like to go to, but as I'd already decided this was to be the day to clear up, let him go off by himself. He said he didn't want much supper, maybe just soup, so decided to make him some chicken noodle soup, using one of the 10p packs of Tesco noodles, making it up with the chicken flavour sachet in the pack and some of the home-made chicken stock instead of just water. Shredded up about a third of the cooked chicken scraps (tearing the largest pieces apart along the grain with a fork - this worked well) and added these to the soup with extra stock. Beloved reheated it when he got in at nearly 5.00pm (not having bought shoes, they did have two pairs, one too small, the other too large, so that was a wasted journey), and he really did enjoy his soup, especially the croutons. He thought I had made a special effort for him making these, but made these only because I realised that one slice turned into croutons was cheaper (as far as the price of bread goes) and also looked a lot more than it was, than B toasting himself two slices of bread - spread thickly with butter - to eat with the soup.

After all that was done, then went into the conservatory to pot up the remaining hyacinth bulbs (about 6 containers in all, and am Amaryllis. B had already brought me in a box of compost, so didn't have to go out in the cold to fetch this.
Noticed when in the conservatory that all of a sudden it looked larger, all because that B had cut down our large magnolia tree to ground level -when in fact all it needed was a good prune - but now more light floods in from south facing end of the conservatory (maybe leading to us having to fit blinds next summer), and our next door neighbour has a much larger magnolia that can easily be seen over the fence, and although beautiful when im flower, our tree kept banging on the glass and the window-cleaners have never been able to clean the glass behind it since we moved in, so perhaps best in the long run.

After clearing the kitchen table, although not quite clear as had to leave the bowl of citrus fruit and the basket of eggs still there as had nowhere else to put them, thought it worth a photo (it may never be as clear again for weeks) and put my 'cooking clock' there to show the time labour was completed (this shows 17 as the hour - an hour later than it really was as I can't find out how to put the hour back - and should have shown 16 - which is 4.00pm in old money - if you can sort out what I mean. You can also see the old envelope on which I had written all the things done that day.

Having been in the kitchen this morning, can safely say the table is messy again, B having left his supper plates, glasses and utensils, plus the boxes of Christmas Cake, and several other bits and bobs, but at least nothing that will take time to clear, so hopefully this will leave me room to do more cooking this morning.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Quite a Busy Day!!!

Take one day off writing my blog and enough things happen to fill two blogs! Beginning with the British weather, where we seemed to get everything all in one day.
After two gorgeous days on Monday and Wednesday (apparently it snowed for all of five minutes on Tuesday, but wasn't looking out of the window at that time), yesterday began VERY windy and very wet. We were a bit delayed due to the morning rush hour of traffic, so set off a bit late. As we got further into the countryside, some of the roads were flooded at the sides, and at the Glasson turnoff the road was closed, so we had to turn back and find an alternative route. Even the main roads were partially flooded and as the large lorries drove past in the other direction, their wheels sprayed water over our car - it was just like being on the sea front with the sea dashing over the prom (as I remember it used to do in Sheringham). Strange family that we are, we really enjoyed this 'spraying'. 'Hurray' we shouted as each time it happened.

As we approached Barton Grange, the HUGE wind turbine (mentioned in an earlier blog) seemed much closer to the road and much lower than it was previously (when the top of it seemed to disappear into the clouds), so either it has been moved, or lowered, but it certainly didn't seem as terrifying as before.

As we drove into the car park, the rain stopped and we were able to get into the garden centre without being soaked. An umbrella would have been no use, it would have blown inside out in seconds. Unfortunately two ladies had a few minutes before, taken the two scooters they have, and so I had to resort to being pushed around in a wheel chair. Not even one that I could guide myself. Probably best this happened for it was the first time I have really appreciated the way that I can get around and about on Norris and go freely where I wish (within limitations), not just be 'wheeled around'.

Don't get me wrong, my daughter was wonderful in the care she took of me, it was the odd times where she suddenly left me in an aisle while she and B nipped off to look at something else that gave me the feeling of being completely dependent on them, or maybe a feeling of a taste of things to come. There were so many things I wished to look at, or go back to look at, and this can be done if using a scooter, but not in a wheelchair. But never one to sit and sulk, did managed to move slowly forward using my walking stick like a pole and 'punt' myself forward inch by inch. Unfortunately couldn't turn corners.
Nevertheless it was a most enjoyable day other than the moment when we went to the cafeteria and my daughter about to pay for the cakes, then asked B where her handbag was and he said he had left it in the trolley, parked in the 'trolley creche' outside the door. She went to get it and came back to say her bag had been taken!

Needless to say B and 'Gos' went off to tell security etc, and do what's necessary while I was left in the wheel chair parked by the wonderful cake counter where I was too worried to even look at the luscious gateaux. After a while two of the staff came up to me to say the bag had been found. It had been removed by a security person who had been concerned it had been left there, and they said they could see I was worried, and they brought the bag to me, and think that someone had told Gos and B for they returned then. They told us that was all the years that the Garden Centre had been opened, hardly anything had ever been taken (presumably from the trolleys) and it was also good to know their security is so tight. They said if they ever find anything that has been left, it is put into their safe, and if they don't hear within a week, then then look inside to see if there is an address they can contact.

While we were there, the Centre had a two-minutes silence at 11.00am, where the main lights were switched off and staff and customers stood (or sat) silently in remembrance of those lost at war. This was in itself quite moving. Then the lights came back on again and the silence disappeared. Let us hope all stores did this.
At one time, even the traffic in the streets, and also pedestrians would stop for two minutes at this time on this day each year, but think this doesn't now happen. Certainly not the traffic. Suppose as long as there are wars, there will always be the service at the Cenotaph. Last year there were three men there who were soldiers in World War I. Believe that two have died this year, and maybe the third.

But back to the delights of the 21st century. At Barton Grange the Christmas display was wonderful. Even before we reached this the first part (the inner foyer) was full of the most beautiful arrangements, truly an interior designers Aladdin's Cave (probably the arrangements were made by interior designers). Buying some Christmas decorations would have been lovely, but am still hoping to make most of my own (all I need is a can of gold spray and some gold and silver glitter) , and as we have nowhere to store anything anymore now that we don't have a loft (the one here belongs to upstairs) probably best to keep things small or at least will pack flat neatly so they can be stored on top of the wardrobe.

Had a lovely bowl of pea and ham soup with croutons AND a bread roll and butter for lunch at B.Grange, followed by a big wedge of Lemon Meringue Pie. Drove back in glorious sunshine, the clouds had rolled away and there was a lot of sun and blue sky, felt almost like Spring had sprung. Yet we noticed for about half a mile a little snow had been blown just at one side of the road, under the hedges. Then - as we approached Lancaster - the clouds came back and it began raining again.
We drove down to the front before returning home, the rain by then having stopped, and blue sky in patches with the sun breaking through, but with the wind blowing so fiercely it caused the sea to bash against the rocks under the prom and almost break over the railings. And that wasn't even high tide! For almost the first time, the Bay looked like 'proper' sea, you know - with real waves like baby surf instead of a flat trickle in and a flat trickle out. Just loved watching it.

As we backed into our drive, the heavens opened again and it POURED down, so heavily that we had to sit in the car and wait for it to stop, which it did within five minutes (as it does), so we were able to get into the kitchen without getting wet before it started again.
(The wind got worse during the evening, our daughter phoned to ask us to check our garden, as her (plastic) greenhouse and contents had been blown down her (very sheltered) garden, as well as a heavy iron garden chair. Beloved checked our garden and things still seemed to be as they should be).

Even after having lunch at B.Grange, decided I would like a cuppa soup when we returned home (being that it was a cold day), and put a couple of slices of bread in the toaster to eat with it. The water had boiled so poured this into my mug, and made B his coffee, then heard a big bang, and discovered the toaster had stopped working. Couldn't lift the toast out, so went in and told B the toaster had blown up and left him to sort it. He came back into the living room to tell me all the (ring-main) electricity was off in the house (not the lights), and eventually discovered the main fuse had tripped. He was able to switch it back to normal.

Beloved discovered something in the toaster that looked like a bit of plastic - burnt on one side - and thought this must have caused the short circuit, but where this came from we had no idea, but had obviously cause a short circuit. To me it looked like a back tooth from the bottom of a denture, but we haven't lost any teeth at all dentures or otherwise, so it will remain a mystery. My only thought is it might have been wedged into a slice of bread, and not noticed when I took it from the packet. If it had been, and discovered before toasting, could have really hauled the supermarket over the coals over that. Maybe the bakery itself might have provided us with free bread for a year just to keep quiet.
Surprisingly the toaster is still working. Can never understand about 'the electrics'. Would have expected the fuse in the socket to have blown (which it hadn't) and the toaster to have gone kaput (which it hadn't), all that did happen was the main fuse tripped.

Now back to finances again. Despite my wish not to part with money for food at Barton Grange Farm shop, in the end did spend £10 (that's this weeks budget blown then!) on a duck breast and small pork pie for B, and a block of Parmesan and some oval shallots for me. So many other foods I would love to have bought, but had no room in the fridge/freezer for them, and anyway had confined myself to spending no more than £10 a week (but when does the week start? Better be each Tuesday when my groceries were delivered). There is always time to go to B.Grange again before Christmas I tell myself.

However, there was one item worth writing about at the above Centre - all three of us noticed it separately - this being a jar of preserve we saw on the shelf called 'Traffic Jam'. What a wonderful name. Holding the jar to the light the jam could be seen to be in three different coloured layers, green (gooseberry) jam at the bottom, amber (apricot) in the middle, and red (strawberry) at the top. Can't remember the exact price - but somewhere under £3. It crossed my mind that if any reader has made similar coloured jams, they could separately reheat a jar of each to boiling (purely to re-sterilise it once it had breathed in the air), then bottle up again in three jars, layering as above. Would make a great and very different gift for that Christmas hamper.

This morning woke with a very swollen face again, so my allergy has flared up (as expected because it seems to happen with regularity, and it was only on Wednesday that I said to B "Am due for my hamster cheeks again this week". This time am quite pleased as have an appointment with the practice nurse this morning to check my BP, and this is the first time I have been able to see anyone at the surgery while my face was in 'full bloom'. My face is swollen on both sides, cheeks and lips, and I look dreadful. Maybe now something can be done to find out why. Still feel it is the combination of pills that are doing it. Hope it stays swollen till late morning - the time of my appointment.

Yesterday (while preparing supper) checked on the Value carrots bought and they are exceedingly good quality, a 2 kg pack costing 85p (as said before, had bought two packs not realising they were that large). Counted the carrots in one of the packs and there were 20 - ranging from huge to not so huge, but none of them small.

Another purchase that was worth having was a Value Pack of chicken portions. Yes, I know not free-range, but Miserly is my middle name. Weight given as 2 kg on the pack but on weighing this turned out to have an extra 4 oz for the pack price which was £2.79p. We should always remember that the packs will never give less than the weight shown, sometimes more. This also applies to whole chickens that are sometimes sold at a set weight for a whole batch. Some are bound to be slightly heavier than others.

Anyway, the chicken joints had been bought as an alternative way to make chicken stock as already had plenty of chicken breasts in the freezer. The 2kg pack consisted of 14 chicken drumsticks and 6 chicken thighs - 20 portions in total (works out at around 14p each). This does seem good value when needing to feed a family and economise at the same time There will be plenty of flesh to take from the bones after using half a dozen joints to make stock, enough to make a proper meal in its own right, with enough left over to add to soup.

As a person who usually decides the main meal of the day on the day itself, am beginning to feel that it would make things much easier for me if a week's meals were planned at the start of each week, using only foods already in store.
Having food to hand makes a lot of difference to the cost of a meal, for if planning a week's meals BEFORE shopping for the ingredients, this could make meals much more expensive, unless we allow ourselves to be very flexible. It doesn't make financial sense deciding to have chops on Tuesday, when pork mince works out cheaper that week, or maybe not even pork mince if lamb's liver is even cheaper. We don't always have to buy the cheapest, but at least have a good look round to see if there is something cheaper we could buy instead.
By all means we can serve a meal made with meat, but when cost-cutting, the we should be guided more by price than a recipe.

Another way of saving - if chops are what we want to eat regardless of the price - is to not eat meat every day (if that is what we normally do) , and try alternating with a vegetarian main course. We need not deny ourselves animal protein (if that is what we feel we need) if we make a savoury dish that contains cheese and/or eggs, or a pudding that is made with eggs and milk.

Having myself bought nearly all foods at the lowest possible price, and these now stored away in the larder, fridge, freezer, kitchen cupboards, onion basket, potato bag etc., don't need to be concerned with the cost of a meal at all, just use what is there, as long as it lasts, and serving a good enough variety to keep Beloved happy. To make this more fun can 'role play' both grocer and customer, 'buying from myself' if I wish. This is often worth doing in any case, as it is a way to find out how much a meal will cost to make, and if not working to a set budget (like my £10 a week at the moment), we can pay ourselves real money for what we 'buy' to put into a piggy bank to later replace what has been used at hopefully at an even lower price than before.
There are times when kitchen accounting seems very similar to buying Euros when we read the paper to find out when the price exchange works best for us.
Suppose there is nothing to stop us doing this anyway. Buy Euros when the price is right, then exchange them back when we would get more £££s back than it cost us to buy them. Might suggest this idea to B. He is always up for making a bit of extra cash if he can.

Back to shopping for food and there savings we can make depending upon how we go about it. Much depends upon how an individual prefers to shop. Once a week, once a month, or only when necessary. It does seem that the more we can keep in store the easier it is to make extra beyond what is expected. This is because food will 'stretch' more easily when we have more to play with, especially when meals are planned ahead to make the most of what we use (egg yolks in one dish, egg whites in another. Breadcrumbs in one dish, crusts in another. Vegetable trimmings to make stocks and soups...etc.etc.).

Along with our black wheelie bin (for proper rubbish), we have a green wheelie bin (for garden waste), two black boxes with different coloured lids (for recyclable paper, bottles, cans, some plastic, cardboard etc and we can never work out what goes into which box so B sorts then takes the lot to the tip,), we have now been given a small grey plastic square bucket (with lid) to keep in the kitchen into which we must now put all our food waste, and had to smile when read the list of what goes into the box, for as we don't have 'left-over meals' to be scraped into the bin, or 'leftover' cooked or raw vegetables, or even egg-shells (these are crushed as a slug deterrent), no coffee grounds (we drink instant) and rarely a tea-bag, that leaves only bones to bin. Once the bin has been lined with newspaper or special disposable bags (these we may have to buy), the food is then to be wrapped up in the lining and put into the green bin. To be removed at collection by the refuse men and put elsewhere no doubt.

It is getting past a joke. We have to make quite sure all the right things go into the right bins or the bin-men won't empty them, some people even get fined if they get it wrong. People who have no front gardens sometimes have to wheel their bins through the house to get them put onto the street, and even this has to be at the right time. Put out a day too early could mean a fine.
Some streets are lined with nothing but waste bins and sacks of all colours, and what a mess THAT looks. Bring back the days when a dustbin took everything, and the refuse collectors walked down the drive to collect it, AND put it back. Why today can't they let refuse people sort all waste out at the depot? Seems that most of the time they are sorting it out on the street anyway taking only what should be there, the rest put back in the bins for us to sort out again.

This country is becoming far too much like George Orwell's book 1984. We can't do this, we can't do that, we mustn't say this, we shouldn't say that... At least we are still allowed to eat what we want, but for how long? Read yesterday something about 'fat' tax, at first I thought this meant anyone overweight would be taxed, but think it meant all foods containing over a certain amount of fat would have extra tax slapped on, so it would then cost us more. Perhaps that is what is already happening in America, for LizBeth is saying that butter is rapidly increasing in price. If butter can still be bought at a lower price, it is worth freezing. Unsalted keeps longer in the freezer than salted, but have myself have kept salted butter in the freezer for 6 months and it still seems perfect. Semi-skimmed milk will also freeze well (but not full cream milk).

Maybe worth giving this tip again, but have found that although reconstituted dried milk does taste different to fresh milk and not much liked, half and half of each, mixed together and put back either into a milk bottle or jug (or milk carton) looks - and tastes - like 'the real thing', and the family never notices. This reduces the cost of milk but we end up with virtually the same.

Also read the other day that doorstep deliveries of milk are going up by 3p (a pint?) and with the supermarkets selling it so much cheaper, and often reduced (my supermarket semi-skimmed worked out at 31p pint this week) can see doorstep deliveries soon becoming a thing of the past. Once all the milkmen have gone, probably we will then see the supermarket prices charging a lot more.

Checked the price of butter on my delivery statement Jo, and it did give it as 50p, so it must have been on offer on that day. Some offers seem to go from mid-week to mid-week rather than weekend to weekend. Was sure at the time of ordering that it was shown at 98p (still cheaper than Lurpak), so maybe an offer had just begun the day of delivery, for if I had known it would be that cheap would have bought a lot more and frozen some away. Tesco are good in that they notify (on the on-line order) if a promotion has been missed (even a BOGOF so we don't miss a freebie), and when it comes to lower price changes (offers), suggest the delivery date be changed to take advantage of these, but they don't mention forthcoming promotions, and at least it seems we pay only the lower price if we happen to have chosen a delivery day where the offer begins.

Watched Nigella last night, nodded off half-way through. Wish she didn't simper so much. Hugh F.W. is much more interesting. Think I managed to stay awake for most of his prog. Not sure about Hairy Bikers. When amateur cooks become involved in a programme this doesn't have the same appeal. Still feel that Jamie Oliver is my favourite at the moment.

The Edwardian Farm looks as though it is going to be worth watching, especially as this time it is set on the borders of Devon and Cornwall, at Morwellian Cove (think that is the right name) where we have visited. Think there was a type of 'living museum' going on there, with local shops and people dressed in Victorian costume.
Am so pleased the original 'team' are still together, as am particularly taken with Peter Ginn, who I think is the best thing since sliced bread. Apart from the fact Peter (in my eyes) is SO goodlooking, just love the way he walks with a sort of sideways swing to his step.

As it is now 7.15am (got up early this morning due to my face... and needing to take an antihistamine), see it is now just getting light and it does seem the fences around the garden seem to have withstood the gales. It was unbelieveably windy last night, said to be 80mph over the Irish Sea. Also a fair amount of snow has fallen over the Pennines, and across the bay we can see snow on the top of the Lakeland hills. This is early for winter, although we used to say if it snowed on or near the 19th November (in Leeds) then this would mean a lot more snow during the winter. Or did it mean no more snow during the winter? Can never remember. Have to see what this winter brings.

One good thing - unearthed a high-necked long sleeved back sweater from my wardrobe and wore it yesterday, and being pure lambswool it was lovely and warm, only needed my new cream poncho (bought at half price) over it, with a matching cream scarf (that I've had for years) and felt quite 'with it' yesterday. The sweater itself was 'free' being from a pile of (seemingly and hopefully unworn) clothes given to Beloved by a lady whose husband had died. Dare say a lot of clothes in charity shops come from a deceased's wardrobe, and can't say this really bothers me. Am just very grateful for the warmth this sweater (or 'jumper' as we used to call them) gives me.

All I want now is to buy a 'snood' that will wrap around my neck - to go up over my head if needs be - and also some sort of hat. Then Norris and I can scoot off hither and thither during the cold (but dry) winter days and get some fresh air. Very fresh air if yesterday is anything to go by.

Hope you enjoy your trip to Barton Grange tomorrow Eileen and look forward to hearing from you soon, with the hope that we can meet up sometime, perhaps next week/weekend.

Returning to culinary thoughts, my saffron crocus are now starting to bloom (indoors) and have managed to harvest the red saffron 'strands' from the centre of each flower that appears. If all bulbs eventually flower, should have managed to collect enough saffron this year to make it worth while buying the bulbs in the first place.

Exactly 9.00am and have now completed my blog for today, at a time when I might normally be starting. So that has allowed me a few extra hours to do things with. Starting with the kitchen. The table needs clearing again. Hope you find time to pop in and 'have a chat' sometime today. Looking forward to hearing from you.
In the meantime, hope you are coping with the atrocious weather, and that the worst has now passed you by.
Enjoy your day, and remember - tomorrow is the weekend again, a time to relax (or at least do something nice).

Friday, November 05, 2010


Believe it or not, have found one recipe for 'boil and bake' fruit cake that works well. Not the recipe that I was looking for, but one that is as good as. This version was included in one of my cook books and particularly 'useful' in that it is made with no eggs. As with American muffins, the two stages can be prepared up to a day in advance and put together just before baking.
Eggless Fruit Cake:
stage 1:
10 fl oz (300ml) cold tea
8 oz (225g) mixed dried fruit with peel
4 oz (100g) soft margarine
4 oz (100g) soft brown sugar
1 tblsp golden syrup
stage 2:
12 oz (350g) self-raising flour
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Put all the ingredients in stage 1 into a saucepan and heat gently together until the marg has melted and the sugar dissolved, then simmer for 5 minutes and leave to cool. For special occasions stir a tablespoon of rum or brandy into the above mixture after the cooking.
Sift together the ingredients for stage 2, then when ready to bake mix the two together until well combined - the mixture should be quite soft.
Put into a greased and lined 8" (20cm) cake tin and bake for 1 hour 45mins - covering the cake with a tent of foil (shiny side up to reflect away the heat) after the first half hour to prevent it browning too quickly. Cool for a few minutes in the tin before turning out onto a cake airer. When cold, wrap in greaseproof paper and then over wrap with foil. This cake freezes well.

In the same book re-discovered a very easy recipe to make sweets that might be useful to make for the festive season. A small bag of these could be packed into a Christmas Hamper maybe?
Coffee Creams: makes about 3 dozen
1 oz (25g) butter
2 tsp instant coffee
2 tsp milk
8 oz (225g) icing sugar
Put the butter into a small pan and heat gently until melted, then add the coffee and milk and stir until the coffee has dissolved. Remove from heat, cool, then stir in the icing sugar, a few spoons at a time, until well blended and formed a firm dough. Turn out onto a board and knead until smooth.
Roll out to 1/8th inch (3mm) thick and cut into small circles (I used the top of a film canister or pill bottles as a cutter). Knead the scraps and roll out and repeat to use all the dough.
Place the circles on a baking sheet or cake airer and leave at room temperature for several hours to firm up, then store in an airtight container in a cool place. Best eaten with three weeks of making.

Don't know why, but am always losing my favourite recipes, and fortunately am discovering them in the 'Goode' cook books, so am pleased to now be able to offer a recipe for doughnuts that uses no yeast.
American style Doughnuts: makes 12 - 16
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 oz (50g) granulated sugar
1 oz (25g) soft margarine
1 egg, beaten
4 fl oz (120ml) milk (approx)
sunflower oil for frying
caster sugar and cinnamon for coating
Sift together the flour and baking powder, stir in the sugar and rub in the marg. Mix in the egg with enough milk to make a firmish dough.
Roll out dough on a lightly floured board to a quarter inch (5mm) thickness. Cut into rings, removing the centres with a smaller cutter.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the doughnuts until golden, turning once or twice. Drain well on kitchen paper, then immediately toss in a mixture of caster sugar flavoured with a little cinnamon. Best eaten warm and freshly made.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Different Approach

Sifting through my Radio Leeds 'fact sheets', came across one entitled 'Festive Fare', and as several recipes are based around one particular cake', will be giving the recipe for this, followed by the adaptations that can be made with it.

Firstly the 'base cake' - this being a 'Madeira-type;, and (as the fact sheet says) 'beating the egg whites into the butter and sugar before the yolks, helps to prevent it splitting/curdling, and also makes for a lighter cake'.
Madeira Cake:
9 oz (250g) butter, softened
9 oz (250g) caster sugar
9 oz (250g) self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 oz (75g) ground almonds
4 eggs, separated
2 tsp vanilla extract
grated zest and juice of one orange
Put the butter and sugar into a bowl (ideally put this in a warm place to the sugar begins to absorb the butter), then cream together until light and fluffy, then pour in the unbeaten egg whites and continue beating until the mixture is like thick cream. Then beat in the egg yolks, vanilla, and zest and juice of the orange.
Sift the flour and baking powder together, then fold (or lightly beat) into the creamed mixture with the ground almonds.
Bake in a greased and lined 9" (23cm) square cake tin and bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for about an hour or until firm to the touch.

This next recipe is for a Christmas Cake made with above cake, more a method than a proper recipe. A recipe for home-made orange liqueur will follow.
Fruitless Christmas Cake:
First make the Madeira type cake (recipe above). Leave this to cool in the tin and spike in several places with a skewer, then spoon over a little orange liqueur. Cover the tin with foil, and a couple of days later, spoon over a little more liqueur.
To decorate, either leave whole or cut into four squares (when finished these will make good gifts). Roll out some marzipan, cutting into strips a little wider than the depth of the cake. Spread a little apricot jam around the sides of the cake (or on the marzipan if you prefer) and press the marzipan onto the cake, making sure the corners are pinched together. Leave the top of the cake without a marzipan covering.
Sift about 6 oz (175g) icing sugar into a bowl and stir in enough orange liqueur to make an icing that is fairly runny but not too thin. Spoon most of this over the top of the cake, the scatter over some sliced glace fruits. Soon the remaining icing over the fruits and leave to set.
Wrap the sides of the cake with greaseproof/parchment paper or clingfilm and store in a tin. Because of the liqueur, this will keep well for up to three weeks. If you prefer to not use liqueur, and perhaps just use orange juice, then the cake should be eaten within a week).

Home-made Orange Liqueur:
Take one large orange and remove all the rind, discarding the pith. Cut the peel into shreds and and put into a clean (sterilised) 1 lb (450g) jam jar. Slice the orange in half and squeeze out the juice. Add the juice to the orange peel in the jar, and stir in 1 heaped tablespoon of caster sugar, then top up the jar with brandy. Replace the lid, shake well, then store in a dark place, giving the jar a daily shake to make sure all the sugar has dissolved and the flavour of the orange permeates the brandy.
After 4 weeks strain through muslin and re-bottle the liquid as a liqueur. After straining, the orange shreds can be added to a beef casserole or scattered over a fruit salad (can be frozen if you do not wish to use these immediately, although they should keep well enough in a small jar in the fridge for a while).

Lemon Liqueur:
Make as above, but substitute a couple of lemons for the orange. A spoonful of this liqueur is said to be the secret ingredient in Bakewell Pudding!

If not keen on a heavy fruit Christmas Pudding, but like the traditional look of one, then here is another use for the ubiquitous Madeira. Again a method more than a recipe. Note: this pudding should not be cooked in a microwave, it won't work.
Not-so-Heavy Christmas Pudding:
This is a pudding that has a Christmas flavour but is far lighter than the traditional pud.
All we have to do grease well (with butter) the inside of a pudding bowl and spread a layer of mincemeat around the sides and over the base. Then to make the filling, use HALF the recipe for Madeira Cake (see above), omitting the ground almonds and baking powder, but making up the shortfall by adding extra flour.
Cover with pleated greaseproof paper, and then a cover of pleated foil. Tie this tightly round the basin and then steam for an hour and a half. Then turn it out onto a shallow dish. It will look just like a Christmas Pudding, but with a plain centre. If you wish you can pour over a ladle of hot brandy and set light to it in the traditional way. Also eats well with brandy or rum sauce. Even better with cream!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Winter Warmth

Before replying to comments, thought that you might like to see a photo of the view from the window in front of me. Despite it blowing half a gale and raining cats and dogs, the photo shows the lovely orange Pyracantha berries, withe the white 'seed balls' of the Fatsia of the left. Yesterday many blue tits came to feed off the berries, normally it is the blackbirds.

If wishing to make orange 'twiglets', remove all the pith, simmer the peel in water for a few minutes, dry and cut into very thin strips, then dunk each strip into melted chocolate, leave to dry on greaseproof or parchment paper. They make very good 'nibbles' instead of after dinner mints.

With so many pumpkins around at this time of year, we should remember they are part of the 'squash' family, so the flesh can be used in most of the dishes where an other squash is called for. Courgettes, marrows are also a type of 'squash', and we are all familiar with the butternut. Many make good chutneys and even jam. Myself used to make a lovely Marrow and Ginger jam that tasted almost like pineapple. Worth checking these out on the Internet.

Although there are many pumpkin recipes on this site (check late Oct/Nov in preceding years), have another that might be of interest. This time a bread, slightly sweet with a great flavour. Eats well with cold meats and cheese. There will probably be leftover puree, in which case use it to make soup or freeze it away. Alternatively make this bread with thawed pumpkin puree that you have already frozen, but bring to room temperature before making the bread.

Pumpkin and Walnut Bread:

1 lb (450g) pumpkin, peel and seeds removed

3 oz (75g) caster sugar

1 tsp grated nutmeg

2 oz (50g) butter, melted

3 eggs, beaten

12 oz (350g) strong white (bread) flour

2 tsp baking powder

half teaspoon salt

3 oz (75g) walnut pieces, chopped

Chop the pumpkin in to chunks, place these in a pan then add cold water to cover by 2" (5cm). Bring to the boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the pumpkin is very tender. Drain well, then mash, liquidise or put into a food processor to make a pumpkin puree. Leave to cool.

Put 10 oz (275g) of the pumpkin puree into a bowl and mix in the sugar, melted butter, nutmeg and eggs. Into a larger bowl sift the flour with the baking powder and salt and make a well in the centre, and into this tip in the pumpkin mixture. Fold together until fully mixed, then stir in the walnuts.

Spoon mixture into a greased and base-lined 2 lb (900g) loaf tin and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for one hour or until the loaf has turned golden and begins to shrink from the sides of the tin. Cool on a cake airer.