Saturday, July 09, 2011

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

As you say Jane, it is up to parents to give their children good food. It's when they get to school age that peer pressure can take over. And not always children. Know of a young man in his early thirties (so not THAT young) who used to always take a healthy packed lunch to work and he was ridiculed for doing so.
The best we can do is to make sure our children eat properly in their formative years, and this should stand them in good stead until they have enough sense to carry on taking the good advice.

Due to wartime rationing when the only food eaten was - very basically 'nutritional - and limited to say the least, this might be why people who were very young then now seem to live longer these days. It may be the reason, it may not be - but at least they never had the early obesity problems that children have today. Also, the older people are, the more they tend to eat today how they used to, in other still eating 'good plain food'.

In my day we had only fish and chips as the 'take-away', and it was normal to go and have this at least once a week - often eaten in the street from the newspaper wrapped parcel. But even allowing for the frying, this today is recognised as being 'quite good for us' (because of the lovely fresh fish I expect), compared to many other 'fast food 'snacks' of today. Do know that if I was a teenager, today I would probably live on pizzas. So there you go. Youngsters never change.

Have you ever thought of dissolving your soap powder into your rain water before pouring it into your washing machine Cheesepare? Then perhaps you wouldn't need to add more water. Myself do this (mainly because the pipe leading from the drawer to the back of the machine is gunged up and B 'forgets' to clean it, and although I don't even bother to dissolve the powder - just chuck it in on top of the washing - it seems to work perfectly.
Love the sound of your greenhouse, and will seriously think about getting a more permanent one next year, but the only room for it is where the little shed is behind the north side of the garages, and if it doesn't get enough sun, hardly worth it, although on Alan Titchmarsh's prog last night saw a greenhouse that had been built on the flat roof of a garage. Luckily the lady had a raised garden so she could walk up some steps to her top lawn and from there directly into her greenhouse. Me - I'd have to climb a ladder!

Good to hear that you too pick over bones Sairy. This I did yesterday with my lamb bones, and surprisingly got 11oz of lean meat from them. Certainly enough to make (or add to) all sorts of dishes from Shepherd's Pie, to burgers or meatballs. To add to a Moroccan Tagine, or an Indian Biriyani. Not forgetting Lamb Pies, soups, and many other dishes.

Have to say it was not only the amount of meat from the lamb bones that I found interesting. It was the anatomy of the animal. After laying the stripped-of-meat bones out on a tray it was like an archaeological dig. Some of the backbones still had the tube (for the spinal cord) running through the centre. There were circles of cartilage that came between each of the backbones. There was some of the breast bone, and sheets of what B said was 'intercostal membrane' that held the flesh to the bones. Other bits too that I'm not sure where they fitted. Nevertheless fascinating, for this showed me how clever 'nature' is to have evolved animals/mammals etc in this way. It can't be just pure accident, even allowing for millions of years to get where we are today, there seems to be some intelligence behind it all.
The other day B was telling me about something he had read about jelly-fish. They have no eyes, ears, heart, circulatory system, in fact they are hardly anything but 'jelly'. Yet these creatures must be here for a purpose. Everything on this planet has a purpose, a 'reason to be - and together make up what we call 'the balance of nature'. Each species there to clear up after the one above (or beneath) - and it does seem this leads then to the belief that the Earth itself has a 'reason to be' (or why bother?). Just wish we knew what it was.

Back to more mundane thoughts. With plenty of lamb stock left in the pan, decided to boil it down to reduce by at least half, and to give it even more flavour added the 'trimmings' from some onion and carrot that I was cooking for supper, plus a celery stump. Then went and 'pruned' down a leggy bush of mint growing in a pot by the kitchen door, and threw that in, stalks and all, plus a couple of bay leaves. It did boil down, but didn't have time to deal with it yesterday, so today it will be boiled up, strained and then frozen for later use. (It's much more interesting chatting about non-foods today, but then food is why I am here in the first place).

Having thawed out a small free-range chicken was surprised to find how heavy it weighed (compared to the size) but it was a plump bird. Stuffed the cavity with onion, parsley, tarragon and a glass of wine, pushed some butter under the breast skin, put it into a roasting tin with 100ml chicken stock, covered with foil then slow roasted it at 160C for 1 hour 30 minutes. Removed foil, raised the heat to 200C to cook for a further half an hour and crisp up the skin.
I cannot honestly say that (in this instance) quality free-range chicken doesn't seem to have much more flavour than the cheaper (supermarket) birds (which - in truth - have virtually no flavour at all), and certainly the flesh of this chicken was dryer (probably because it wasn't pumped with water as is so often done these days). B enjoyed eating it but said it certainly needed the gravy I had given him to pour over. So is it worth paying extra for such little difference? During the current recession, I don't think so.
Today will now be carving the remaining breast and taking off as much cooked meat from the bones as possible before making stock from the carcase. So more work in the kitchen. Not that I mind of course.

Yesterday the beef rib trim had cooked perfectly in the slow cooker. The shin that had been cooked with it needed a little longer, but that can be done when it is added later when making a casserole. Both were packed in containers with a little of the gravy, a few strips of rib trim saved for tonight when they will be coated in a glaze and fried off to add to a Chinese stir-fry for B's supper.
To the remaining gravy in the slow-cooker added a large glass of red wine and three pieces of ox cheek, and these were simmered all day. This morning will test to see if they need further cooking before packing these also away to be frozen. Some of the rich wine stock will be perfect to use when making spag.bol sauce.

Sounded as though you went to Italy for your holiday Wen. I'd just LOVE to visit that country. Whereabouts did you stay? Italy does seem to have regional differences when it comes to their food.
Your mention of herbs garnishing every dish makes my mouth water, especially after watching 'The Good Cook" (on TV last night). Know I'm just going to LOVE that series. The chef may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I liked him.
Just the sight of triangles of thick slices of fried bread with the edges dipped in chopped parsley made me almost swoon with delight. Beloved loves fried bread, he loves parsley, so can now give him more pleasure by using this as a garnish. Rather fancy eating some myself.
Also loved the coq au vin demonstrated. Always believed this to be made with a whole chicken (mind you have never read the recipe anyway), but seeing it made with 'supermarket chicken joints', puts that well within the affordability of anyone.

Seems that most of Canada has taken William and Kate to their hearts Margie, and am sure your TV gave a lot more coverage to their visit that we saw here, where we saw just a bit of hand-shaking, a paddle in a canoe along a river, a visit to an 'aborigine' camp (by this I think they meant the native Canadians - which we are not now allowed to call Red Indians), and a bit of a 'join-in' with something that looked like hockey. There is to be a programme about Kate's part of the trip there, which I hope to see.
Sad that there were a few demonstrations against the visit in (I think) Quebec, but hardly surprising as this area is French Canadians (and there has always been the remains of an ancient war between us Brits and the French). Not that I know much at all about Canada (other than its magnificent scenery), but with a French/British divide, it sounds rather like the Turks and Greeks in Cyprus. Or even the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. Religion seems to be the cause of many divisions, but maybe the Canadian split is more political. Do the French Canadians have their own parliament, rather as the Scots do here. Oddly (or perhaps not knowing of the connection between the Scottish Queen and France), the French really like the Scottish people. Wales has great affinity to the Brittany area of France (both speaking almost the same language), it is us English the French are not that keen on. It's a wonder we were allowed to join up with them via the 'Chunnel' under the English Channel.

Interesting news on the home front. Apparently Sainsbury's are trialling a 'buy one give one free' scheme, the pilot running in 19 of their stores this weekend. The idea being that shoppers donate an item of shopping to the 'FairShare' food distribution charity which supports 700 charities that provide foods for around 35,000 people per day. The most 'useful' items needed are: pasta, rice, oils and canned foods.

New research has shown that 5.3 million tonnes of food is wasted EVERY YEAR in the UK, with retailers and consumers between them paying for £600 million per year on food that has had to be ditched because its use-by date has expired.
Knowing that many of those foods were still safe to eat even after the date had expired, it does make sense for us to be a little less vigilant and do a 'sniff and taste' test before we discard anything. It's quite possible soon that use-by dates will only be used for foods that are highly perishable and likely to present a danger to health if the date is ignored.

Have to say that reading the trade mag really is proving to me how major (and minor) brands are pulling out all the stops to help the general public avoid even the simplest of cooking tasks. A new range of 'soups' called 'Squeeze and Stir' comes in individual sachets (rsp 59p) to squeeze into a cup and then add/stir in boiling water. Apparently the 'same convenience, affordability and low-calorie benefits as dry soup, but with a more appetising format...and should also help entice the relatively disengaged 16 to 24 year old demographic to the soup market'.

Ah yes, another company has revamped a product 'aimed primarily at a teenage market'. Was myself quite stunned to read this was a 'Micro Toastie' cheese and ham sandwich (rsp £1.49p) 'to meet a wider consumer demand for wholesome convenient snacks'. For goodness sake, are teenagers now unable to make a cheese and ham sarnie from scratch and toast it under the grill? And - of course - for far less cost. Or have they money to burn?

Even more bliss for children... Magic Choc is a new product that can be moulded in the hands to create different shapes. Oh lovely!!! Different size packs of the milk, dark and white Belgian chocolate start at 120g for £4.99p up to 275g for £9.99p. Ideas for modelling comes with the packs as do (thank goodness) packs of antibacterial hand wipes.
Give me Plasticine any time - at least that is re-usable and not adding calories to already obese children.

The trade mag this week has a feature on 'functional foods' (this will be read more closely later) but even seeing a photo of cartons of 'oat drink' (rsp £1.69) makes we wonder what on earth is the matter with us if the manufactures feel there is a market for this (and obviously there is), when just common sense tells us that a bowl of porridge made with milk would be just as good for us (probably even better) for much lower cost.
Apparently "consumers are increasingly turning to products with compelling health benefits, which can be incorporated into their weekly cooking repertoire'.
"Weekly cooking repertoire". Well that's a new expression for it, not sure what name to give mine. But 'incorporating' so many 'no-need-to-cook-or-prepare' foods is hardly likely to inspire a good cook. But that's perhaps the whole idea is "why bother to cook at all when you don't have to"?.

A small article caught my eye when flitting back through the pages - this about another new 'healthy' product arriving on the supermarket shelves. A 'live yogurt sandwich' (aka 'Breakfast Yogurt Crunch'), nothing more than live yogurt sandwiched between two wholegrain biscuits the rsp of £2.49p. WHAT!! You could cook a full English that cost less than that. But of course - not quite so 'healthy'. We obviously now have to pay through the nose to eat what 'is good for us'. Don't anyone go down the road of deciding we can just to eat less of the fats and sugar and eat more of the right things that are cheaper to buy. That's not the idea at all.

It is true that I did change to a (proven) cholesterol spread to use on bread instead of butter. But it was SO expensive that I decided to stop eating bread 'n spread anyway. Far cheaper and no doubt lowering my ch.level in a more natural way.

Hopefully, none of the above products will appeal to readers of this site, they are mentioned only to show how both manufacturers and retailers can pull our strings and make us fork out a lot of money for something we can make ourselves so easily at far less price. Are we really in so much of a rush we have to grab breakfast that can be eaten (or drunk) on the run, and why don't we take home-made hot soup to work in a thermos rather than squeezing it into a cup and adding boiling water? Regarding the toasted cheese sarnie - well, say no more!

If new products keep appearing on the supermarket shelves, myself am beginning to wonder if 'home-cooking will ever return to what it was and if - as shown above - these products are darn expensive (compared to the home-made version), do we have the money to buy them in the first place? Seems that the 'demographic' that is now being targeted is the teenage/twenties market who probably have yet to learn that everyone is out to get their money, so they happily continue spending, spending, spending.
If you are reading this Kathryn, some of the above might be worth bringing to the attention of your students. Just as long as it does not encourage them to go an actually BUY the produce.

Meanwhile I will happily continue boiling up bones an stripping cooked carcases of the flesh, and while I remember - it is VERY important when doing this to make sure all small bones have been removed. Almost every time I use cooked meat (from a carcase) saved, later - when eating - come across a small piece of bone that has been missed. Adults can usually feel these in their mouths (as we do with fish bones), but small children and pets probably would swallow them, so we do need to be careful.

The weather yesterday was a bit mixed sun and rain, and very nearly thunderstorms, but fortunately the dark clouds went over. Today has started with bright sun, quite a breeze, and had better go out and water my greenhouse tomatoes before the rain begins again. I don't like 'walking in water'. Walking 'on' water - well that's something I might like to have a go at. But am sure - with me - only possible when the weather has turned water to solid ice.

Beloved has just come in to tell me he is going out with some sailing friends later this afternoon, so that means tonight's supper will have to be cold meats (beef, chicken, sausages, ham) with salad is the best bet, then it will be ready for him whenever he decides to come home. Probably won't even plate it up, just have the meats ready sliced and in the fridge, then if he decides to come in late, he can always have these tomorrow.
This is TYPICAL. Each morning I write in my diary the main meal made for B the day previously, and knowing that tonight it was the stir-fry, had jumped the gun and already written it down to save me remembering tomorrow. So will now have to cross it out and wait and see what happens.
Some people are lucky enough to be able to plan their meals so that each day of the week they know what they will be cooking/serving. It just doesn't work like that here. Beloved likes to choose his own supper, and it is rarely that I make the decision (as has happened this time and it's all gone wrong). So that'll teach me!

One recipe today that will make good use of the shredded lamb taken from the bones. Being a Moroccan dish, the spice used 'ras el hanout'.' This can be bought as a spice, and can also be made at home by grinding together a mixture of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, turmeric and black pepper. Harissa is also a traditional spice (usually sold as a concentrated paste) for 'tagine' that I prefer to use but it is hot, so use sparingly.
The recipe uses raw diced lamb, but the cooked (from bones) is fine, just allow less time to cook. Also less lamb can be used, just make up the shortfall with extra veggies etc.
Fruity Lamb Tagine: serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
1 lb (450g) lean lamb, diced
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, cut into chunks
1 clove garlic, chopped or crushed
1 - 2 tblsp Moroccan spice (or harissa) to taste
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 x 400 can chickpeas, rinsed, washed and drained
8 oz (225g) no-soak apricots
1 pint (600ml) lamb or chicken stock
chopped coriander
Heat the oil in a large pan and brown the meat on all sides then remove using a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the onions and carrots to the pan and cook for 5 minutes until golden, then stir in the garlic and (dry) spicescook for a further minute. If using harissa 'sauce' add this next with the chopped tomatoes. Add the lamb, chickpeas and apricots, pour over the stock and bring to the simmer. Cover and cook gently on the hob (or in the oven at 180C, 350F, gas 4) for one hour, or up to half an hour longer if the lamb is not tender enough.
When cooked, allow to rest for 15 or so minutes to cool slightly, and serve sprinkled with chopped coriander. Traditionally this dish is served with hot steamed (or soaked) couscous.

Good heavens, is that the time. Doesn't it fly past when enjoying ourselves? And I always enjoy chatting to you. Hope you find nearly as much pleasure reading it, but very much doubt it.
Keep those comments coming, and join me again tomorrow. TTFN.