Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Too Old, Too Soon....!

Am almost weeping with frustration this morning. Went into the garden yesterday to doing more planting out - which was done (but still more to do), and found that the continual bending down then standing up made me feel very dizzy, lugging heavy containers into their rightful place make my back ache even in the end had to call in a day and go inside to have a sit down. After recovering (although my back still hurt) was able to prepared B's supper almost to cooking point (put potatoes into a pan, shred cabbage and place it in steamer over pan, lid on. Begin thawing the liver...

Still didn't feel right, found it very uncomfortable sitting in my chair (back hurting), so managed to totter into the kitchen, sit on a chair by the hob and fry B's floured liver 'gougons' in one pan, bacon in another, then when the spuds and cabbage was cooked, the cabbage went into the bacon pan to mop up the 'juices', the spuds went into the liver pan to 'brown off' slightly in the fat also therein. One of our small meat platters was left heating up over the pan of water the potatoes were cooked in, and so all B then had to do was put everything on the plate and eat it.

Managed to sit up until 6.30 but as all I wanted to do was lie down, took myself off to bed. Had a good sleep, woke at first light (having had more than enough sleep) but decided to stay in bed and so finally rose at 7.00 this morning, but still with a bad back. Have taken an ibuprofen and am sure that will help a great deal ONLY I still have two more containers of bedding plants to transplant (that's 48 in total), so hopefully might manage a few if I take the trays up the garden to the garden table and work on there so no need to keep bending down, and at least I will be sitting.

For the first time ever I now feel my age, and don't wish that to happen for there is so much more I want to accomplish before I pop my clogs. Still, having reached 78 have already passed my allotted span of three score and ten, so from now on will make the most of every minute left. At least - when sitting down - can still keep cooking.

Many of you may be wondering where B was while all this was happening. He was in the garage 'pottering', and - if I had asked him - would have come out and moved heavy pots for me, which he occasionally has been doing over previous days. He also fills the watering cans for me, but me - being Mrs Independent - just HATE for him to see me slowing falling to bits. He is, of course, concerned about me, and think its a bit of relief for him when I go to bed so I'm 'out of sight, out of mind'.

Having read Mindy Hammond's diary (Sunday Express supplement) this week, realise she too has a husband (the gorgeous Richard Hammond) who is prepared to let his wife do all the hard work without lifting a finger. The amount of times he is on TV at the moment, wonder how he ever finds time to be at home. How on earth his wife copes with all the work she seems to have to do (looking after horses, ducks, chickens, dogs, cats, children, sheep, not to mention housework and cooking) I cannot imagine. Bet somewhere there is 'help' in the background, only her diary wouldn't be so interesting to read if they did most of the work I suppose, or perhaps she really is a 'domestic goddess' in her own right. All power to her elbow I say.

Thankfully, am able to sit in a very old and comfortable chair while at my comp. Not sure where it came from, B calls it a 'captain's chair', but I think the true name is a 'smoker's chair', either way it has a curved back with arms that wrap around, and that's nice.

Further to yesterday's mention of 'The Taste of London' (to be held for four days this week in Regent's Park, London 16 - 19th June) who did I see talking about it on Vanessa yesterday? Gary Rhodes! Normally don't watch this prog, but happened to press the wrong button on the remote and up it came, so hearing that G.R. would be on (one of my favourite chefs) decided to stick with it.
Apparently this "Food Fair" began about 8 years ago to promote the top London restaurants, but at that time there were only about 12 displaying their wares. This year there will be 40, and 11 of them Michelin starred. Plus new products shown and perhaps sampled/sold by manufacturers.
The public can go to every stand and be able to sample foods cooked in all the restaurants, so a really good day out for anyone in commuter distance. Not sure if there is an entrance fee, but am sure worth every penny.
Today received another email about the Grand Opening of Portobello's New Farm and Fine Food Market, also this weekend, on Saturday 18th June from 10.30 - 5.00pm. So almost worth taking a weekend break so that both 'food festivals' can be viewed.

This is EXACTLY a weekend break I would enjoy. But you see I'm now too old and - as I said - VERY frustrated. But if any reader does managed to go to one or both of the above events we would love to hear about it.

Two new readers have joined our ranks. So a great welcome to both entropycottage and to Keshling, plus our usual group hugs. The answer to the query about how eggs shells with clarify stock will be given tomorrow (two reasons - can't remember why so have to look it up, and also it will bring you back to reading this blog again!).

Woozy and Scarlet would like more recipes that can be cooked in a slow-cooker (so some given today), and because I 'm not sure how new 'crock-pots' are made, recipes are normally made in those with ceramic 'pots'. My slow-cooker is one of the first on the market - must be nearly 30 years old. Rather shallow, with a heavy and removable interior ceramic pot. Tested as one of the best (at that time) by the Good Housekeeping Institute, asked for it instead of being paid for a feature the G.H.mag were doing (about cheap Goode food) in the "You Cook For Us Series". So almost another 'freebie'.

Suggestions for pasta/rice/grain recipes suitable for 'eating out' (packed lunches/picnics etc) requested by Mother Noah, will also be given today. So with quite a few recipes coming up, had better make a start.

This slow-cooked onion 'confit' can be made using any onions: red, white or yellow (the yellow being the sweetest - although not sure what 'yellow means' - perhaps the large Spanish). Shallots also make a great confit.
Although this does not have as long a shelf-life as another 'jam', this will keep for several days in a sealed jar in the fridge. Almost certainly it could be put into small plastic containers and be frozen to store for longer, but haven't tried freezing it myself.
Confit of Onions: serves 6
2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tblsp butter
1 lb 4 oz (500g) onions, thinly sliced
2 - 4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 tblsp light muscovado sugar (plus a bit extra)
2 tblsp balsamic vinegar (plus a bit extra)
4 fl oz (120ml) red wine
2 oz (50g) 'ready to eat' prunes, chopped
salt and pepper
Put the oil and butter in the (ceramic) cooking pot and heat on High until the butter has melted (about 15 minutes). Stir in the onions so they are all coated, then cover with the lid, placing a folded tea towel on top (this helps to keep in the steam). Leave to cook for 5 hours, stirring each hour to make sure the onions are softening evenly.
Add the thyme, bay leaf, sugar, balsamic vinegar, and wine, and stir gently until the sugar has dissolved, then add the prunes. Cover and cook on for a further 1 1/2 - 2 hours or until the 'confit' is thick and sticky. Check for taste adding more seasoning, sugar and/or vinegar if you feel it needs it. When cool, pot up and store in the fridge. Can be served either cold or warm.

A Middle Eastern classic relish - made with long strands of carrot - is said to be available in many supermarkets, although I've never heard of it or even seen it. Not that that matters, for it can easily be made in a slow-cooker, and - as it will keep for a year unopened - another good (and unusual) gift to pop into that Christmas Hamper.
Carrot Relish with Almonds: makes 1 1/2 lbs (675g)
1 tblsp coriander seeds, crushed (or use ground)
1 lb 4 oz (500g) carrots, grated
2 oz (50g) fresh root ginger, finely shredded
7 oz (200g) caster sugar
a good 4 fl oz (120ml) white wine vinegar
2 tblsp runny honey
1 1/2 tsp salt
zest of 1 lemon
2 oz (50g) flaked almonds, toasted
Put the crushed (or ground) coriander into the cooking pot with the carrots, ginger and sugar and stir together until well combined. Put the vinegar, honey and salt in a jug and stir until the salt has completely dissolved, then pour over the carrots. Give another stir, then cover and leave to stand for one hour before switching the cooker on to High. Then cook for 2 hours or until the carrots and ginger are just tender. No need to stir unless the mixture is beginning to dry at the edges (so keep checking).
Add the lemon zest and continue cooking for a further hour, until the mixture has thickened - this time stirring once or twice during this time to prevent the contents sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Gently stir the toasted almonds into the mixture, avoid breaking them if you can, then spoon the relish into warmed, sterilised jars, cover and seal. Store in a cool, dark place, and leave for a week before eating. This will keep, unopened, for a year, but once opened store thin the fridge and eat up within 2 weeks.

Although many stew/casserole dishes (made in a slow-cooker) are normally for eating during the colder months of the year, a spicy 'hot' dish can turn out quite cooling on a hot summer's day. So this next recipe could be cooked any time of the year. Unusual in that it has a corn-bread topping which turns it into a 'meal-in-one) but if you wish you could omit this and serve the chilli with rice, pasta, pitta bread or tortilla chips instead.
Note the beans used are dried (to be soaked then cooked first by fast boiling and then at the lower heat in the slow-cooker), no point in used canned beans and the veggies need the long cooking time anyway.
Suggested 'mixed vegetables' to use are: potatoes, carrots, aubergines, parsnips, and celery.
Mixed Bean Chilli with Cornbread: serves 4
4 oz (100g) dried red kidney beans
4 oz (100g) dried black-eyed beans (or other white bean)
1 pint (600ml) water
1 bay leaf
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp each ground cumin, chilli powder, and paprika pepper
half tsp dried marjoram/oregano
1 lb (450g) mixed vegetables (see above)
1 vegetable stock cube
1 x 400g (14oz) chopped tomatoes
1 tblsp tomato puree
salt and pepper
Put the dried beans in a bowl and cover with at least twice their volume of water. Leave to soak for at least 6 hours (preferably overnight), then drain and rinse then place in a saucepan with the pint of water and the bay leaf. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 8 - 10 minutes, then turn off the heat, leave to cool for a few minutes, then tip the lot into the slow cooker pot. Switch the cooker to High.
Put the oil into a frying pan, add the onion and cook for about 8 minutes, then stir in the garlic, the spices, and the marjoram and cook for 1 minute, then stir this into the beans in the pot.
Trim/peel veggies as necessary and cut into 3/4" (2cm) chunks, adding these also to the pot, but make sure that any that may discolour (potatoes, parsnips) are submerged. The rest don't have to be, but it helps. Cover and cook for 1 hour or until the beans are tender, then add the stock cube, canned tomatoes and the tomato puree, with seasoning to taste. Cover and cook for 30 minutes or so or until the mixture has come to boiling point.
Meanwhile make the cornbread topping (recipe below), then spoon this over the bean and veggie mix. Cover and cook for 1 hour or until the topping is firm and cooked through. Serve hot.

cornbread topping:
9 oz (250g) fine cornmeal
2 tblsp wholewheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten together
half pint (300ml) milk
Put the cornmeal, flour, b.powder and salt into a bowl and mix together. Make a well in the centre, then pour in the eggs and milk. Blend together well, then use as directed in the above recipe.

Moving away from slow-cookers, we now come to the rice/grain dishes for 'al fresco' eating. If using avocados, always make sure they are drizzled with lemon juice or the flesh will discolour. My suggestion is to take a ripe avocado (still in its skin) when planning a picnic (or packed lunch), and prepare it when ready to eat. It can always be earlier cut through horizontally, stone removed, flesh coated with lemon juice and the two halves then clapped together and held tightly with cling film - to be later unwrapped and the flesh spooned out.

Summer Rice Salad: serves 6
1 avocado (see above)
2 tblsp lemon juice
8 oz (225g) long-grain rice (pref brown) cooked
8 oz (225g) pineapple pieces
3 tblsp cashew nuts
6 spring onions, finely chopped OR
... 1 shallot, grated
1 tblsp cider vinegar
2 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper
half a red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
Peel the avocado and dice the flesh, pour 1 tblsp of the lemon juice over to prevent discolouration.
Mix together the cooked (cold) rice, with the pineapple, cashews, onions and the avocado.
In a blender put the remaining tblsp of lemon juice, the cider vinegar, the oil, garlic and seasoning to taste. Blend until smooth. Pour this dressing over the salad and arrange the peppers on top.

Whilst this next recipe does not include a grain, it is however a great one for a 'take-away' meal as it can be chilled and carried in a flask. It is also made with seasonal summer 'veggie/fruits'. It's surprising how many summer veggies ARE really 'fruits' of the plant: cucumbers, courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes, peppers. But all considered as 'vegetables' when it comes to cooking.
The amount of oil seems excessive, but this recipe is intended to serve six (so that's 2 oz oil each). If you feel this is still excessive then use less, but make sure enough is used to blend the mixture into a creamy consistency.
Gazpacho: serves 6
4 slice wholemeal bread, cubed
1 - 2 cloves garlic,
1 tsp salt (pref rock or sea salt)
4 tblsp lemon juice
half pint (300ml) water
half cucumber, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 lb (1kg) tomatoes, quartered
half pint (300ml) olive oil (see above)
With the exception of the oil, put the remaining ingredients into a blender (maybe in two batches) and whizz until smooth. While the blender is still running, gradually add the oil to make a creamy mixture. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary. Then chill before serving. If travelling any distance, transport it in a vacuum flask to keep it chilled.

Although this recipe has been given before, it is worth a repeat, especially as new readers keep joining us. With this being made with couscous and easily transported, it is perfect for a packed lunch or a picnic. Instead of goat's cheese, feta or Wensleydale could be used. Keep vacuum packed cooked beetroot in the fridge, then always there when wishing to make this.
Note: this serves two, so halve amounts when making for one.
Beetroot, Spinach and Goat's Cheese Salad: serves 2
zest and juice of 1 large orange
4 fl oz (100ml) water
5 oz (140g) couscous
1 oz (25g) walnut pieces
3 oz (75g) firm goat's cheese, crumbled
6 no-soak apricots, quartered
4 small cooked beetroot, quartered (see above)
salt and pepper
2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of half a lemon
2 handfuls baby spinach leaves
Put the orange zest and juice in a pan with the water and bring to the boil (this 'blanching' removes the bitterness from the zest). Turn off the heat and add the couscous, mixing well, then cover and leave to stand for 5 minutes, by which time it should have absorbed all the liquid. Fluff the couscous up with a fork, then add the walnuts, cheese, apricots, beetroot and seasoning to taste. Stir in the oil and lemon juice.
If eating almost immediately, stir in the spinach leaves. If wishing to take for a packed lunch, place the mixture into a container and place the leaves on top, then when ready to eat just toss (or perhaps better stir if you don't want couscous scattered over your work place) the lot together).

Next dish, although can be eaten warm as a main course, eats just as well cold, and certainly suitable for a 'packed lunch'. Made with 'bought' tortellini (either bought 'fresh' or cook the dried yourself), this pasta based dish again makes two servings. As an alternative to tortellini, just add cooked pasta pieces and add some chopped cooked ham.
Pesto Pasta with Broccoli: serves 2
5 0z (150g) tenderstem or regular broccoli
1 x 250g pack fresh tortellini: suggest ham and cheese
3 tblsp fresh or bottled pesto
2 tblsp pine nuts
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
Cut the broccoli into short lengths and boil in water for a couple of minutes, then add the tortellini and cook for a further 2 minutes or according to packet instructions (if using dried tortellini, then start by cooking this first and adding the brocooli about 4 - 5 minutes towards the end of the cooking time).
Drain well and rinse under cold running water until cooled down, the making sure as much water has been drained away, tip the broccoli/pasta into a bowl, drizzle over the pesto, balsamic vinegar, and add the pine nuts, then toss together. Finally add the tomatoes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Anyone who 'eats out' regularly would find a wide-mouthed thermos a 'good buy'. All too often we have a cold 'packed lunch', and only those who have the use of a microwave can heat up something warm to eat. Having a wide-mouth thermos means we can take our own hot meals to work. Here is one such dish. Doesn't contain grains, but it does contain chickpeas (high in vegetable protein). For our body to absorb this protein this needs another 'second class' to go with, and this is why bread (the grain necessary) is suggested as an accompaniment. A good dish to make-ahead of time, and therefore would travel happily (hot) in a thermos, or can be reheated in a microwave.
Roasted Veggies with Chickpeas: serves 4
3 courgettes, thickly sliced
1 aubergine, cut into thick chunks
2 - 3 garlic cloves, sliced
2 big baking potatoes, cut into chunks
1 onion, chopped
1 tblsp coriander seeds
4 tblsp olive oil
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 x 400g chickpeas, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper
bunch coriander (or flat-leaf parsley) chopped
bread (to eat with the made dish
Put all the vegetables into a roasting pan, sprinkle over the coriander seeds and most of the oil and toss together, then spread out into an even layer and roast in a hot oven 200C, 400F, gas 6 (or slightly higher) for 45 minutes. You may wish to turn the veggies once or twice so they they become evenly browned round the edges.
Remove from oven and place over a low heat on the hob and add the tomatoes and chickpeas. Bring to the boil, give a stir and allow to simmer gently, then add seasoning to taste, drizzle over the remaining oil, and scatter top with the herbs. Either serve from the tin or transfer to a serving dish. Serve with chunks of crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Well, am now feeling a lot better, so maybe will be almost back to normal today. Beloved has chosen to have chilli con carne for his supper, so must now go and defrost the minced beef, prepare and onion, carrot and celery for sauteeing, get out the can of red kidney beans, the remaining 'hot chilli mix', and not a lot else to do other than cook the meat and throw the lot together. Served with a side salad (containing avocado), and tortilla chips, with some lemon yogurt (EasyYo) as a 'cool topping', think that should satisfy his needs.
Whether I do more work in the garden depends upon how I get on. Can make the chilli this morning, so all it needs is to be reheated (half will be saved and frozen before B even gets near the kitchen - he is out all day anyway), so have a clear afternoon to spend outdoors - even if only sitting in the sun.

Hope you all have a good day, and am already looking forward to this time tomorrow when I will (all things being well) will be sitting chatting to you again.