Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Too Much and More...

Re-reading the trade magazine, seems like on every page there is a mention of a new product about to appear on our supermarket shelves. Isn't there enough there already? Apparently there is a butter on the market that has honey added so we can spread both on our toast in one go. Cheaper if we did buy the two separately of course, but who seems to be concerned these days about the price when it 'just seems the easiest way to get what we want'.

My mind keeps going back to the old-style grocers where - despite being such small shops- enough products there to keep us content.. True we also need the other shops: the butchers, bakers, greengrocers and the daily delivery of dairy products that supplied our other needs, but even these put together under one roof would probably take up no more space than checkout area of most of our large supermarkets today. Seems we have too much choice already, and still more to come.

Went and sat in the garden after writing my blog yesterday, the sun filtering through a mackerel-cloud sky that had suddenly appeared, but half an hour later full sun again, so spent another couple of hours sitting there with a coffee and the crossword and also nodding off. Bliss.
Later in the day ate the last of my orange lollies. Took another look at the writing on the pack and noticed it said "hope you've enjoyed this 100% juice orange lolly". The French always put their adjectives (are they adjectives?) after the noun, so bet they'd get misled easily and believe (like naive me) that what it really meant was '100% orange juice - lolly'. But I'm nit-picking, the lolly was nice enough, it's just seems that we can so easily get the wool drawn over our eyes when it comes to understanding what is really said/printed. Same as something made from 'locally sourced produce' which we tend to think means locally grown. But what it really means is the 'makings' have been bought locally (and this could mean from a local supermarket where the 'makings' might have come for the other side of the world).
We see the word 'local' and we immediately think "local is good, so worth buying". We don't carry on reading what else the ticket says before making the final decision.

I doubt that we are being conned. It's just that manufacturers and suppliers know we read only part of what we see, and hope this will lead us up the path of buying something that isn't what it appears to be. It's just a pity that we now seem to need to be mega-careful when we purchase something edible. There are enough pre-formed meat products on sale that we could do without eating, and the photo on the packs are not always like the end product hidden inside. Hundreds of pounds are paid to food stylists to make food look that good.
As ever, it is up to us to be cautious about what we buy, and as all the info is (or should be) given on the back of the pack, then if we don't bother to read it - we have only ourselves to blame when we are not satisfied with our purchase.

At least it's useful to know what percentage of the main product is included in the ready-meals we might be buying. Usually far less than we would expect, and it doesn't take much to realise if we made the same meal ourselves we could use twice as much of everything) and it still end up costing less than the processed product.
We must always remember that the inedible part of any bought ready-meal ( the packaging, advertising, and profits down the line) all are costed into the price we pay. So why pay for what we can't eat? Often the ingredients work out at only one-fifth of the selling price, so when we consider manufacturers pay even less for their ingredients (wholesale prices) that us 'home-cooks'', the actual cost of 'that meal' bears little or no relation to rsp. The cheaper meat products on sale (sausages, burgers, fish fingers, chicken nuggets...) may sometimes seem to be a worthwhile but, but taste of nothing. Far better to make our own when we can knowing we are actually providing better quality with more nourishment for no more cost.

Even using 2 oz (50g) of quality minced steak, blitzed with onion, breadcrumbs, egg, and any seasonings to taste, will probably end up with more meat than a cheap (bought) burger, but cost no more. Maybe even stretching to making two burgers. We can add all sorts of things to the meat when making these. Cooked beetroot goes very well and gives the burger a lovely rich red colour. The egg (helps to bind) adds extra protein, as do pulses (which can also be added). Unlike the processed, we can include extra nourishment without extra cost.

But we all know that what we make is indisputably better than the processed ready-meals on sale. Having said that, must give a mention to Donald Russell's 'ready-to-heat' meals which are on offer at the moment. These are as good as (often better) than home-made, with most serving two portions, certainly worth buying if there are just two in the family. Interestingly no dearer per portion (at the DR offer price) than the meals-for-the-elderly that can be ordered from various firms who also deliver. Supermarket 'ready meals' are sometimes even dearer. Admittedly we sometimes (not always) need to add veggies to the DR meals, but that doesn't add much to the cost, and considering the quality (and amount) of the meat and fish in their prepared dishes, know they are worth every penny. Really must get my Beloved to buy the smaller freezer so that some can be ordered for him so he can heat up his own supper. We all like a day off from cooking now and again.

Yesterday Beloved said he wanted me to serve smaller portions as he is continuing to gain weight. It's not the food served to him that causes this - it's all the continual snacking that follows after his main meal has been eaten.
Bearing his request in mind, supper yesterday ened up as three slices of home-cooked honey-roast ham, with watercress, beetroot, tomato, and one hard-boiled egg. Plus half an avocado (as it needed eating up - I had the other half). Even served it on a normal (oval) dinner plate instead of the small meat platters that B prefers (filled to overflowing of course). Obviously not enough (although there was enough protein there to satisfy anyone's appetite), as B continued going back and forth into the kitchen during the rest of the evening to bring in another plate of something. Think he had beef dripping on toast, and he did have a bowl of ice-cream. Then more toast... and so on. Went to bed early myself, but could still hearing him going back and forth and plates rattling etc.

Myself ate 'lightly' yesterday. If you can call it that. A small bunch of grapes, plus a pineapple jelly made a couple of days ago. One orange lolly during the day, then one big strawberry, and - whilst I was preparing B's supper - had my own supper of three slices of ham with half an avocado. Also ate up the last of that choc. assortment. Am 3 lbs lighter this morning. If I go on this way will soon weigh less than B, and that will really annoy him.

Having a 'sit-down' during the afternoon, managed to watch most of 'Cook's Challenge' - the guest being Ann Widdecombe, who I have to say was a very picky eater, she really wouldn't touch the pigenon breasts that should be cooked 'rare' (or they become very tough), but had been over-cooked to her preference, but still not cooked long enough for her (they didn't even look pink). But that's by the by. When the chef's had their 'price-challenge' (which yesterday was £1.50 for one portion), the costings came up for each dish - one chef using 1 bay leaf which had been priced at 4p. Today I'm going to HAVE to count all the bay leaves on the small bush bought earlier this year - it has already doubled in size with lots of new leaves, so am sure already (working on 4p a leaf) it will have been a worthy buy. Typical me - counting leaves just to prove something to myself (and you too). Someone somewhere will be saying right now "Shirley needs to get a life'".

Was talking to Gill on Sunday. She is out every day this wweek bar Friday, meeting people, usually eating out with them (being she is a 'lady that lunches'), going to the cinema with them etc. She was not looking forward to a day to herself. I suggested this Friday would be a good time to do her supermarket shopping - at which she brightened and said she probably would. Gill cannot bear to be alone - other than in the evenings after her return when she then sits and watches the TV progs she has recorded, and eats ready-meals she has prepared for herself and kept in the freezer to reheat.
I'm completely the opposite to Gill. Happy in my own company, and although have had my fair share of going out and about, it has never been much more than playing bridge, or horticultural meetings etc. Regularly eating out, and going to the cinema has never been my 'thing'. We are all different . Thank goodness.

Today has begun cloudy. Rain was forecast for yesterday evening, but we didn't get any, and none so far, but do hope there will be - just so there will be no need to continually water the container plants. There seems to be quite a breeze, and certainly its cooler - but still warm enough to be out and about without sleeves. My arms are looking very brown now. Probably my face too, although I rarely look at my face in the mirror these days in case I might find myself looking old. Or even older!

Began watching the "10 mile Cookery..." programme yesterday (think it was 2.00 p.m on ITV) but nodded off almost immediately. Will hope to watch it today just in case it is worth seeing. Noriced that the first female Masterchef Winner is presenting her series on Channel Five, all about Mexican cookery. Think this clashes with another channel, but even so - not really of much interest to me at the moment. The one on Friday - the chef explaining how we can serve up restaurant style/quality meals from our own kitchen is far more up my street. But this also clashes with one of the soaps, so whether B will let me to watch what I want will remain to be seen. He used to scoff at all the soaps, but now he is as keen on watching Eastenders and Corrie as the rest of the nation.

Not sure what to get for B's supper tonight. Possibly a Prawn Cocktail, or maybe a Smoked Haddock Kedgeree. Neither will be enough to satisfy his appetite, but it's up to him to curb his appetite and stop his eternal snacking. Even though he knows he doesn't need the extra food, just by denying himself will cause him to get into a bad temper, so think I'd prefer him happy and overweight than slimmed down and even grumpier. For years his nick-name (when at work) has been Mr. Grumpy, and this truly is what he is like most of the time. He always seems to have (or want to have) a chip on his shoulder about something. He hates to hear women laughing ("stupid, giggling women...") so tends to go out quite a lot when Gill stays with us (as then we laugh a lot) which of course we don't mind. I'm quite used to him by now, but sometimes he can be a bit wearing. We are "Like Chalk and Cheese" I think the saying is.

Not that I should talk - how often do I seem these days to be having a moan about something? Perhaps because I dare not moan in front of B, he would not thank me for adding more doom and gloom to his day. So I moan at you instead. Actually I'm quite a positive and out-going sort of person, always ready to have a laugh and a smile, it's just that since retiring (especially since being confined to the house), there's not always a lot to find to laugh and smile about. But I try.

Anyway - due to the sunshine am going through a 'feel-good' spell at the moment. B can be as grumpy as he likes and I don't care one jot. The sun seems to be breaking through again, so shortly will be outside breathing in the fresh air and topping up my tan.

Only one comment received, this from Karen. Loved the idea of 'rent a cherry tree' as being given as a gift. Sounds a wonderful idea. All those cherries (cherries are recommended to eat if you have gout just thought you might be interested). Cherries will also freeze well (whole or stoned).
To make your own 'cherry brandy', fill a sterilised glass jar with stoned cheeries and 1 - 2 tblsp caster sugar (depending upon size of jar or to taste), then cover fruit with brandy and close with fitting lid. Keep in a cool dark place, giving the jar a shake every few days. Then store until Christmas. Drink the liqueur, and use the fruits added to fruit salads or chopped and add to cake batter when making fruit cakes.
Firm cherries can be candied to make your own 'glace cherries'. Always worth doing as the 'ready-made' are not always made with cherries.

Here are a few recipes to help you use up your cherries.'Clafouti 'is a traditional French pudding. You could call it a sweet version of our savoury Toad in the Hole. Here is a traditional English version (the French - and slightly simpler version - follows):
Kentish Cherry Batter Pudding: serves 4
3 tblsp cherry brandy or kirsch (optional)
1 lb dark cherries, stoned
2 oz (50g) plain flour
2 oz (50g) caster sugar, plus extra for serving
2 eggs, separated
half pint (300ml) milk
3 oz (75g) butter, melted
If using the liqueur, pour this over the cherries and leave them to soak for about half an hour.
Stir the flour and sugar together, then slowly stir in the egg yolks and milk to form a smooth batter. Stir in half the melted butter, then leave the batter to rest for about half an hour.
Pre-heat the oven to 200C, 400F, gas 6 (or even slightly hotter 220C etc). Pour the remaining butter over the bottom of a 1 pint (600ml) ovenproof dish and put into the oven to heat up.
Beat the egg whites until stiff, then fold these into the batter, also folding in the cherries. Pour the lot into the dish, abd bake for 15 minutes then reduce the heat to 180C, 350F, gas 4 and continue baking for a further 20 minutes, until the pudding is golden and set. Sprinkle top with caster sugar and serve.

Cherry Clafouti: serves 4 - 5
1 lb (450g) stoned sweet (pref black) cherries
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
3 oz (75g) plain flour
pinch salt
3 medium eggs
half pint (300ml) milk
1 tblsp icing sugar
Put the cherries and half the sugar into a greased and shallow ovenproof dish. Mix together the flour, salt and remaining sugar and beat in the eggs and milk. Pour this batter over the cherries and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 30 - 40 minutes or until lightly risen and golden. Dust top with icing sugar. Serve warm.

Cherry and Coconut Cake: serves 6
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
3 oz (75g) butter, softened
1 egg
5 oz (150g) self-raising flour
4 tblsp milk
8 tblsp desiccated coconut
12 oz (350g) stoned sweet (fresh) cherries
Cream sugar and butter together until very light and fluffy, then beat in the egg, a little at a time. Fold in the flour until well combined, the fold in the milk with 6 tblsp of the coconut.
Spoon mixture into an 8" (23cm) greased and lined baking tin, scatter the cherries evenly over the top, pressing them lightly into the mixture.
Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 30 - 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave in the tin to cool for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a cake airer to cool completely. Sprinkle remaining coconut on top when serving.

This next makes a good 'fruit sauce' (aka 'coulis') to pour over ice-cream, cakes etc. Worth making in bulk to freeze the undiluted coulis away in small containers ( add the extra water to 'thin down' after thawing).
Cherry Coulis: serves 4
14 oz (400g) stoned cherries
4 tblsp water
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
juice of 1 large lemon
1 tblsp kirsch (optional)
Put the cherries into a pan with the water, sugar and lemon juice. Simmer for 5 minutes, then stir in kirsch (if using). Leave to cool slightly then blitz in a blender until smooth. Rub through a sieve, adding extra water to thin if necessary. Chill to serve.

There may be some of us who like to serve duck occasionally, and this cherry sauce is particularly good served with this bird. It will also eat well with other game birds, and also venison. Well, we have to have a taste of the high life occasionally don't we?
If you are not serving with duck or have no duck fat, use butter instead and omit the roasting juices.
Cherry Sauce: serves 4
2 tblsp duck fat (or butter)
roasting juices from the pan (see above)
2 tsp cornflour
4 fl oz (125ml) chicken stock
3 fl oz (75ml) port
half tsp Chinese five-spice powder
salt and pepper
12 oz (350g) stoned and chopped sweet cherries (pref black)
Heat the fat in a saucepan and add the roasting juices (if using). Stir in the flour, then cook for 1 minute over medium heat before whisking in the stock, port and spice. Cook for 5 minutes, then add seasoning to taste. Stir in the cherries and cook for a further five minutes.

Most of us know how to make a fruit pie, so will confine myself to just giving the recipe for cherry pie filling (which is just as good when spooned over cake or ice-cream etc). Mysef prefer to use arrowroot instead of cornflour as the thick 'sauce' is much clearer.
To prevent a fruit filling making the pastry base go soggy, either bake the case blind for 15 minutes, and/or then sprinkle over 2 tblsp of ground almonds (or semolina) over the base before adding the filling. The grain soaks up surplus juices and cooks along with the pie.
Cherry Pie Filling: serves 6
1 lb 9 oz (700g) stoned sweet cherries
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
juice of half a lemon
3 fl oz (75ml) water
2 tsp cornflour
1 tblsp kirsch (opt)
Put the cherries, sugar, lemon juice and water into a pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Slake the cornflour with a little water, then stir into the cherry mixture and cook for a further 2 - 3 minutes until thickened. Stir in the kirsch (if using). Then leave to cool before using as required.

That's enough from me for today. Hope you enjoy your day as much as I intend to. Nearly brunch time, which reminds me (not sure why) that yesterday read that many office workers are now taking their lunch break at 11.00am instead of at normal time. Possibly so they can give their managers the impression they are still working hard while other leave their desks? It was said that by taking in a packed (possibly bought) lunch instead of 'eating lunch out', they could carry on working as they ate, and now taking the 'official break' earlier so they could use this time to have their hair done, top up their tan, or have their legs waxed.
More and more there seems to be the great divide between "us'' and "them". Not sure where I sit on this 'class ladder', although do know we 'live like paupers yet eat like kings', so never feel any envy. Anyway it's always so much harder for those that have had it all to do without, than those who have never had it in the first place. Me, I like the simple life. As long as the sun keeps shining.

With that thought, will love you and leave you and hope to hear from more of you tomorrow. See you then.