Monday, July 11, 2011

Taste of Things to Come

All I can say is thank goodness we don't have a cat. And there was me thinking of getting one! Does sound s though they are very picky eaters indeed, but checking on several Internet sites on how to feed cats, apparently they can be persuaded to eat something they'd rather not if their meal is divided into very small portions to be offered several times a day instead of once or twice.
Also cats like raw meat and warm meat (at 'just killed' temperature), because in the wild this is how cats eat, and they still haven't changed. One problem is they need the right minerals and vitamins which are not in all meats, but are added to the canned and packet cat foods, so it's natural enough that most people prefer to buy these rather than make it themselves, although it doesn't have to be the expensive kind. Unfortunately this makes most pet lovers 'captive audiences' when it comes to the retail trade, and once there cannot get away from it.
If the cat is acquired when a kitten, it should be weaned on the foods that it will be eating later in life, and not get used to different flavours as 'treats' which most cats enjoy, as they would then prefer these more expensive ones and turn their noses up at anything less, and so it goes on. As I said yesterday - in this they are much like children (and my Beloved).
Considering cats like to catch birds and mice, funny we haven't seen any mice or sparrow flavoured canned cat food on the shelves. Did notice that their favourite foods: liver and kidneys were supplied by one brand (but not in one can at the same time). It is the strong aroma of warmish food (they like it at 35C) that the cats find appealing, so possibly some chicken livers (and juices) mixed in with some other foods might work. Kidneys too have a very strong flavour/aroma, so aa little of that that minced up and mixed in might do the trick.

There are many reasons why a cat refuses food - sometimes it doesn't like what is offered and will pick out only what it likes. More often than not it has 'eaten out', and so had enough anyway. They seem to know how much they should eat, so won't stuff themselves with more when they have had their daily ration (although some do).
It's quite common for neighbours to be fond of cats, and not owning one will often give a passing cat that lives nearby something they know it will like, just to gain a few moments of their company. This then either stops the cat eating the food offered in its own home, or decides for itself that the 'home-food' now is not good enough anymore.
(This reminds me of when one of our daughters refused to eat peas, but gleefully came home one day after eating them at a friend's house, telling me "they were somuch nicer than yours". I actually phoned the friend's mother to find out the brand and they were exactly the same as the ones we always ate, cooked in the same way.
Next time I served the (same) peas I told my daughter - because she'd liked them so much - I'd changed to the brand her friend's mother used, and when she tasted them she agreed 'these' were now SO much nicer. But of course they were exactly the same as she had before and spat out. Teenagers!

There must surely be some way to coax a cat back into eating cheaper food, and possibly the temperature and a strong aroma (both of which play an important part when it comes to a cat's appetite) is the way to go, if you find any of the above works Mimsy, then do let us know.

Interesting hearing about the cat eating grass you had just planted Aileen. Do know that dog's eat grass when they have an upset tummy. Read about one vet who kept a patch of ground sown with several different grasses and he could tell by the variety eaten what was causing the problem with the animal (as they seem naturally to know which type of grass they need to eat).
Regarding your cedar wood blocks. Am sure I've seen them advertised in some of the brochures that come through the door, and possibly Lakeland sell them. If they don't, and you let them know they are now hard to come by, they may include them in a later catalogue. They are very good at taking notice of what customer's want.

How lovely to have visited Venice Wen. Was taking a look at it via the TV prog: Three Men Go to Venice - and never realised until then that all the gondolas have to be painted black. There is also a Venetian man who presents a programme about travelling all around Italy, and of course Venice is included. Don't recall his name, but he has a lot of greyish hair (although seems youngish to me), and the most lovely voice. He looks good too. Yes, quite fancy him.
The 'Three Men' had to cook an Italian meal in the programme, and a lot of the fresh food on sale on the market stallin Venice had been grown in the gardens of a local convent - which they also visited. Think if I had to choose any place to go on holiday, it would be Italy, with Venice as my first port of call (travelling there by the Orient Express of course).
Probably have given a recipe for pesto before, but will put one up today, and remember that although traditionally made with basil, other herbs can be used, or a mixture.

Good to hear from you again Urbanfarmgirl, and pleased you had a good holiday and the weather to go with it.
There was a comment from a William, but have no idea what he was talking about. Anyone any the wiser?

Yesterday was not my best of days. It began OK, spending the whole morning multi-tasking. Firstly got some ham and sausages from the freezer to thaw. Noticed that B had eaten all but the two end crusts of the loaf baked only what seemed a couple of days ago, and decided to use the pack of Ciabatta mix this time, so made that as per instructions and put the dough on one side to rise. Then trimmed the beetroot and put into water to simmer for an hour (or so), meanwhile making a strawberry cheesecake by bashing up the saved pastry that dangled round the sides of a recently made quiche, added sugar and melted butter to make the base, then beat up a pack of cheesecake mix (found in the larder) with the last of the 'strawberry and cream' EasyYo yogurt, piled that into the cling-film lined mould, and put sliced strawberries over the top. Then it went into the fridge to chill.
The Ciabatta should have been formed into two long narrow 'loaves', but I had left it whole, so it spread rather wider than expected. However, baked it as it was - with the sausages in a dish underneath.

With a few moments to spare, decided to wash up all the bowls and utensils used, but of course B had left all the earlier washing up (he normally does the washing up for me - bless him for that at least) still left in the rack, so I used the small narrow sink at the side of or larger (but still small) main sink, to put some of the newly washed items in.
In strolls B, with a cup half-full of coffee in his hand which he emptied all over the cleans items in the small sink. That really annoyed me as now I needed to do them again.
"You should have moved the clean pots away before you started washing" he said (and he wasn't wrong). I came back with "If you put them away yourself it would have helped me more".
"I never know where they should go" was B's excuse. (Strange that, because when I put them away where they are always kept, he knows exactly where to find them without asking).

So - still multi-tasking, and by that time tired and frazzled, and needing B out of the kitchen (he was about to clear the pots as far as stacking them up on the only space where I had to work (asked himto go out and do some birdwatching. As he stomped off through the back door I asked him if he was coming back before he went sailing (later than afternoon) he yelled "No", at which I then said "well, I'll have your supper all ready and waiting for you on your return". The door he then slammed. Wedded bliss!

It was mid-evening when B returned, and I told him his Cold Meat Platter was in the fridge, and there was a strawberry cheesecake on the shelf above for him. At which he said "Creep" and laughed and went off to eat. As I'd made the cheesecake before our argie bargie, it wasn't as though I was trying to get round him. As if I ever would anyway, for like to think it is my 'job' to make B's meals and serve him food he likes, but after writing out everything I did yesterday (the Ciabatta bread, cooking sausages and beetroot, plating up slices of previously home-cooked ham and beef, with garden lettuce, tomatoes and radishes gathered that day, plus the strawberry cheesecake realised all had been done for him. I ate none of it (well did eat one beetroot).
It's on days like yesterday wonder if I consider his needs too much. But as I said - it is my job and I normally do enjoy it. It's just that he usually doesn't seem to realise that sometimes it can be tiring - as it was yesterday - and him not seeming to realise this was because of the cooking done purely him (but then he didn't really know what I was making) and then moaning about the washing up didn't help.

So far have read three 'critiques' about the new cookery series "The Good Cook". None of them seem to have anything good to say about the chef or what he cooks. Myself enjoyed watching it and learned a lot. Perhaps - in today's world - people watch cookery programmes for enjoyment, so the more eccentric the cooks the better, but when an unknown (at least to me) cook presents the programme and does nothing much more than cook, this isn't interesting enough. They kept going on about the background music, but quite honestly cannot remember noticing that. With me it is the food that counts. And it really did look simple enough and very appetising.
Did see this prog. is being repeated after Saturday Kitchen, so this coming week B won't need to miss Corrie and I can watch the repeat next Saturday if I can finish my blog in time (can always catch up on iPlayer if I need to).

Here is the recipe for Pesto. As ever it expects us to buy the basil in a pack (as if!). When making the pesto using home-grown basil, use the leaves only - and you'll probably need about a pint measure to give you the 25g/1 oz needed. Although traditionally pine nuts are used when making pesto, pistachio nuts or almonds could be used instead.
Pesto does not have a long shelf life, but if put into small container then oil poured on top to keep out the air, this helps to preserve it for a while (do the same if using bought pesto - scrape the pesto back down the sides of the jar and pour oil over the surface). It can also be frozen in ice-cube trays.
Tip: it is always better to gather basil leaves a few hours in advance so they lose some of their moisture and end up with more concentrated flavour.
Green Pesto:
1 x 25g pack basil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 oz (25g) pine nuts
1 oz (25g) Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tblsp olive oil
half teaspoon salt
Put everything into a food processor and blitz until smooth.

An interesting thing about the free-range chicken mentioned the other day. Although it hadn't that much flavour after roasting, once the carcase was simmered (along with all the herbs that were stuffed inside it - plus the usual celery, carrot and onion), and a bit of the flesh picked off 'to taste', it certainly then did have much more flavour. Possibly the best way - to achieve moisture flesh with plenty of 'taste' - is to cook the bird in water (with the veg and herbs), rather than roast in the oven. After draining and leaving to stand to 'settle' it can be carved in the normal way. After removing most of the meat, the carcase can be returned to the pot of cooking liquid and simmered for an hour to enrich it further, adding more veggies and herbs if necessary.

Flavour of food is as important to us as it seems to be to cats. But we are the lucky ones, for we can get away with using very inexpensive 'main' ingredients, and add the flavour that makes the dish - such as herbs and/or spices.
This is something (particularly with fresh herbs) that I've only recently discovered (and ashamed to admit this after cooking for more than half a century). Many readers will have made/eaten Tabbouleh, which is basically soaked/drained bulgar wheat that when LOADS of finely chopped parsley and mint, plus some lemon juice and seasoning are added, turn this into is a dish made from heaven. The diced tomatoes and cucumber in this add more to the appearance than taste. It is the herbs/lemon that make it.

Even a simple dish of cooked pasta is a dish in its own right when a tablespoon of pesto sauce is stirred in. It hardly needs grated Parmesan sprinkled over - but it helps (mind you - still feel parmesan cheese has little flavour until it is cooked, which is why I now make Parmesan crisps and crush these to sprinkle over).

As Beloved is not a lover of garlic, the following recipe will never grace our table, but for those who do like it (and it garlic is one of those 'superfoos') this is a French classic soup worth making for it is packed with everything that is flavoursome. The egg yolks are not for flavour but to make the soup more creamy, and so are optional.
Provencal Garlic Soup: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
10 cloves garlic, crushed
2 pints (1.2 ltrs) water
3" (7.5cm) piece of orange rind
2 bay leaves
3 fresh sage leaves
1 sprig fresh thyme
pinch of salt
2 egg yolks (opt)
2 tsp red wine vinegar
freshly ground black pepper
2 tblsp grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese
Heat the oil in a pan and saute th garlic for 3 minutes until just turning gold. Make sure it does not burn.
Add the water, orange rind, bay leaves, sage, thyme and salt. Bring to the boil and simmer - uncovered - for 15 minutes.
Beat the egg yolks in a bowl with the vinegar and a ladle of the hot broth, then stir this into the pan, lowering the heat and cook for 2 minutes, stirring until the soup becomes creamy. Do not boil or the eggs with scramble.
Remove the orange rind and herbs and add seasoning to taste. Serve in a warm tureen or individual bowls and sprinkle over the grated cheese, drizzling over a little more olive oil. Garnish with thin crisp croutons of bread or Parmesan crisps.
An alternative way of serving is serve the soup poured over thin slices of oven-dried bread that has been drizzled with olive oil.

Am finding 'the French approach' to cooking far superior to our traditional methods. We (used to) think of 'salad' as just lettuce, tomato and cucumber on a plate. But read about salads in a French cook book and they make your mouth water.
Here are some suggestions and tips worth knowing;
Choose several different leaves when making a salad. Crispy (iceberg) lettuce, cos lettuce , soft lettuce, lamb's lettuce, dandelion leaves, chicory, baby spinach, watercress etc.
Rinse the leaves twice under cold water, then tear into bite-sized pieces (never use a knife to cut salad leaves). Wrap in a tea-towel and store in the bottom of the fridge until ready to use later that day. If to be kept longer, place in a plastic back that has holes punctured in it.

When making a tossed salad, place the dressing - and its garnish - in the bottom of a large wide salad bowl (pref glass or china) then place the salad servers (spoon and fork) crossed over on top before placing on the salad leaves - this prevents the leaves touching the dressing.
When ready to serve bring the bowl to the table and toss lightly but thoroughly. A tossed salad cannot be kept standing for more than 20 or so minutes or it will turn soggy.

To add flavour to salad leaves a list of garnishes are given - choose any suitable.
coarsely chopped walnuts
hard boiled eggs: whites and yolks separately finely chopped
crush anchovy fillets or crushed garlic
finely chopped shallots
crumbled Roquefort cheese
croutons, sprinkled with oil or rubbed with garlic
finely chopped fresh herbs

Here is a recipe for another French classic. Just the basic version as good enough to stand alone, but can be enriched with lightly fried chicken livers, bacon, anchovy fillets, flakes of herring or mackerel, beef tongue, country sausages, boiled potatoes, and fresh herbs.
The salad dressing (aka vinaigrette) is pretty standard for all French salads. The salad leaves for this dish should be on the bitter side, so choose a mixture of cos (suggest Little Gem), endive, young dandelion leaves, lamb's lettuce, watercress, spinach, rocket. The eggs can be poached in advance, kept in cold water in the fridge, then popped back into hot water for a minute to heat through.
Salad Lyonnaise: serves 4
6 handfuls of fresh salad leaves (see above)
6 oz (175g) streaky bacon
2 slices 'country bread' (granary?)
1 clove garlic, halved
1 tblsp red wine vinegar (or ordinary malt vinegar)
4 eggs
2 tblsp red wine vinegar
5 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp Dijon mustard
1 tblsp chopped fresh chives, tarragon, parsley or chervil
salt and pepper
Wash and trim the salad leave and tear into bite-sized pieces.
Fry or grill the bacon until crisp, then break into short lengths.
Toast the bread and rub on both sides with the cut sides of the garlic. Cut this into cubes (croutons). Then whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together until well blended.
Poach the eggs in a pan of water to which the tblsp vinegar has been added. Simmer for 4 minutes so the whites are firm but the yolks still runny. Then drain and trim to neaten the whites.
Arrange the salad leaves in a bowl, and scatter over the bacon and croutons, pour over the vinaigrette and toss. Arrange the poached eggs on top and serve immediately.

So many things that we might normally ignore or discard are packed with flavour. Watercress, parsley and other herb stalks contain just as much (and sometimes more) in their stalks than the leaves that we normally use - so use these 'trimmings' to flavour stocks, stews and casseroles, and use the leaves for extra flavour or for garnish.
Lemon and orange peel (also lime) have a concentration of 'tasty juices' in their 'zest' (skin only, not the pithy bit which is very bitter), and these can be used for flavourings in both sweet and savoury dishes. Freeze empty citrus shells (or grate and freeze) so none of this precious essence is wasted.

Even a dish that is 'almost there' but seems to lack something, can be lifted with the addition of some chopped fresh (or even dried) herbs (or spices), and myself find just one finely chopped Peppadew can be enough to add the essential spark needed.

When we think about it - most of the (British) foods/dishes we eat can be fairly bland. Even lovely Welsh lamb really needs a spoon of mint sauce and/or redcurrant jelly to enable us to enjoy it more fully.
However tasty our beef is, mustard or horseradish sauce lifts it to a more sublime level. I could to sauce with pork, cranberry sauce with turkey/chicken, not to mention the lovely herby stuffings. Parsley sauce with white fish, tartare sauce with salmon, gooseberry sauce with mackerel or herrings, or just lemon to squeeze over with a grind of black pepper. It does seem we do need to add more flavour than what is already there (or in some instances isn't).
So bear this in mind. Flavours are nearly always cheap, so why not use them. All year round.

Leaving you today with just one more recipe - because it shows how inexpensive but tasty ingredients can turn into a very worthwhile dish to make. Again a French classic. As with any 'ordinary sounding dish' find that by giving this chickpea soup the French name makes it sound more appetising.
Soup aux Pois Chiches: serves 4
1 x 400g can (or home-cooked) chick peas, rinsed
3 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large tomato, skinned, seeded and chopped
1 small lamb's lettuce (or cos) chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried sage
1 sprig fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
4 oz (100g) streaky bacon
pinch ground coriander
2 pints warm water or vegetable stock
croutons for garnish
Heat 2 tblsp of the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion for a few minutes, then stir in the garlic, tomato, lettuce, bay leaves, sage, rosemary and seasoning to taste. Gently fry for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the bacon, coriander and chickpeas. Add the warm water/stock to the pan, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for one hour.
Remove bacon and chop it finely, discard the bay leaves and rosemary. Then put the soup into a food processor, liquidiser and blend to a thick puree (or run through a sieve). Return to the pan with the bacon, heat but do not boil, then serve immediately with the remaining olive oil drizzled over, and croutons sprinkled on top.

So that's it for today. Am contemplating whether to cook an easy (but still tasty) supper for Beloved - slices of split Ciabatta stuffed with salads and freshly cooked beef mini-burgers, maybe even with melted cheese over the burgers a la McDonalds. Could call it a 'Shirley Sub'. Or shall I slow-roast the small piece of belly pork taken from the freezer yesterday to thaw slowly in the fridge? Have to wait and see how I feel later.
Perhaps if meals were planned - well in advance - to the finest detail, then this would make my cooking life easier for me. But you know me, can never make my mind up until its almost too late.

Have not heard B rattling pans in the kitchen this morning, so he's probably not doing the washing up out of spite because I gave him such a hard time yesterday. Can't really blame him. Seems whatever I do I am my own worst enemy.

However, it is Monday, previously my favourite day of the week (leading to seven days of new discoveries to be made), so will start the day with a smile and continue to try to be happy, and who knows - I might just be.
As ever, lovely to get comments from you all - so keep them coming and hope you will join me again tomorrow. See you then.