Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Believe it or Not?

Well, there's a surprise! Apparently it's not the (German grown) beansprouts after all that are causing the ecoli outbreak. Do wish the news would make sure the facts are completely accurate before leading us up the proverbial garden path. Why did they believe the ecoli was spread by eating (certain) vegetables? Always believed it was polluted meat products that could carry this. But what would I know? Let us hope they do soon manage to find the true source and put our minds at rest.

Felt very tired again yesterday - don't know why. Read in the paper that gardening is very good for us pensioners, very relaxing pottering around the garden it seems, but after lugging at least six heavy watering cans up and down the garden watering all the pots, then bending up and down potting up more plants, ended up with an aching back and knee joints after half an hour. Still more plants to pot on. The 'asked for' small trays of Busy Lizzies and Lobelia that I asked B to bring me, I discovered yesterday were even larger than first thought. Realised each tray held 24 plants - and with four trays of B.L's and two of 'Lobs', that's 144 plantlets to find homes for. Plus at least another 30 veggies sitting in small pots in the greenhouse (various stages of growth). Let's hope we get enough sun (and rain!) so that we can sit out and enjoy their beauty without having to water the pots every day. As I said to B, plants seem to be harder work than looking after small children AND A GREAT DEAL HARDER THAN LOOKING AFTER CHICKENS!!! Regular readers will understand what I mean about that.

Something interesting. Remember that last year I wanted to grow some Romanesco and although a few seeds were planted only three grew, all the leaves being eaten by something. One was left looking like a Brussels sprout plant that had all the sprouts removed. Left it stuck in the soil and now see it has thrown up a vast number of leaves at the very top - so who knows? Maybe Romanesco 'florets' will appear after all. In any case have sown three more seeds to have another try. Although the sheer incredible beauty of the florets will make it hard for to do anything more than just sit and look at them. There must be some intelligence behind nature to 'evolve' something like the Romanesco.

Was extremely interested a couple of evenings ago when I watched a programme about the inner workings of the human body. Apparently all the female's 'eggs' needed through life are in the body at birth, and at conception put into the egg by previous mother, so I started off life in my grandmother? Now this could explain a lot. Have always believed (and experienced myself) what is called 'hereditary' memory, quite a few 'happenings' in my mother's life I 'remember' well, although she never told me about them, and only when I told her (thinking these happened in my own life) she realised. But have also remembered things that happened even before her birth, so possibly they were her mother's memory?

It does seem, certainly in looks and often in character, that a grandchild resembles the grandparent (of the same sex). So perhaps this is a way we carry on the generations, not always by genes but often by memory (especially of skills learned), each child is a compilation of all the others that came before her. Due to this being more about the 'eggs', not sure how men fit into this, but possibly they pass on their fair share of memories as well.

Did manage to bake another granary loaf yesterday, and B's supper was not what he asked for (that's a first?), as I decided more space was needed in the freezer for today's delivery and so thawed out a box of cooked beef rib trim in gravy. Put this with boiled potatoes and carrots, and mashed up some parsnips and potatoes to make a topping, making up a cross between meat and veg pie and Cottage Pie. B seemed to enjoy it as it was all eaten up.
Have to give a mention here to the carrots. Wanted to use up the last in the bag (only three left - more being delivered today), and they appeared almost perfect, a couple had a few white 'hairs' (roots) beginning to grow from the sides. A quick scrape removed these and they cooked perfectly.
Why do I mention these? Well, took a look a their bag and it said 'display until Nov 11th' on it! That's the November of LAST year (six months ago). However it did not give a use by or best before date - just 'store in the fridge, preferably in the bag). This just goes to prove that many vegetables (and other foods) especially root vegetables and squashes, onions and potatoes will keep for absolutely AGES given the right conditions.

A dearth of cookery progs this week. No more daily competitive cooking progs on Beeb 2 and ITV, and unfortunately missed Jamie's mid-day repeat on Channel 4 yesterday due to me removing things from my online shopping basket. Does seem the price of most foods seem to have gone up for my order was the normal amount but cost a lot more, so had to do some paring down to keep it within my budget, although the £23 money-vouchers (£10 from 'points' £13 as a 'gift' if ordering this week), plus any reductions (taken off the final total), this should make a vast difference to the actual expenditure.

Re-capping since the start of this year, seem only to have had one delivery where all my 'food budget' for the month was used. There was one month without needing to order any food at all (except by some milk and eggs), and managed to last longer than a month between further orders - each of these being only half the price that I would normally have paid, so all in all, by the end of the year should not have spent more than a few years previously when food was a great deal cheaper.

True my stores are depleting slightly (only ever so slightly), but am making far more use of what I've got, and possibly because I don't now eat as much as I used to, this also helps. B still eats as much as previously, often seeming to eat more, but 'home-bakes' (cakes, bread, ice-cream, biscuits, dripping, marmalade, jams....) help to stave away his hunger pains after eating his mammoth main meal of the day. Not that I'm complaining, it is good to know that good(e) food seems to keep him healthy. Nearly eighty and still B's medical tests show his BP and cholesterol levels are normal and he has the fitness of a man over 20 years younger.

This could be genetic, although he is the last of his large family to still be with us (all the others were heavy smokers, which may prove something). Due to being brought up in wartime, only enough food then to keep us alive, and before, during and after, still mainly 'local' foods. Convenience foods and additives were yet to come.
Rationing had just ended when we got married, and as the foods available were fairly 'local' (to this country) and seasonal, this meant meals were a lot 'healthier' than many today. Never being able to afford any foods more 'convenient' (almost more expensive than the home made), did not dip my toes much further than in the shallows when it came to those, so other the the occasional one, the food in our house hasn't changed that much over the years.
We cannot now afford a Sunday roast (but probably could but now it's hardly worth it with just two of us, and only one likely to eat the meat), but this doesn't mean good meat is off the menu. There are plenty of cheaper cuts that - when slow cooked - have much more flavour than the expensive cuts. But I've said all this before.

If anything it's been me that falls by the wayside. Piling the pounds on because of stuffing myself with too many cheaper carbos instead of eating proper 'balanced' meals. Due initially to being more concerned about feeding my man and our four children good and healthy meals than bothering about my own needs. Lots of mothers tended to end up eating the leftovers from the plates rather than make a meal for themselves, or if no leftovers ended up with bread and jam. That's just how it was when money was short. 'Eating for comfort' can also become a very bad habit, and its only in recent years that I have managed to control what I eat, cut out 'nibbles', and eat far less when I eat at all.

Do hope your visit to 'weightwatchers' showed a loss Mother Noah. It's a very good slimming club, always seems to show good results once you have joined. The danger comes after several months when the weight loss either stops or lbs start returning. We have to be very strong-willed.
After my initial big weight loss after a few months on a high-protein diet, began eating carbos again and although a few pounds did return they were just as quickly lost again when I cut the carbos out. At the moment now seem to be able to eat anything (in moderation) and as long as I keep the intake low, the pounds are now slowly disappearing. Already have lost a good 5 stone, and am hoping to lose at least 3 more.

Now that I have the bit between my teeth will be putting up more buffet/barbecue type recipes today, for whatever the occasion these always make good eating during the warmer weather (if we get some - it's turned cold again). So keep reading Urbanfarmgirl, you may see something else you like.

Regarding elderflowers. Forgot to mention that they can be dried after picking (place them in a warm spot - I used the airing cupboard). The dried 'flowering bits' will probably drop off the stalks and need to be collected and stored in a dry place, so it is worth making sure you know how many heads you dry in the first place. Anyone who makes wine can buy these dried elderflowers from a shop that sells wine-making equipment, but why buy when we can dry our own?
Another way to store the elderflowers (just cut the flowers off the heads leaving a very short stalk - to save room) is to freeze them. Again count the number of heads so that when making anything (wine, cordial, elderade....) you know how much to use.

Freezers are one type of 'technology' that are very useful for they can hold all sorts of things 'in waiting'. No need now to HAVE to make something because it won't keep longer than the day it is brought indoors. So elderflowers, chicken carcases, soft fruits, raw meats and fish, citrus shells/peel, even milk and cream can be kept frozen and used when we have a convenient moment to spare - which could be months later.

But time now to give recipes. Depending upon how we expect guests to eat a meal has much to do with what food we choose to serve. When tables and chairs are set outside for a 'sit-down' buffet and barbie, then more 'messy' food (such as dips) can be served. When food is eating at the wander or 'on the hoof', then food that is not likely to drip or fall to bits - in other words 'finger food' is the best choice.

Myself find that at a barbie it is good fun to eat at table, for while the food is cooking, there could be a plate of dips and crudites on each table for everyone to tuck into whilst waiting.
The term 'crudites' is usually used for small pieces of raw vegetables to eat with dips, but can also mean a selection of vegetable salads served in separate dishes - and the wider variety of these the better, not just for appearance, but also taste.

Yesterday sat in my conservatory and for some reason decided to nibble a couple of leaves of the pot of flat-leafed parsley that was growing there. Then did the same with a sprig of the curly parsley in the pot alongside and was surprised how much difference in flavour there was. The flat-leaf was definitely 'sweeter', more 'fragrant' (although not sure that is the correct word), and rather pleasant. The curly parsley was definitely stronger and more 'mustier', but could see that it would add much more flavour when making parsley sauce for instance.
So when a recipe says to use one or the other (flat leaf or curled parsley) we should try to use the correct one - although it doesn't really matter if we don't. But when just 'parsley' is called for - then we have to make our own choice. I would not suggest using some of each for the flavour from the curled would over-take the flat leaf - which would be a waste.

Here is a recipe for a simple yet very tasty salad, and will leave it to you to decide which parsley to use. Depending upon whether you like garlic, you could play safe and just rub the salad bowl with a cut clove, or rub the bowl with the clove and then slice and use to flavour the dressing.
Carrot and Parsley Salad: serves 4 - 6
1 clove garlic (see above)
grated zest and juice of 1 orange
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 lb carrots, cut into very fine strips
2 - 3 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
Rub a salad bowl with a cut clove of garlic (then slice and add to the bowl if you wish). Add the orange zest and juice and season well. Whisk in the oil until well blended, then remove garlic (if used), add the carrots and half the parsley and toss together. Garnish with the remaining parsley.

For a salad that has a bit more 'substance', we hardly need much more than a few slivers of cooked meats (hot or cold) and a couple of lettuce leaves to turn this next recipe into a 'balanced' dish. Vegetarians would be satisfied adding a bit of cheese or hard-boiled egg perhaps.
To make our own 'fromage frais', up natural yogurt into a muslin lined strainer and allowed to drip for an hour or so to remove excess whey. Alternatively use thick Greek yogurt
'Nuts 'n Beans Salad: serves 8 or more
2 large onions, thinly sliced into rings
1 x 400g can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 medium courgettes, sliced
2 yellow courgettes, sliced
4 oz (100g) pasta shells (or other shape) cooked,
4 oz (100g) cashew nuts
2 oz (50g) peanuts
5 oz (150m) fromage frais or yogurt (see above)
1 green chilli, seeds remove then finely chopped
1 tblsp chopped fresh coriander or flat-leaf parsley
good grinding black pepper
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
juice of 1 small lemon
good pinch of salt
Arrange the onion rings, beans and courgettes with the cooked (cold) pasta in a salad dish ready for serving. It can then be covered and kept chilled. When ready to serve, sprinkle the nuts over the top and make the dressing by mixing the fromage frais/yogurt, green chilli, coriander and salt together - using a fork to do this, then scatter the black pepper, dried chilli flakes and lemon juice on top.
Serve the dressing in a separate jug or pour it over the salad when ready to serve.

Like Marmite, people either love or hate olives. At one time it has to be said I did dislike olives, but now have grown to love them, so this next dish (and the following uses them to advantage). Sometimes we need to serve something spectacular, and this simply made salad will not disappoint. Do remember that the orange peel can be saved (frozen to use later) to either use as flavouring (grate the zest) or used whole to make candied peel.
Black and Orange Salad: serves 4
3 oranges
1 tblsp chopped fresh coriander
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
4 oz (100g) black olives, stones removed
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp lemon juice
half tsp paprika pepper
half tsp ground coriander
Remove peel and pith from the oranges and divide the fruit into segments (no need to remove membrane surrounding unless you wish). Place in a bowl with the herbs and olives (you can leave the olives whole or halve them).
Blend the rest of the ingredients together to make a dressing, then pour this over the salad and toss gently. Cover and chill for a good half hour before serving.

Two more simple and colourful salads coming up. These based on the tomato. The first needs no recipe as it is simply the classic Italian: slices of tomato (pref beef toms) alternated with slices of Mozzarella cheese, with a bay leaf tucked in here and there. Myself prefer to drizzle a little pesto sauce over rather than use basil leaves.

The second recipe is similar, but different enough to warrant a recipe. Not sure why this is, but when slicing a tomato, always seem to get a couple more slices when the tomato is sitting with the stem side down. Maybe it is just 'wider' when in that position. Or perhaps sits more steadily because the 'base' is flatter and so makes it more easier to slice.
Tomato, Olive and Feta Salad: serves 4
2 lb (1kg) tomatoes
7 oz (200g) feta cheese
4 fl oz (100ml) olive oil
12 black olives, stones removed
4 fresh basil sprigs
ground black pepper
Slice the tomatoes fairly thickly and arrange them in overlapping slices on a flat dish to cover. Crumble the feta on top, sprinkle with oil, then strew the olives and basil sprigs on top. Season to taste wth the pepper, and serve at room temperature.

With meat always an expensive part of a meal, we don't always need it to make a good meal, and a good dish to serve 'al fresco' are poached eggs with a cool crisp salad. Now don't panic! Firstly, Lakeland now stock some really nifty little 'bags' in which are put a shelled egg, this is then slipped into a pan of water, the bag seals itself and you end up with a perfect poached egg.
Hotels and restaurants nearly always poach their eggs hours before needed, and keep them in a bowl of cold water in the fridge. Then when wishing to serve they remove and place each egg into freshly boiled water, leave it for one minute to heat through and then plate up. You wouldn't know it hadn't been freshly cooked. So for barbie time we could have the eggs ready cooked waiting in cold water, and a metal bowl of hot water on the barbie, then just re-heat one as required. The croutons in the recipe below can also be made in advance, the dressing kept warm by the barbie, the salad already prepared then the lot just put together. Who says cooking can be difficult? Certainly not me!
Poached Egg Salad with Croutons: serves 4
1 small loaf of bread
6 tblsp olive oil
4 eggs
8 oz (225g) mixed salad leaves
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tblsp white wine vinegar
2 oz (50g) shavings of Parmesan cheese
ground black pepper
Remove crusts from the bread, then cut the crumb into 1" (2.5cm) cubes. Heat 2 tblsp of the oil in a frying pan, then fry the cubed bread for about 5 minutes, tossing and turning until the are golden brown all over, then drain on kitchen paper.
Meanwhile, poach the eggs for about 4 minutes until they are lightly cooked.
Divide the salad leaves between four plates, and scatter the croutons over the top. Put the remaining oil into the frying pan, add the garlic and vinegar and cook over high heat for 1 minute, then remove from heat and pour over the salad/croutons. Place a poached egg on top of each, and sprinkle with the Parmesan and season with the pepper.

Final recipe today - yet another using tomatoes - has to be included as it is a brilliant way to use up stale bread. As with any tomato recipe, this will taste better if sun-ripened tomatoes are used. Like our own home-grown that at least have some flavour unlike many supermarket ones. Those sold 'on the vine' do sometimes taste a bit better, or maybe 'seem to', for the lovely tomato aroma misleads us. This comes from the flavour of the vine itself, not the fruit.

One way to bring out the tomato flavour is either roast them or add a sprinkle of either salt or sugar over cut slices of the raw fruit. This really does help. Lettuce too seems to taste better with a sprinkle of sugar. So adding sugar and salt to certain dishes makes sense. Anyone who has eaten pasta boiled in well salted water will notice a vast difference in flavour between pasta cooked in unsalted water.
For those who have to curtail salt intake for medical reasons have to be careful of course as to how much is used, but when you think that a large pan of boiling water with a teaspoon of salt, and most of the salt still in the water after cooking pasta, then not very much at all is retained by the pasta itself. Same when addding salt to flour when making bread dough. The amount of salt in each slice of bread is almost minimal.

But - as usual - I am rambling on. Here is the final recipe for today:
Tomato and Bread Salad: serves 4
4 oz (100g) stale bread (approx 2 thick slices)
4 large tomatoes
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
few basil leaves for garnish
4 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tlbsp white wine vinegar
salt and pepper
Put the bread into a bowl, cover with cold water and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Meanwhile cut the tomatoes into thick chunks and place in a serving bowl with the sliced onion. Squeeze as much water as possible out of the bread then add to the vegetables.
Make the dressing by mixing the oil and vinegar together and adding seasoning to taste. Pour over the salad and mix well. Garnish with the basil. Cover and leave in a cool place/fridge for at least 2 hours before serving.

Haven't even given a proper mention of main course salads - these being a complete meal in their own right. But are they suitable for a barbie when the whole idea is to cook meats/poultry/fish over coals to serve hot with a choice of salads? But if you wish to have recipes for the full 'Monty', then all you have to do is ask (you might get them anyway if nothing more interesting has come into my mind during today.

Seems another dry day to come (although the forecast says we may get some rain), and suppose should go out now and try and get the remainder of the planting done. Heck - have just remembered the groceries will be delivered this morning (love doing the unpacking and storing away the food, am I sad or what?) so it may be afternoon before I am free to 'garden', although still have an hour before the food arrives (maybe three hours if it comes at the end of the time slot - although normally always at the earlier time). B will be here to give me a shout and help unload the crates. Then he leaves all the bags on the floor for me to sort out at my leisure. The frozen food put away first (of course) followed by the chilled and salads and anything else that has to go into the fridge. The canned and any remainder at 'room temperature' usually left while I take a short rest, have another cup of coffee, then start off all over again. Oh, just love this type of retail therapy and wish I had a HUGE family to cater for then could buy lots and lots of ingredients to 'play shops' with and 'play chefs' with, and well, just 'play'. Perhaps I am one stitch in a whole knitted blanket of cooks through the ages. Love of cooking now deeply embedded into my genes, and it has to be said that my own children enjoy cooking, and also several grandchildren (both male and female) are now working in 'catering'.

Enough for today, and despite finishing much earlier than usual seem to have 'filled the page' again. Hope you get time to read it all - or at least the interesting bits (are there any?). So - until tomorrow, when I hope we will all meet up again. Enjoy your day.