Sunday, July 10, 2011

Read the Label

Got up later than intended, Gill will ring in an hour (then chat for an hour) so had better press on and get as much written up like NOW! Firstly replying to your comments.

Yes Liz, have cooked pigeon breasts for B. He managed to buy several packs of four (each contained five) from a butcher he passed by when he was delivering flowers (sold at a remarkably low price so he couldn't resist them). Unfortunately I over-cooked them - expecting they had to 'lose their pink' (as we cook chicken). It seems they only need a quick fry in a pan otherwise they become tough (how true) and can be eaten quite 'rare'. Glad you coped with yours.
The cured venison 'to eat like Parma ham' also sounded good.

Yesterday sliced a little from the ox breast to see if it had cooked -to-tender in the slow cooker. It was perfect. This had cooked to a rich red colour because of the added wine, which also made it taste 'gamey', rather like venison (this addmittedly - due to cost - have only eaten once, but can still remember it). So sliced the cheeks and put them in boxes with a lot of their rich beef stock, and they are now in the freezer along with several boxes of the remaining 'beef stock with wine', to be later used in 'venison' recipes.

Thanks for setting me straight about the Canadian 'politics' Margie. Seems every country now is experiencing rising food costs. Regarding organic foods - it is now 'alleged' that nutritionally they are no better than 'ordinary' fresh produce, many believing there isn't any difference in taste. Disagree to some extent with the latter as yesterday had a small 'harvest' of my own and all certainly tasted better than any bought, even though not deliberately grown organically (although pesticides were not used). More of that later.

It was Aileen's comment that gave me a lot of food for thought when she said cat food had cost as much as the 'adult' food bought. We don't have a cat, so checked 'pet food' on Tesco's on-line shopping site and there were 325 products listed there. Ignoring the packs of dry food, the canned foods were as expensive (and often even more) as human canned food, and obviously a wider range than we humans have..
What was very apparent was the different flavours. Goodness me - "Tuna and Duck in Jelly", "Chicken and Bacon", "Lamb, Kidney and Peas", "Tuna and Salmon", "Salmon Trout and Tuna", "Chicken, Duck, Rabbit", to name but a few. The dogs were similarly indulged, although the cats seemed to do better. Even cans of tripe were highly priced.

Seems that certainly with cats (and some breeds of dogs) once the owners give them a treat they then refuse to eat anything else. Just like children.
In 'my day' fish heads and trimmings were bought to feed cats, and horsemeat for dogs. They all seemed happy enough with that, probably because they didn't know any different. When hungry, the cats caught mice. At the end of the war (while there was still rationing) my mother bought a Cairn terrier and she was always given horsemeat, tripe and possibly veggies with some beef gravy. Maybe it is still possible to buy the purple inked 'meat not fit for human consumption' from a butcher. Does anyone know?
Long after the war B and I bought a Labrador dog, and have to say this breed will eat ANYTHING. So no need to buy 'treats', the nearest thing to that was the occasional huge bone that she would wear down to eat the marrow. This is not to say she didn't have treats. Leave any food lying around, cheese, chocolates, cake, even solid frozen lamb chops, turn your back for a moment and she would have gobbled them up. In fact she got quite tubby scoffing everything she could lay her paws on, and each time she went into kennels, she came back a lot fitter and leaner. When asked what the dogs were fed, was told 'tripe' (that they all ate despite what their loving owners had fed them on previously). So that's something to ponder over.

Remember once being told by a bridge friend that he was never served salmon any more as his wife could only afford to buy it for her cats who refused to eat anything else. When it comes to feeding pets, it does seem we are not putting our brains into gear re this.

Looking at the various foods listed above, there should be no reason why we can't make up our pet's favourite foods. Many of them are " jelly", and we can easily make that from the free bones from the butcher. Yesterday discovered the lamb stock had set to a very firm jelly, and - after reheating and straining - is now in the fridge to become cold enough to remove the fat. Then it will be frozen. The lamb flesh (as with chicken cooked for stock) added to the jelly should make a meal fit for any Queen of Cats.
Chicken livers (cheap enough from a supermarket) are also worth using as pet food. Not the whole pack of course, just a few snippets mixed in with something less appealing. Ox liver too - often too strong for us humans - can also be cooked, ground up with its gravy and added to 'something else.

We are our own worst enemies when it comes to feeding pets. We love to treat them, and probably pander to their needs far more than we would with our own children. Noticed yesterday in the trade mag two new products (one for dogs, one for cats - both from the same manufacturer, and the cat one certainly smacks of an idea for pet food shown in a recent "The Apprentice"). Difficult to tell whether these were is canned, sachet or sold as dry food, but the rsp is £2.50 - £12 for the cat, and £6.50 - £25 for the dog. Maybe the latter price is for multipacks.

If a cat turns up its nose at the food given, then what happens? Is it thrown away? Or put into the fridge to bring back to room temperature later and served again? Surely - when the cat is hungry enough - it will eventually eat it?
Mixing the 'not-wanted' with something 'very wanted' should work, then each time decrease the expensive and add more of the cheaper until the animal gets used to the flavour. Like we adults do with some branded foods (cornflakes, coffee, baked beans...).

We don't all keep pets, but the manufacturers KNOW that putting something into the products that they know the pets will like (particularly cats who seem to be mega-picky about what they eat) almost guarantees the same product being bought again and again and again. We really do have to take control over this. It really shouldn't be that difficult to make up our own 'pet foods' in bulk, then freeze away in small quantities to thaw and serve at room temp. when required. Any useful hints and tips from pet owners will be gratefully received.

One lasting point on this. Gill's husband used to work in a pet food factory, and she said the equipment and hygiene there was second to none. Obviously then (as still happens now) it was second grade meats/fish that were used for canned pet foods (so bear this in mind as these too have 'flavour'). 'Human' food was not treated with as much care and attention (in those days at least - which was around 50 years ago).
Our greengrocer (who used to call at our house in Oadby - Leicestershire around that time) told me about one of his customers who bought cans of pet food and used the contents to make meat pies for her family, which they ate with great enjoyment (doubt she told them where the meat came from). The quality of canned pet food was that good. Not that I am suggesting any of us should do the same. No way!! No point really when something similar for humans is far less expensive!

Yesterday had a very productive day in the Goode kitchen and garden. After preparing the ox cheeks/stock for freezing, removed the remaining meat from the cooked chicken (some of which I ate as I worked!!), and sliced a small piece of rump that had been roasted and left chilled. The plan was Cold Meat Platter for B's supper as not sure when he would come in "about 7 ish" he had said.

Went into the garden to water the plants in the greenhouse and joy of joys, found half a dozen ripe tomatoes on my 'Tumbler' (which was tumbling even more - have to take care it doesn't tumble over altogether). Tasted one - BLISS - so warm and sweet. Still not as flavoursome as the toms my dad used to grow, but TONS better than anything bought from the supermarket.
Next to the toms were some small pots of 'pea shoots' (grown from a few dried peas taken from a supermarket pack of marrowfat peas sold for soaking and cooking). These had begun to flower and yesterday discovered several had formed small pods, so removed one to sample - expecting it to be tough. But it was GORGEOUS, so sweet and crunchy. Have decided to sow more so that I can use them as mange tout (so why bother to spend more buying the 'proper' mange tout seeds?
Was my intention to bring them into the kitchen to add to the stir-fry planned for today, but couldn't resist them so ate the lot. Don't care, it was worth it.

Gathered some 'cut and come again' lettuce, a few strawberries when passing, and took the little collection into the kitchen. B arrived home earlier than expected - he had got the day mixed up!!!! So he wished for the formerly planned Chinese meal after all.
Had already gathered some very large (forgotten about) radishes, and with some spring onions brought from her garden by our daughter, plus cooked carrots (cut into matchsticks) and peas left over from the day before, managed to make a very good stir-fry for Beloved. The three strips of cooked beef rib trim I cut into thinner strips and poured over a thick black bean and oyster sauce (that was in a sachet in the larder) as a glaze/marinade.
Fried the shredded spring onions first (including their chopped green leaves), then added sliced radish, the peas and the carrots. Popped the glazed beef into the pan and seared that, finally adding some sliced mushrooms, then pouring the remains of the black bean sauce over the veggies.
Gave B a pack of 'Chinese style" 2 - minute microwave rice to heat and plate up for me, then piled the stir-fry on top of that. He thoroughly enjoyed it. Said he'd like it again.

Today he will be having the cold meats, salad, with more of the home-grown radish, beetroot, lettuce, tomatoes etc. It really is SO satisfying being able to gather our own produce to supplement a meal, however little it is. With the courgettes now coming into flower, seems that from now on a lot more of the 'home-grown' will be used. Wish I'd a wider selection, but still time to sow and grow more.

Going back to both the lamb stock and the now chicken stock made from the carcase. In both instances herbs were added, as well as the usual carrots, celery and onion. Plenty of mint, plus bay leaves to the lamb (wish I'd remembered to include rosemary, but could add a few springs after the fat has been removed and the stock boiled down again to reduce even further).
The chicken was stuffed with tarragon, parsley, and bay, and so both stocks ended up with great depth of flavour that was far superior to when cooking only veggies with the bones. So if we have no garden, at least we can improve our cooking enormously by growing fresh herbs on our windowsills.
Myself do not have as wide a variety of herbs as would wish for, but do have chives, a small-leaf basil, flatleaf parsley, and dill grown from seed this year, plus a large pot of curly parsley (bought) and a bay tree (bought as a small bush). Plus two pots of mint (different kinds) that were bought, transplanted to larger pots and are now flourishing. Oh yes - outside have two small pots, one marjoram, the other lemon thyme. Originally infested with white fly, given a spray of pesticide then put outdoors to end their days, but fortunately the weather turned cold, killed off the white-fly and now they are looking much healthier. Probably could do with re-potting. Forgot to mention a HUGE bush of rosemary that was here when we moved. At least enough variety to be useful, but even on is better than none.

In a large jam-jar in the larder have a lot of dried thyme saved from last year - the leaves still on the stems - and often add a bit of this to a beef casserole. As with most inexpensive and 'basic' foods, they themselves don't have much flavour, but will take on any that is added. Herbs being some of the best.
It crossed my mind yesterday that the ironed-out brown paper packing that comes with Lakeland products, can be turned into brown paper bags to store dried herbs. If the leaves are left on their stems, they hold the flavour better. Smaller brown paper 'packets' can be made to hold dried seeds saved from our own garden produce/flowers.

Fish is expensive, and I tend to buy the Tesco 'Value pack' of 'white fish'. Obviously not the best quality, but like most protein (ignoring quality) weight for weight - the nutritional value is the same. So here is a 'fish dish' that has a topping that brings flavour to an otherwise rather bland protein. As the topping is crumbed together, worth making extra and freezing away the surplus to use another time. It is not necessary to use rosemary, any green herb (that goes with fish) could be used instead.
Herby Crusted Fish Fillets: serves 4
4 white fish fillets
2 fresh rosemary sprigs (keaves chopped)
2 oz (50g/or two slices) bread, torn into pieces
zest of 2 lemons, then one cut into wedges to serve
salt and pepper
1 tblsp olive oil
Place the fish fillets, skin side up on a baking sheet, then grill (medium heat) for 4 minutes.
Meanwhile place the chopped rosemary, the bread, lemon zest, and seaoning to taste in a food processor and blitz together to make fine crumbs.
Remove the fish from under the grill, turn the fillets over and press the crumbs on top of each. Drizzle with the oil, then return to the grill for 4 minutes until the topping is golden and crispy, and the fish cooked through and flaking. Serve with wedges of lemon to squeeze on top.

This next dish is a simple risotto that has three different herbs to give flavour. The dried porcini are there to give added flavour to the stock, and are not themselves added to the dish (which I think is a bit of a waste). Methinks a very little Marmite might do the job just as well. But leave out either if you wish and just use a good veg. stock. If you prefer - use a chicken stock.
This makes good use of butternut squash we need to use up. Around Hallow'een we could use pumpkin, and possibly - at this time of year - firm courgettes. We could leave out the squashes altogether and include something completely different (like broad beans). Altogether the perfect recipe for an experimental cook to play with.
Herby Risotto with Butternut: serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
handful fresh sage leaves
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 slices dried porcini mushrooms (see above)
3.5 pints (2 litrs) hot vegetable stock
1 onion, finely chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1.5 lbs (600g) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
12 oz (350g) arborio or carnaroli (risotto) rice
4 fl oz (100ml) white wine
handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 oz (50g) Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tblsp marscapone (or creme fraiche or similar)
Put 1 tblsp of the oil into a deep frying pan. Add six whole sage leaves and the crushed garlic, and fry for a few seconds until the sage is beginning to colour. Then remove leaves and drain on kitchen paper. Chop the remaining sage leaves finely. Soak the dried mushrooms (if using) in the hot stock.
Add remaining oil to the garlic/sage flavoured oil in the pan and add the onion, chopped sage, thyme and butternut, gently fry for 10 minutes. Raise heat to medium and add the rice, stirring everything together for about 3 minutes, then add the wine and stir for a further minute.
Start cooking the rice by adding a ladle of the hot vegetable stock (leave the mushrooms soaking in the rest), and - as the rice absorbs this - gradually add more stock, stirring, until the rice is soft but with still a little bite (this may take about 20 minutes) and most of the stock is used. Add seasoning to taste.
Remove from heat, add a 'splash' of stock to the pan along with the parsley, half the grated Parmesan, and the marscapone. Tip into a serving dish and top with remaining cheese and garnish with the fried sage leaves.

Final recipe today is one to make when we have cooked chicken scraps taken from the carcase after roasting (or from the carcase after making the stock). We should all have carrots in the veggie drawer of our fridge, onions somewhere in the kitchen, and peas in the freezer. Grow our own herbs (and we could use a different one than the one in the recipe - or possibly several different ones), make our own yogurt, and we are almost there. It just shows that with a little effort and a certain amount of 'self-sufficiency', we can easily make a 'restaurant quality' soup for very little cost indeed,
'Roast Chicken' and Herb Soup: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
2 large carrots, trimmed and chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 tblsp fresh thyme leaves (or other) roughly chopped
1.4 pints (2.5 ltrs) chicken stock
9 oz (250g) left-over roast chicken, shredded
8 oz (225g) frozen peas
salt and pepper
3 tblsp Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, crushed
squeeze fresh lemon juice
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the carrots, onions and herbs. Fry gently (aka saute) for 15 minutes, then stir in the stock. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes before adding the chicken.
Remove half the soup from the pan and blitz to a puree using a stick-blender, food processor or liquidiser, then return to the rest of the soup in the pan with the peas and seasoning to taste. Simmer for 5 minutes until thoroughly heated through.
Mix together the yogurt, garlic and lemon juice and swirl into each bowl of soup once it has been ladled out. Good served with crusty bread.

Gill hasn't phoned me - now I'm worried, she has never missed a Sunday since the arrangement was made (unless otherwise away on holiday which I would already know about). Have to check my mobile in case she text me, but B would have heard it 'bleep' and brought it in to me. Must text her to see if she is OK. She obviously can't use her land line, so no point in phoning her on that. A situation like this makes me feel helpless. I have no way of contacting her family, but they all live fairly close to where she lives, and she is in regular contact with them (on a daily basis) so that area is covered. All I can do is wait to hear what has happened.

With that now on my mind, cannot find the heart to continue for today, but will join you again tomorrow, with some (hopefully) new ideas on how to spend less and still eat well. See you then.