Friday, July 22, 2011

Simple Needn't be Boring.

Having watched one or two of the four-part 'live' series on The Great British Weather, have now begun to understand why our weather is so peculiar - on average raining every other day and not always in the same place at the same time.
Toronto is having a heatwave at the moment, and Moira is having to think chilly thoughts to keep cool. Not so silly as it sounds, for the other day when we had a really warm day, was watching a programme about drilling for oil in the Arctic. So much snow, blizzards and people wrapped up with several layers of insulation that only their eyes were visible that it made both B and I FEEL cold and we started shivering.

When in Leeds we used to have a cheap plastic insert (that looked like coal) that we could fit into our empty grate. It had a red bulb inside that - when switched on - would warm up enough to turn a set of blades that we placed on top of the bulb. This gave the effect of flames 'flickering' and it really did make us fee warmer. So a lot of what we think/see can affect how we feel.
Wonder if anyone sells CDs of a roaring fire that can be played on TV so we can pretend we are looking at a 'real' fire instead of wasting time watching yet another repeat.
When the weather here is very hot and humid, I quite often take one of those oil-filled packs kept in the freezer(for rapidly chilling bottles of wine ) and slide it over one of my wrists. Before freezers we used to run cold water over our wrists to help cool our blood down, and the packs work in much the same way - but faster.

The only problem with freezers is that they have running costs, which are low enough as long as they are kept fully stocked. When we had a large chest freezer use to pack the empty space with a blanket or even a spare duvet. It's good to know that canny shopping and thrifty cooking will save more than enough to cover the running costs.

Regarding packing and thawing of foods Moira. Always use 'freezer bags' or containers, and remove as much a air as possible (to prevent crystals forming over the food). Sometimes I pre-wrap some meats (chicken breasts etc) tightly in a thin plastic (called 'layering tissue') before bagging up, still trying to keep out as much air from the covering bag. Don't wrap proteins in cling-film, use only products that are recommended.

On the market at the moment are vacuum pumps/bags and also machines to remove air, and if I had a large chest freezer would buy one of the machines (the food once sealed in the bag can be frozen/or cooked as 'boil in the bag'). Vacuum packing is said to prolong its life (whether frozen or fresh).
Myself have found that when wrapping chunky salmon fillets tightly in kitchen foil to exclude all air, this seems to keep them in perfect condition. Have also wrapped slices of Walker's Pork Pie (the best pork pie in our opinion - Gill sometimes brings us one when she visits, they are sold in Walker's shops in Leicestershire), tightly in foil - these too thaw out almost as good as when 'fresh'.

Leaving cooked (sliced) meat in its wrapper to thaw and it will come out rather 'wet'. Best way is to remove from the wrapper, leave on a plate to thaw, separating the slices when able to without tearing, and any moisture should soon evaporate. If concerned about hygiene, then cover loosely with muslin or one of those mesh covers to keep flies off food.

As we really don't know what the immediate future has to offer - the newspapers seem to lead us to think things can only get worse, certainly regarding food and fuel prices - it does make sense to stock up now so that we can at least aim to get through the winter months without too much stress. We should always remember that we normally eat far too much. Or perhaps spend more than we need on the little we may eat. There's is usually a way we can save. sent an email about a 'two for one shelf' they now have. Suppose this is another term for BOGOF'. It would be more helpful if each item was sold at half-price (much the same thing), instead of ending up with two. Taking a look at just one page, there is very little that appeals to me. Maybe the cheese, and certainly the broccoli, but not sending B out for just those. The idea (of course) is to tempt us to go into the store and buy other products not on offer. But if intending to shop this week, worth checking to see if your supermarket has some 'useful' items that can be stored/frozen, that might mean you needn't pay full price for something else.

The correct foods to eat during the cold winter months are the ones nature has provided for this very purpose. To help keep us warm. These are those high in carbos, and certain vegetables that have the right vitamins to 'cure a cold'. All are probably - still - the cheapest foods on sale: grains, dried/canned pulses, root vegetables, onions, potatoes etc. Chunky soups are more filling and satisfying that the creamier ones, and when made with good rich meat stock (chicken or beef) made from 'free' bones, we get even more nourishment.
But it's not winter yet, so will chat more about warming meals after the clock goes back.

Had not heard of a double-paddle bread machine before Les, and am presuming this makes a loaf that has more of a 'proper' shape than the 'upright' loaves made in the conventional machines. The basic home-made loaf DOES make exceedingly good toast, but a bit dry for sarnies, and making a loaf using milk (or add dried milk powder to the flour) makes a softer crumb, also adding a knob of butter or lard. Try this and let us know how you get on.

However much we try to be frugal, we can still turn the simplest of foods into something more interesting. It helps to have a few of the more unusual ingredients, but not always necessary if we take the original suggestion then improvise.

This first is a very unusual way to served spinach, and although this recipe uses baby spinach leaves, any soft and deep green salad leaves such as rocket, watercress or lamb's lettuce could be used instead. Formed into 'towers' this dish is meant to be served with chicken or salmon. Instead of the sesame seeds, finely chopped almonds or walnuts, pumpkin or sunflower seeds can be toasted and used instead. Definitely one to serve when entertaining.
Japanese style Spinach: serves 4
1 lb (450g) fresh baby spinach leaves
2 tblsp soy sauce (pref light soy)
2 tblsp water
1 tblsp sesame seeds
pinch sea or rock salt
Blanch the spinach in boiling water for 15 seconds. Drain immediately and place in a colander under running cold water for a couple of seconds. Squeeze out excess water by hand. What started as a lot of spinach has now 'cooked down' to the size of a tennis ball.
Put the spinach in a bowl mix the soy sauce and water together and pour this over the spinach. Mix well and leave to get completely cold.
Meanwhile toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan until they begin to p0p, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Drain the spinach, again squeezing out excess liquid with your hands. Form into a log shape about 1.5" (4cm) dia, squeezing to make it compact. Then - using a sharp knife - slice across into four cylinders.
Sprinkle tops with the toasted sesame seeds and a few grains of salt, then plate up individually with chosen meat.

Pasta 'ribbon' noodles are expensive when bought in different colours. So why not use the cheaper 'white' ones and cook vegetable 'strips' to resemble pasta. Cheaper, healthier, and - with the courgette season about here - also a seasonal dish. Use either green courgettes, or one green and one yellow. a herb or walnut flavoured oil can be used instead of garlic if you prefer. This dish can be made using either fresh or dried cooked pasta.
Tagliatelle with Veggie Ribbons: serves 4
2 courgettes
2 carrots
9 oz (250g) fresh tagliatelle
4 tblsp garlic flavoured olive oil
salt and pepper
Using a potato or 'Y' shaped vegetable peeler, cut the courgettes and carrots into long thin ribbons, then cook these in a pan of salted boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain and set aside.
Cook the tagliatelle according to pack instructions, drain and return to the pan. Add the vegetable ribbons, the flavoured oil and seasoning to taste and toss over medium to high heat until everything is glistening with oil. Serve immediately.

This next dish is what we could call 'a satisfying salad'. Makes a great lunch, packed for work or eaten at home, especially when eaten with granary bread (warmed if possible).
Infusing the basil leaves in the hot oil brings out much more of its wonderful aromatic flavour. Instead of using canned mixed beans, if you have home-cooked beans in the freezer, then mix your own selection, including some chickpeas (or only chickpeas if that's all you have). If you wish you could include a few stoned black or green olives, or maybe some chunks of red or yellow bell pepper. Another seasonal dish as it is made with the small cherry tomatoes that I hope many readers are now growing.
Tomato, Bean and Fried Basil Salad: serves 4
half pint (15g) basil leaves
5 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
11 oz (300g) cherry tomatoes, halved
salt and pepper
1 x 400g (14oz) mixed beans, drained and rinsed
Reserve one third of the basil leaves, tearing the remainder into small pieces. Pour the oil into a pan, adding the basil, and heat gently for 1 minute or until the basil sizzles and begins to change colour.
Place the tomatoes and beans in a bowl, pour over the basil oil and add seasoning to taste. Toss gently together then cover and leave to marinate at room temperature for up to 10 minutes. Serve sprinkled with the remaining basil leaves.

This next is a true storecupboard dish, so a recipe worth keeping to use during lean times when we have to live off what we have. Don't know how long olives store once a jar is opened, but they can always be frozen.
As we like our dishes to have 'eye appeal' the chosen pasta is 'bows' (aka farfalle), but another pasta shape could be used instead. If you have fresh oregano/marjoram then add to the passata to give even more flavour.
Farfalle with Tuna: serves 4
14 oz (400g) dried farfalle (see above)
1 pint (600ml) tomato passata
leaves from a sprig of oregano (opt)
1 x 175g (6oz) can tuna
8 black olives, stoned and sliced into rings
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta in lightly salted water as per instructions on the pack (when draining, reserve 4 tblsp of the cooking liquid). Heat the passata in another pan and add the olives (and herbs if using). Drain the tuna and flake with a fork. Drain pasta thoroughly over a bowl. Fold the tuna into the passata with 4 tblsp of the pasta water, adding seasoning to taste.
Tip the pasta into a warmed serving bowl, pour the tuna sauce over, tossing lightly to mix and serve immediately.

This recipe is a way of using up those scraps of puff pastry we may have. If placed on top of each other then rolled again, this keeps the layers in order, and can also be re-frozen to use later. 'Layered' pastry scraps should then make this good-looking Danish-style pastry to serve with tea or coffee, but even if scrunched up it should still taste good. Who cares what things look like when we are the only ones seeing them. Lakeland sell a 'spray egg glaze' which has a good shelf life and less expensive than breaking into a whole egg to use for glazing.
Cinnamon Pastry Wheels: makes about a dozen
1 oz (25g) caster sugar (plus a bit extra)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 - 5 oz (125g) puff pastry
beaten egg to glaze (see above)
Mix the sugar and cinnamon together. Roll out the pastry to an 8" x 4" oblong and sprinkle top with HALF the spiced sugar, then press this into the pastry with the rolling pin (making the oblong an inch wider in both directions). Brush with beaten egg, then sprinkle the remaining spiced sugar over that.
Loosely roll the pastry up from the narrow end, brushing the end edge with egg so that it it secured in place, then - using a sharp knife - cut into thin slices and place on a greased baking sheet - leaving room to spread - and bake for 10 minutes at 22oC, 425F, gas 7 until golden and crisp. Sprinkle with a little sugar, then cool on a cake airer.

Final recipe is for an iced dessert. As it contains no cream or eggs is both economical and reasonably healthy (if you ignore the sugar). An ideal dish to make when we have plums, damsons or cherries to use up. It can also be made with apricots, peaches or similar fruits. An even cheaper 'water ice' (posh name 'granita) can be made using sweetened black coffee and nothing else. Caster sugar is used as it dissolves fairly quickly, but the cheaper granulated can be used instead. The syrup can be made days in advance if you wish, then kept in the fridge.
Damson Water Ice: serves 6
1.2 lbs (500g) damsons, washed
15 fl oz (450ml) water
5 oz (150g) caster sugar
Put the damsons in a pan with 5 fl oz (150ml) water, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until the fruit is tender. In another pan put the remaining 10 fl oz water and sugar and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then pour this syrup into a bowl and leave to get cold before chilling.
Break up the cooked damsons using a wooden spoon and remove as many stones as you can see, then pour the fruit and liquid into a sieve. Press the fruit firmly through leaving just the skins and the odd stone that may have been missed.
Mix the damson puree and the sugar syrup together and pour into a plastic container. Freeze for a couple or so hours until firm around the edge and mushy in the centre, then - using a fork - break it up and mix it together. Repeat every hour or so for 6 hours to break up the ice crystals.
Spoon into tall serving glasses or bowls/dishes and serve with thin crisp biscuits such as 'tuiles' or ice-cream wafers.

Yesterday completed the last of my marmalades - this time using a Lemon Mamade to which I added the zest and juice of 4 limes plus a bit of extra water to dilute the extra pectin to fill one more jar, so over the two days (and only 2 hours max labour) have ended up with at least 8 jars Summer Fruits jam, 9 jars of Orange and Ginger, and 9 jars of Lemon and Lime marmalade. All I need now is find some place to store them!

Mentioned to Beloved (who was after opening a jar of the new jam) that we still had several jars of damson jam made last year that I hoped he would eat. "But it has stones in" he said (not QUITE true, he happened to find the only stone I missed in a jar he had opened). Told him there were no stones, and then he said "Don't like lumps of fruit or skins. Can't you just puree all fruits before making jam?" Told him the whole reason I left most fruit intact (such as red and blackcurrants, raspberries - but do cut up strawberries) is that with every mouthful of jam each piece of fruit retains its own flavour so makes it even more pleasant to eat.
If B wants pureed jam, then might as well buy the cheap stuff from the supermarket. Bet he'd notice the difference in flavour though.
My Beloved is very strange when it comes to how he likes to eat his food. If he had his way everything would be put in the liquidiser and turned into a puree or even soup. It's not as though his teeth cause him problems when eating, he can chomp on an apple easily enough, he just seems to like 'baby food'. When his meals are served in the normal way, he spends a lot of time chopping it up into tiny little bits (especially spaghetti - am quite ashamed the staff see him do this when we eat out at an Italian restaurant) - and this irritates me. Probably one reason why I prefer to eat my meals at a different time and in a different place.

Back to the preserves. Especially marmalades, and yes B, I did chop the ginger very finely before stirring it into the orange MaMade - and I bet he'll now moan because they are not big enough).
In the 'old days' it seemed that preserves were always in 1lb and 2lb jars. Not so today - most preserves are in 12oz jars and many in 8 oz or even LESS. Seems the smaller the jar the more we pay (by weight) for the contents. Considering how expensive this 'home-made quality' is to buy, the profit alone on my home- made (if to be sold) must be AT LEAST £1 per jar. £25 profit for two hours work. Not bad! If turning it into a business, and working eight hours a day, five days a week, that comes to a minimum of £500 a week (and probably even more if the sugar could be bought at wholesale price). Just shows how we cooks are worth our weight in gold.

Could it be that in the future, there will be a lot more 'bartering'. We swap our gluts for someone elses - and each saving money by doing so. "What is one man's waste is an other man's treasure" as the saying goes. In days long past (Roman times I think) salt was so highly regarded it was given instead of money as a 'wage' (the name 'salary' comes from this). So we should respect our foods, especially those home-grown and home cooked, for perhaps sooner than later they will be worth far more than we think.

Did make Beloved the Butter Chicken for his supper - served with Pilau rice and a dollop of Greek yogurt which was also made yesterday (early enough to yog and chill by supper time). Half the Butter Chicken saved then frozen late last night.
Today HAVE to sort out the larder (to find room for the preserves) and also both sides of Boris (to enable me to find room to make and freeze ice-cream desserts, samosas, and countless other things to freeze/chill ready for Gill's visit). And have the house to tidy up as well. Not that Gill minds a mess - she's used to my untidy ways and quite enjoys helping me clear up for this usually means she can return home with bags of stuff I don't need any more and that she can use herself or pass on to charity shops.
As Gill nearly always comes loaded with bags of old cookbooks thrown out by her charity warehouse (where she works voluntarily one half-day a week), plus other things she thinks I'd like (especially really reduced items of - often ethnic - foods that she picked up at the supermarket). Still have not found a use for Yam flour (and another similar but forgotten the name) that she brought me on previous visits.
It's only fair Gill returns home with her own selection of 'goodies'. Certainly some jars of jam and marmalade, lemon curd and freshly baked loaf and a quiche. Maybe even some cheese.

Not sure about what to make B for supper - he's had lamb, beef, prawns, chicken, cold meats already this week - so perhaps liver, bacon, cabbage and potatoes will be different enough today to satisfy him. It will be the last of the liver which means buying more. But as Gill doesn't like to eat it - this can wait until she has returned home, and by then should have room in the freezer to store it. Oh, I don't know, seems that all I do now is keeping an eye on what is in store, making sure any is replaced when it runs out, planning what meals to make each day from what there is, preparing as much as possible that can be used later (either pre-weighed dry indgredients, or preserving foods - yesterday was wondering whether to pickle some of the shallots recently bought. Ditto pickling some of the freshest eggs).

Although I do try to give suitable recipes the following day after a query, very occasionally I might miss a comment, so please remind me if there has not been the reply you were hoping for within a couple of days of sending the request.
Thankfully the weekend is almost here - giving me three full days and two half days to get everything sorted before Gill arrives (noon next Tues). Should give me time if I start right now. But will still be back first thing tomorrow and hope to see you then.