Friday, June 03, 2011

Having a good(e) Day

Wanted to start today's blog by putting up a couple of photos taken yesterday, and when clicking on 'add image', nothing happens. They say a picture tells a thousand words, so will have to talk my way through what could be seen instantly. Another blogger problem?

Had a great trip out with Norris yesterday morning. Glorious day, and although I confined my trip to just the local shopping parade, got a good view of the Bay (with tide in), that wafted over a lovely smell of the sea. Suppose that's just seaweed, but nice. Normally it doesn't smell of anything, and am hard put to realise it is sea and not just a large lake that more often has little or no water in it (the tide ebbs (and flows in) with great rapidity, with hours to wait before it is seen again.

Yes, the chemist did sell malt extract, although nearly gave me the wrong jar (cod liver oil and malt), so making a malt loaf will happen in near future, but this has to be wrapped and kept for a few days before being eating as then it becomes lovely and moist.
B's eyes lit up when he saw the jar - he remembers having spoonsful of it when a child (probably with the cod liver oil), and just loves the taste of the malt. Showed him the label on the jar on which was printed " keep hidden out of the reach of children". Told B that meant him too, and leave it alone - please!

Went to the local florist to buy some bedding plants, but they only sell big ones - such as geraniums, so later that day B went to Homebase and bought me back Busy Lizzies and Lobelia. Asked him to get me four small trays, but he brought back double sized trays of each, so now I am knee deep in bedding plants, and they weren't that cheap. He said they has some for sale "but these looked healthier" (which I suppose they were).

Was fully intending to plant them yesterday, but after a marathon cook (for one of my age) in the afternoon, just went and moved the plants to shady spot (B had put them in full sun), and gave them all a good watering, including the greenhouse plants. The courgettes need planting out today as well. Looks like I could be busy.

What pleased me most about yesterday's 'scoot' out was when I called into the butcher. Asked if they had any rabbit (B is asking for rabbit pie), he said '"yes" but not until later that day. Asked if he could save me some diced rabbit, and he said only a whole rabbit could be bought - and he had shot them himself the other day! So declined, and being a lovely day decided to buy B his other requested choice: venison! "Sorry, out of season" said the butcher - to which I said I thought farmed venison would always be available. Apparently not.

Ended up buying a small piece of topside, requesting more fat so that I could make my husband some of the beef dripping he loves. The butcher complied - giving me a small bagful of extra fat. Then asked if he had any free chicken bones/carcasses in the back - left after jointing. Butcher said normally these are sold - "a lady buys them for her dog, but they are very cheap". I then played my 'old lady' card, looking very sad and saying I didn't want the bones for eating, just to make a nourishing stock. Got my purse out to pay for the beef, and the butcher said "wait - I'll see if there are any chicken bones in the back". He returned with a small bagful and although I offered to pay, was waved off with "you can have them for nothing". Told him he was a very kind man and trotted off. By the way - the bones came from free-range chickens - these sold as a whole bird at the butchers for a price I would not wish to pay - so a bag of free bones in this instance was almost like Jack and the Beanstalks beans to me. Things could only get better!

After returning home, opened the bag of bones, and was surprised to see these were just two breast bones from each of three chickens, but at least these did have a complete winglet attached to each. No other part of the carcase (so no chance of getting that 'oyster' spoken of the other day). Nevertheless, winglets alone make a very good stock and the breast bones also had a little meat left on them.

Roughly cut up two carrots (that were past there best and anyone else would have thrown them out)al, two onions (that had begun to sprout), and two ribs of rather sad celery and put them in my stock pot - together with 3 freshly gathered bay leaves (tip: tear the leaves across the sides - just to the middle rib - and they give out more flavour). Popped the bones on top and covered them with cold water. Put over a low heat, when beginning to boil, put on the lid, stood a diffuser mat over the lowest flame so that the stock could cook at barely a simmer (as it should - this helps to keep the stock clear) and left it to cook for a couple or so hours whilst I made a granary loaf, par-boiled some potatoes, roasted the beef and potted up the dripping (three small pots plus some left to roast the potatoes).

Prior to making the stock did take a photo of the chicken bones/wings - these weighed 2.5 lbs uncooked. Then after cooking put the stock veggies into one dish, the carcase picked from the bones in another, and the bones, skin and bay leaves in a third dish. All dishes being the same size. Took a photo of these as well just to show you what I ended up with.
Certainly there was more flesh on the bones than even I leave when jointing a bird and boiling a whole carcase or three. Yesterdays stock-making ended up with exactly 1 lb (450g) of cooked chicken meat that would be more than enough to feed four, certainly will make more portions for B and myself. Unexpectedly the bones/scraps also weighed exactly 1 lb (450g) so presumably the remaining 8 oz (225g) went into the stock.

Even the veggies can be used. OK, all the flavour has been simmered out of them, and they hardly taste of anything, but they still contain fibre, and putting them back into some of the stock, heating up and blitzing to a puree, this will make an excellent soup.

I've gone on about this in length because 1 lb cooked free-range chicken meat is worth a few ££s in any cook's book. Yet, by canny shopping, was able to provide this for myself for 'free'. Forgot to mention ended up with three pints of good stock as well (this will be reheated today and boiled down to reduce by half - as this then takes less room to freeze in small containers - or even ice-cube trays).
If I can get the photos up on the blog will edit them into today's posting, then let you know they are there, but hope I have given a clear enough explanation of what you would see.

By the end of my cooking session (lots of washing up to do within that time), felt too tired to bother with preparing veggies for B's supper. Just removed some slices from the small joint once it had cooled, then heated these up in some gravy made by deglazing the small pan (once the dripping had been poured away) and thickening it slightly with a few Bisto gravy granules. The potatoes were pout into roast, four individual Yorkshire puddings also baked, and took the easy way by cooking peas in the microwave prior to plating up. All eaten with delight by B, who had two Yorkies with his meal (gravy poured inside), and had the remaining two with Golden Syrup for 'afters'. After the 'afters' he then cut himself a slice of granary bread, toasted and spread with beef dripping. Later went and got himself another slice. "This is good bread" he said "make it the same way again next time". As it is a 'mix' it's always made the same way - but think this time I added a little less yeast (because I needed the dough to go into the oven after the beef had come out) and also left it in a cooler spot in the kitchen and didn't let it rise quite as high as normally. But whatever - B enjoyed it, and that's all that matters.

Worth mentioning that having the loaf tin already greased and floured, sitting in the cupboard waiting to be used, certainly reduced my 'work-load'. Seem now to be getting a good hold on all this 'advance preparation', and it's paying off.

Now come replies to your comments.
Glad you also make yogurt 'cheese' Mrs Meaney. And yes, it does work when left dripping through a lined sieve and without needed to be 'hung', although we can get a firmer cheese more rapidly when the bag of cheese is hung from a hook as the weight of the cheese helps it to drain faster, a sieve just supports it. Either way it gets there, just depends how soon we need to use it.

Thanks also to 'mobile' for his advice. Dare I try and re-install the Operating System? I am so computer illiterate that am scared to do anything in case I can't get it back working properly again. Incidentally, changed my mousemat to a newer one that is more 'slidey', and noticed that immediately the comp began to 'speed up', although it occasionally does need more than one click to do what it's asked to, so the problem almost certainly is with the comp and not the mouse.

Lovely to hear from you again Kathryn, you have been sorely missed. Great that you can still use your (now new) neighbours garden to grow veggies, and with his and your own it sounds as though you will hardly need to buy any fresh produce this year.
Myself learned to spin wool some many years ago, and it is very therapeutic. Incredible how easily the wool 'forms' (once we have learned how). From now on your hands will be beautifully smooth from the lanolin in the wool. And free fleeces - how lucky can you get! Not sure if it would work, but rinsing harsh wool (either before or after knitting) in hair conditioner or fabric softener might help to make it less 'scratchy'. You could knit/crochet a small square and experiment.
You seem now to have such a busy life: teaching, gardening, spinning, knitting, wine-making, not to mention caring for Dolly, and with all that work-load, sitting in front of the computer and reading is the last thing I would expect you to want to do, so am more than grateful you are still keeping in touch, as your blogs are always extremely interesting to read.
Haven't myself attempted much crochet, and now the weather has suddenly become warmer, most of my spare time will be spend in the garden, and will probably leave 'handicrafts' to the colder months.

A comment from Anonymous with a query on how to get rid of fat that rises to the top of a casserole. Perhaps the easiest way is to tip the dish slightly, then spoon off as much fat/oil as possible. A thick wad of kitchen paper can be pressed down onto the surface and this will soak up most of the remaining fat (tip: have a layer of kitchen paper, then put newspaper on top to made a 'soaking pad'. Newspaper is great for absorbing fat, but because of the ink, should not touch food surfaces directly.
If a casserole is made in advance then chilled, the surface fat normally 'sets' and can be lifted off. Have also read that throwing ice-cubes onto the surface of an oil dish causes the oil to set round the cubes and these can then be removed before the ice melts, although this means the dish will probably need re-heating as the ice will have cooled it down.

Welcome back Sarah (from Ulverston). If you change to having your groceries delivered (from Tesco), this should mean you can get the food cheaper than that served at Tesco Express (as the food ordered usually comes from their main warehouse - Carnforth in our area, and possibly Barrow in yours.

Now to recipes. Yogurt based desserts as promised, the first being a basic 'ice-cream'. Ideally, use a loaf tine for the final freezing, as this is intended to be served in the block, and sliced at table with chosen fruits and a syrupy sauce or fresh fruit 'coulis'. Icing sugar is used in this recipe as it dissolves instantly, but caster sugar could be used instead
Iced Vanilla Yogurt: serves 6
7 oz (200g) icing sugar
few drops vanilla extract (to taste)
2 x 500g tubs natural yogurt
Stir the icing sugar, vanilla extract and yogurt together, then - if you have one - churn in an ice-cream machine until thick, then spoon into an oblong container. If no machine, pour the mixture into a shallow container and freeze for an hour then give a stir, continue freezing and stirring each hour for 6 hours, then spoon into a cling-film lined (2lb/1kg) loaf tin, level surface, cover surface with more film, then store in the freezer for up to 3 months. To serve, remove surface cling-film, invert onto a plate, remove the rest of the clingfilm and allow to stand for about 10 minutes before slicing. Serve topped with the fruit and syrup of your choice.

This next dessert takes more time to make as the egg whites and sugar are whipped over heat to make a type of Italian meringue (this then won't collapse when cooled). The original recipe used fromage frais as the 'cheesy bit', but myself have found that a blend of creme fraiche and yogurt works well, and using yogurt alone also works. It is the fruit that gives the flavour, so with plenty of choice of summer fruiting berries, we can vary the taste accordingly. We could also use a fruit flavoured yogurt that complements the flavour of the fresh berries.
Yogurt Mousse with Fruit sauce: serves 6
1 large egg white
2 oz (50g) icing sugar, plus 2 tblsp
zest and juice of half a lemon
1 x 250g tub of creme fraiche
9 oz (250g) natural yogurt (OR - see above)
1 lb (450g) fresh strawberries or other summer berries
Put the egg white in a heat-proof bowl with the icing sugar and place over a pan of simmering water. Using a hand whisk, beat the mixture for a good five minutes or until it is very light, fluffy, and holds up in peaks when the blades are lifted.
Remove from heat, stand the bowl in a sink of cold water (this helps it cool more rapidly - but remember you are using an electrical appliance - you may prefer to stand the bowl in a larger bowl of water on the table).
Add the lemon zest to the mixture and continue whisking for a couple of minutes until cooled down.
Beat the creme fraiche and yogurt together (you don't need to wash the mixer blades), and fold this into the beaten whites. Spoon into individual dishes (pref. glass as it looks prettier), and place in the fridge until ready to serve.
Top with chosen fruits, some of which having been blitzed to a puree with the lemon juice and the extra 2 tblsp of icing sugar. Best to press this through a sieve to remove seeds and turn it into a 'proper' coulis.
Cut larger fruits (strawberries etc) into smaller pieces, leave smaller fruits as-is, and when ready to serve place a few on top of each of the mousses, spooning a little coulis on top. Surplus coulis can always be frozen to use another time.

In my youth this next 'dessert drink' would have been called a 'Milk Shake'. Nowadays it seems names have to be changed and so the '...Shake' called a 'Smoothie'. Why do names have to change? What was once a chemist is now a 'pharmacy', the chiropodist is now a 'podi... something' (couldn't even pronounce the name when I knew it. Oil of Ulay is now Oil of Olay. And believe that 'Spangles are now under another name, also 'Snickers' (or is that the new name?). Why, why, why?

(Stop moaning Shirley and return to 'recipes') Sorree.....!
This traditional Mediterranean fresh fruit 'crush' (now aka 'smoothie) needs no 'recipe', just the method of making, as this is one that can be made simply using orange juice blended with yogurt, or 'beefed' up slightly by adding another fruit such as a banana. Simply put the prepared fruit into a blender with plenty of ice, sugar if you wish (sugar sub. if a diabetic), and either water, milk or yogurt. Or a blend of all three. Then whizz together until well blended and the ice is crushed. The mixture should not be mushy, and preferably thin enough to be drunk with a straw. Serve at once.
All kinds of fruits can be used: ripe melon (cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew etc); banana, apricot, peach, nectarine, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, pear, apple, plum and even mango and dates (all stones removed where applicable). Use just one fruit, or a mixture.

A refreshing yogurt drink (not really a dessert) also needs no recipe, just the method of making. Called 'Ayran' in Turkey, this is very similar to the Indian 'Lassi' (usually drunk with or after a curry - recipe for this below). Fill a tall glass one third full with yogurt, then fold in ice-cold water or soda water/sparkling mineral water. Add a pinch of salt if you wish. Serve chilled with a spring of fresh-mint tucked into the glass. Rose essence or rose syrup is now readily available (Lakeland sell it), and omit the sugar if using the syrup.

Lassi (yogurt cooler): serves 4
1 pint (600ml) natural yogurt
half pint (300ml) water
sugar to taste
2 tsp rose essence
8 ice cubes
Put all but the ice into a liquidiser and give a quick whizz. If no liquidiser, then put into a bowl and whisk together. Chill well. Pour into four glasses to serve, popping a couple of ice cubes into each.

For a more substantial 'sweet', how about making this cake? Although my personal choice is using lemon, limes or orange could be used instead. Another preference of mine is to use chopped no-soak apricots instead of the sultanas. A good recipe to use up those bananas that are turning soft. Do remember that when banana skins begin to turn brown, this doesn't mean the fruit cannot be used. The riper the banana the sweeter it becomes.
Banana Cake: serves 10
10 oz (300g) plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 rounded tsp baking powder
6 oz (175g) light muscovado sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 egg, beaten
1 banana mashed with 1 tsp lemon juice
5 fl oz (150ml) natural yogurt
4 oz (100g) sultanas
Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl, then stir in the sugar and lemon zest. Make a well in the centre and stir in the egg, banana, yogurt and sultanas. Mix together thoroughly the spoon the mixture into a greased and lined 7" (18cm) round cake tin (you could use a loaf tin if you prefer), and bake for 40 - 45 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 or until a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 16 minutes before turning out.
If you wish, drizzle some icing over the top before it leaves the tin (4 oz/100g icing sugar blended with 1 - 2 tsp chosen fruit juice to form a soft, but not overly runny icing). Leave until the icing is set before removing from the tin.

Final recipe today is for scones. Admittedly savoury ones, but to make a sweeter version just omit the cheese, mustard, pepper and chives and substitute 3 oz (75g) dried fruit, and 1 oz (25g) sugar. If you have no mustard powder, use a tsp made mustard and blend this in with the cream cheese. Have included the bicarb (not part of the original recipe) as this raising agent works very well with an 'acidic' ingredient such as yogurt, and this helps to make the scones even lighter. But leave it out if you wish.
Cheese Scones: makes 10
9 oz (250g) self-raising flour
half tsp bicarbonate of soda (opt)
1 tsp mustard powder (see above)
half tsp cayenne pepper
half tsp salt
4 oz (100g) low-fat soft cream cheese
2 tblsp fresh snipped chives
3 fl oz (75ml) natural yogurt
2 tblsp milk
2 oz (50g) grated Cheddar cheese
Put the flour, mustard powder, cayenne and salt into a bowl, then work in the cream cheese and chives and mix together. Dilute the yogurt with the milk, then gradually stir this into the flour mixture (you may not need all) until it forms a soft dough (if all the liquid has been added and it then is too soft, add a little more flour).
Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead gently, then roll out to about 3/4" (2cm) thick and cut into 2" (cm) rounds using a scone cutter. Trimmings can be kneaded together and rolled out to make more rounds - should be enough to make a total of 10. Place these onto a baking sheet.
Brush tops with a little milk and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until well risen and golden. Cool on a wire rack. Serve with softened butter or cream cheese to spread on the split scones. Or whipped cream and jam with the sweet version.

Looking through the window in front of me see another glorious day has arrived, so am now about to scamper off into the garden and get those plants put into their final pots. Most of the flowers in our garden grow in pots as there are few borders that are in full sun. Most of the garden having been planted with various shrubs, few of them having any flowers to speak of. Even so - with the new, pale green growth on many of the darker leaved shrubs, the garden still looks attractive and the acer - at the moment in full sun - gives bright (if not light) bronze colour to an otherwise boring part of the garden. Plenty of Welsh poppies have seeded themselves wherever there is sunny or even shady soil, and these come in various shades from pale yellow to deep orange, so also give colour.

But mustn't ramble on. Later will try again to publish the photos, but don't hold your breath. Considering the various problems with both blogger and this computer at the moment, am lucky to be able to publish at all.
If everything still holds together, then hopefully will be back again tomorrow, fingers feverishly tapping at the keyboard.

B has just come in and suggested we go and have a coffee at Red Bank Farm, so am up for that. Plant will have to wait a couple or so hours. Until tomorrow....see you then.