Friday, July 08, 2011

Home Cooking

Thanks for your comments. Sorry you disagree with me Jane, re children being pressured by TV ads, and while I totally agree with you it is up to the parent to serve good food to the children, it has been proved that many TV ads are targeted directly at children, and as 80% of the food advertised on TV during children's' airtime, was confectionery, soft drinks, crisps, savoury snacks, fast foods and pre-sugared cereals (all high in fat, sugar and salt), it was deemed necessary for the Food Standards Agency to ban all ads of this nature unless they conformed to their dietary recommendations.

This doesn't keep children away from food that mums prefer them not to eat. A new range of biscuits "designed to attract the younger consumer in the 'everyday treats' segment of the retail trade" has just come onto the market. No doubt 'healthy' enough to be allowed to be advertised, but still a temptation.

A 'crinkle crisp' promotion on our screens at the moment has proved so successful that the sales of of this type of crisp has grown from £5.5 million to £17.3 million in just 8 weeks. Presumably mainly due to TV ads.
So when a magazine says parents don't enjoy taking their children to the supermarket because they are continually being pestered for crisps, soft drinks, sweets, biscuits etc "as seen on TV", we have to admit this is a problem that is hard to overcome.

Even some products are now being 'advertised by stealth' (as I call it as they are now appearing in some of the new new computer games.

Before I put this topic to bed, thanks Jo, for telling us about the 'dumped' (and presumably healthy) packed lunches that mothers have thoughtfully provided for their children to eat at school. Just shows the way youngsters think these days that"good for you is not 'cool'", so they throw good food away and go and buy a 'take-away' to eat instead.
Even read the other day about a school (or council) that is providing a new (and shorter path) for school children to walk from school to a burger bar in safety.

However caring a parent might be, it could be that if a baby grows up eating baby foods from jars and packets, maybe the child will think this is how all food should be bought. Like they way many think money is not earned "just comes from a hole in the wall".

Recently a feature in the trade mag. caught my eye about the next step up from the pureed baby foods that many mothers buy. Following the baby puree, we can now buy 'toddler food', chunky style. Nothing wrong with the quality: "same ingredients as home-made but technology used to offer a longer shelf life". Although the one featured does not come in a can or bottle - this time sealed packets, with no preservatives used, and a shelf life of 12 months! Myself feel that when it comes to this age, feeding a child from a pack (or tin or bottle) is rather similar to feeding a dog or cat (reminded of an ad for something where a mother receives a call on her mobile and distractedly gives her baby the dog food and the dog the baby food).

When I read that the range of 'toddler foods' will include: Lamb Hotpot; Pork meatballs; Chicken Pasta; Beef Bolognese; and Spinach Falafel, all retailing at £1.99 (200g), one wonders if the parents who purchase them ever cook at all. Surely the above selection is both an adult meal and 'toddler approved' at the same time, so why not serve the child the family meal (minus the salt and allowing for certain adaptations etc). Yet sales of toddler foods have increased by 21% year on year, and this - to me - is surprising.
However good the intentions of the parent to ensure their children eat good food, surely better to start giving them 'home-made' as soon as possible. In 'our day' every mother made their own baby foods, just buying baby milk if necessary (think they call this 'formula' these days), Farex biscuits (which softened to make a porridge) and 'Bikkipegs' for the babies to chew on to help their teeth come through. All the rest was pureed or later mashed foods that were cooked for the 'grown-ups'. In those days children also had a soft-boiled egg to dip 'soldiers' in, but today that is frowned upon.

Thanks for your comment Cheesepare. Had not thought of using rainwater in the washing machine, doubt it would work with mine, it is fairly economical with the use of water anyway and not sure if it would know what it was doing if it could keep adding a bit and rinsing a bit as it goes through the cycles. Anyway, need all the rainwater in the butts to water the plants.
Was idly reading a Wickes catalogue whilst under the hair dryer on Wednesday, and saw something about storage tanks that could be fitted underground - the rainwater from the roof flowed into these, and then pipes could go from the tank to other places to be used. Maybe C.P. you could make a sort of Heath Robinson fitment of a similar kind 'to do things with".
Do remember my bridge partner fitted pipes from all his internal water outlets: bath, shower, washing machine etc (he had several b.rooms) to flow into water butts before overflowing into drains, and used this water for his garden, car washing, etc.

Took a look at the site you mentioned Margie, and it was interesting. Also interesting to read comments from youngsters who had written into that site (many of them not impressed - so again the signs of the times when it comes to how young folk think of 'good food'). Thankfully there are enough people who see the sense of 'cooking like grandma'.
Although Canada is a very large place (compared to the UK), do hope you managed to get a real-life sight of Kate and William whilst there were in your country. They are a lovely couple, and Kate seems to be taking to the 'public appearances' like a duck to water. It's a terrific leap from being just an 'ordinary' girl, to being a princess now so often in the public eye. God bless both of them I say.

Back to domesticity at the 'commoner' level. Having yesterday thawed out 2 lb. 4 oz (a good kilo) of 'free' lamb bones, decided to make stock with them. All were rib bones, with not enough flesh on them to divide up and cook as 'spare ribs' (pity that), but when covered in water and simmered down very slowly am today hoping that some 'meaty bits' can be scraped from the bones and maybe turned into a Shepherd's Pie, or lamb burgers (see below for a couple of suggestions). The stock will be then reduced down to make it more concentrated before being frozen to use later.

As I was weighing the bones, carefully picking them over to see what meat was on them, it occurred to me that one person might take this as scraping the barrel when it comes to making a meal. Like a pauper would have to do. Myself have never looked at it this way. It's just common sense. You will find chefs in top restaurants doing exactly the same thing - in fact my Beloved once delivered some flowers to a Michelin starred restaurant in Leeds, and - having to park at the back by the kitchen door - had a chat with the chef who was taking a delivery of 'just bones' - "to make stock with" he told B. Maybe I do go one step further - scraping the meat from the bones, but maybe chefs do the same. Don't know, don't really care. Just know they don't waste anything that can be put to good use - even the peelings and stalks from mushrooms are used to make 'duxelles'.

When we turn to the traditional 'peasant dishes' from France, Italy and many European countries (probably what we call 'farmhouse cookery' here) we find the same things happening. All using any 'free' foods they can lay their hands on - bones, 'foraged' wild herbage, fungi and berries, home-grown produce... then with a few inexpensive ingredients, turn them into something really memorable. In a good way of course.
Goes without saying that in the old days (and even now where good food matters) pasta, bread, gnocchi, pastry and other 'basics' are always home-made, and no-one grudges the time spent making them. The whole thing about feeding a family is that providing 'home-made' is one of the best ways of showing how much we love and care for them. Especially in today's world when there is not so much of it about (certainly in this country - although the continent still seems to keep the tradition of sitting together to eat what 'mama makes').

Given the abundance of such good food produced in Great Britain, wonder why we have gained such a bad reputation when it comes to cooking. Even now my Beloved likes all his vegetables cooked to death (as his 'mama made', able to be squashed to puree). Myself prefer them only just cooked - to 'al dente' if possible. But each to his own I suppose. In more recent years the way we traditionally cook veggies has done a 'U' turn, and these are now cooked properly. Our reputation as cooks also improving. But still a long way to go compared to the French (who have been cooking food as it should be cooked since the dawn of civilisation it seems).

Yesterday made a better than average (at least B thought it was good enough to ask for it again) Prawn Cocktail for B's supper. He was going to bake another loaf, but had to go out during the afternoon to our daughter's house (she is not at all well, am quite concerned about her), so as we were out of bread decided to bake one whilst he was out - some of which he sliced later to make a roast beef sarnie as a 'snack'.
Anyway, as I had time on my hands decided to sit and have a bit of a play regarding the P.C. There was a wedge of red and also yellow bell pepper that needed using up, so diced these, then decided to cut each dice into four to make teeny-weeny dice. They looked very professional, and felt quite pleased that I had taken the the trouble. Went and got a couple of Peppadew from the jar and diced these up too and mixed with the other diced peppers.
Then went into the larder with a small bowl and squirted in some salad cream, followed by the same size squirt of tomato ketchup, adding a few drops of Tabasco an also Worcestershire Sauce before I left the larder (this 'pantry' becoming more a 'preparation area' each time I go in there).
Stirred the lot together, then added half the diced peppers, and two-thirds of some thawed small cooked prawns. Set these aside, then very finely shredded some iceberg lettuce, saving three larger leaves to line the sides of a large 'balloon' glass.
The assembly began. A few diced peppers in the bottom of the leaf-lined bowl, topped with some of the prawns and peppers in the 'Marie Rose' sauce, then some shredded lettuce, and repeating until the glass dish was full and piled quite high with mostly the 'prawns in sauce'. Final finish was topping with the un-sauced reserved prawns and remaining diced peppers, carefully arranged as though preparing the dish to be photographed (silly me, should have taken a photo. Sorreee!).

After tasting the ketchup/tomato sauce (aka Marie Rose sauce) with the peppers mixed into it, I felt it was far too spicy for a proper Prawn Cocktail, but a bit late then to do much about it other than add a little cream (which was not done). Just hoped B would like it as it was. It was left chilled in the fridge until his return home, and after eating it ( while in front of the TV for a change) said to me that it was REALLY TASTY. He just loved the spiciness, especially enjoying the rather liquid residue in the bottom of the glass (probably some excess water from the prawns) which he ended up drinking. He was also pleased that there were so many prawns - but not as many as he thought - it was mixing the diced peppers in with them that made them seem more.
Quite a few errors when making the above, that luckily ended making an obviously tasty and acceptable dish.

Today is very much a cook and freeze day (in the hope I can find space in the freezer). Overnight have been cooking a mixture of raw (frozen and thawed) meats. Some beef rib trim and shin beef slow-cooked together with some onion. These will be removed from the pot this morning and boxed up with some of the gravy, to be frozen. To the remaining gravy in the pot will be added some red wine and a couple of thawed ox cheeks to slow-cook for several hours. Might even thaw out some beef stewing steak to cook with the cheeks, so that everything ends up richly flavoured - including the stock.

Cooking the coarser cuts of beef in this way and in bulk saves both time and fuel money later, for these can all be made into other dishes (such as casseroles, meat pies, etc...) without having to allow extra time for the meat to cook. By adding the already made 'stock/gravy', the flavour will still be there, all the dishes need are the veggies. None of which take a long time to cook, and these too can be cooked in the stock before adding the meat.

Most people would not spend as much time as I do sitting at the kitchen table, carefully removing all meat from cooked bones, saving all the fat (for dripping or frying), collecting biscuit crumbs to crush down for cheesecake bases, turning scraps of pastry into cheese straws, bagging up the cores and leaves of cauliflower to make soups, drying bread crusts to turn into crumbs... . So why do I keep doing it? It's not as though there is now a need to save money as there used to be.
It's just that a long time ago realised that EVERYTHING we throw away has cost us money one way or the other. It doesn't have to be edible - the cost of packaging is included in the price we pay. Once we can visualise that as the 'disposables' get thrown into the bin they magically change into money as they fly through the air then we very soon stop then throwing and instead cling onto them for dear life.

Two recipes today, either of which will make good use of the meat 'scraps' from those lamb bones. The first being burgers. Cooked minced lamb left over from a roast could also be used. But my way is cheaper.
Lighter Lamb Burgers: makes four
4 oz (100g) couscous
4 fl oz (100ml) boiling water
2 carrots, grated
8 oz (225g) minced cooked lamb
1 shallot, finely chopped or grated
1 bunch mint, leaves finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper to taste
Put the couscous into a bowl and pour over the boiling water. Cover and leave to stand for a few minutes until all the water has been absorbed. Squeeze any liquid out of the carrots, then add to the couscous with the remaining ingredients. Shape into four large burgers. If wishing to serve with oven chips/roasted veg etc, then cook the burgers by placing on an oiled baking sheet and cook in the oven (200C, 400F, gas 6) for about 20 minutes or until cooked through, or if serving with salad, they can be fried in a little oil on the hob, until golden and crisp on both side and cooked through.

This next dish is based on mainly root vegetables: potato, parsnip, swede... to which you could include carrots if you wish. It goes without saying myself would raid the veggie basket to find out the ones that needed using up, the lamb and stock would come from the bones (as mentioned above). And as the latter two are there to add flavour (so it doesn't matter if less meat is used, but do use some), and the barley gives extra 'satisfaction' - important in a soup that I class as a 'meal in one'.
Lamb and Barley Soup: serves 4
approx 8 oz (225g) cooked minced lamb
1 tblsp olive oil
2 oz (50g) pearl barley
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 lb 4 oz (600g) mixed root vegetables, diced
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1.75 pints (1 ltr) lamb stock
few springs mint or thyme
4 oz (100g) frozen or fresh green beans (or peas)
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a pan, stir in the cooked minced lamb, the onion and the pearl barley. Fry gently for a couple of minutes, then add the vegetables, stock, W. sauce, and the herbs. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
When the veggies are tender, remove about half the soup to a blender, then give a quick whizz to break it down to a puree, then return this to the remaining veggies/meat in the pan, add the green beans (chopped if necessary) or peas, return to the simmer and cook for a further 3 minutes, then serve. To make it even more satisfying, serve with chunks of granary bread.

With the rise in food prices, it now seems more and more sensible to make the most of what we have. Certainly novice cooks would not be prepared to go to the lengths I do, but the more experienced might, and as experience grows, hopefully many more might begin travelling along the same path.

We need to keep constantly in touch with each other to boost our morale. 'Togetherness' can prove to be very comforting when problems are shared and easier ways to do things are discussed. So please keep those queries and comments coming, as well as your personal hints and tips.

Looking forward to hearing from you tomorrow, when yet another weekend begins. See you then.