Friday, August 19, 2011

Dressing Up!

Was a good girl yesterday. Managed to scoot down to the village to collect my pills and although did take my purse (naughty!), and hovered outside the butchers wondering if I dare treat myself to a bunch of asparagus, or some Portobello mushrooms, or some Victoria plums, or buy the lot, but decided against, and my purse stayed safely in my pocket. Such self control, didn't know I had it in me.

Am realising that the contents of my larder don't go down very rapidly because not a lot are in daily use. This was something that I hadn't realised until I began keeping a note of what foods were used each day. For instance, yesterday made a giant Prawn Cocktail for B's supper (and also made one for myself). This consisted of lining (large) individual glass bowls with lettuce leaves, then shredding up more lettuce, chopping up a third of one red and one yellow bell pepper, then thawing out a lot of frozen small cooked prawns.
Once thawed some Thousand Island Dressing (from a bottle) was poured over the prawns, and the diced peppers were put into a jar that had contained Peppadew - so they could soak up some of the remaining liquid in the jar which has a lovely, sweet slightly spicy taste to it, far too good to throw away.
Also thinly sliced the last few radishes to add to the collection.

Come supper time the leaf-lined bowls were layered with the drained peppers, shredded lettuce, prawns, radish, and continued until full, the last prawns piled high on the top of B's with more dressing poured over. Have to say mine tasted WONDERFUL, so presumably did B's. He said it was OK.

With the lettuce, radish, and peppers coming from the fridge, the prawns from the freezer, the only 'larder' ingredient came from a bottle of Thousand Island Dressing. Had I made the more usual Marie Rose sauce, the ingredients for that (tomato ketchup, mayo, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco...) would also have been larder ingredients.

Even the blandest of ingredients can be lifted when a good 'dressing' is used, and although my preference USED to be mayonnaise or salad cream with salad, now prefer something with a bit more flavour. Honey and Mustard is a great favourite, also a Balsamic Vinaigrette. Thousand Island goes well with fish, and Caesar Salad Dressing is another 'tasty' one. It's easy enough to make some of these - recipes have been given before, but sometimes - when on offer - I do treat myself to an assortment.

Herb oils and vinegars are a good start when it comes to adding flavour when cooking, so today am offering some recipes using seasonal ingredients. Replies to comments and other 'chat' will follow.
When making the oils/vinegars, myself find the best jars to use to when making are the wide-mouthed (empty, but cleaned and sterilised) jars that have held mayo, with their (sterilised) caps, and then use the narrow necked glass jars (HP sauce type), again with lids and sterilised, for the final bottling.

The first flavoured vinegar is made with raspberries. My mother always used to make a bottle or two of this and give me a spoonful when I had a sore throat during the winter. Nowadays raspberry vinegar is often used as a substitute for Balsamic vinegar. It can be sprinkled over fruit salads, or used as part of a salad dressing, and also goes well with chicken.
Change the fruit to elderberries and make Elderberry Vinegar. This is slightly sharper than the raspberry, but can be used in a similar way. Today, white wine vinegar is used. This was not around in my mother's day, and she would use the clear 'white' distilled malt vinegar. We could do the same.
Raspberry Vinegar:
4 oz (100g) raspberries
1 pint (570ml) white wine vinegar (see above)
Put the raspberries into a glass bottle and pour over the vinegar. Screw on the lid. Leave to stand in a cool dark place for two weeks, giving a gentle shake each day. It is then ready to use.
Either strain and discard the berries or - if you wish - leave them in the vinegar.
elderberry vinegar:
as above, using just the berries from three heads/clusters, and lightly bruising the fruit before bottling.

A sharp 'peppery' dressing, perfect for dressing winter salads, potato salad, red cabbage etc can be made using Nasturtium vinegar.
Nasturtium Vinegar:
6 Nasturtium flowers
6 Nasturtium leaves
12 Nasturtium seeds
1 pint (570ml) cider vinegar
Place all ingredients into a glass jar and fasten with a tightly fitting lid. Leave to stand for one week in a cool, dark place, then strain and bottle.

Flavoured oils do not keep as well as the vinegars, so the advice is to make just enough to last a couple or so weeks and store them in the fridge. Suppose they could be frozen in ice-cube trays. Either way here are a couple of recipes to infuse oil with herbs and fruit that are worth making.
Thyme and Lemon Oil:
2 tblsp fresh thyme leaves
zest of 2 lemons
1 pint (570ml) light olive oil
Put half the oil with the thyme and lemon zest into a food processor and blitz until well blended. Pour into a wide-mouthed jar, top up with the remaining oil and screw down the lid tightly.
Leave in a cool, dark place for 3 days, shaking the jar one a day for the first two days, then leave the herbs to settle on the third day. On the fourth day, strain through a funnel lined with muslin (or a coffee filter) into a bottle, the store in the fridge and use within a month.

Sage and Orange Oil:
3 tblsp fresh sage leaves
zest of 2 oranges
Make and store as above recipe.

From your comment 50 and still trying... it does sound as though we are all finding that the fish today has not much flavour. But did it ever? It's probably only the oily fish that have any taste, such as mackerel, herrings. Even salmon, another 'oily' fish, doesn't seem to have much, but then we've only been able to afford the farmed variety. Smoked fish does have more flavour, but the flavour comes from the smoke, not the fish, and we don't always want to eat our fish reeking of bonfire. There is a trout farm fairly close to Lancaster, might be worth B going and catching a few, one to eat, two to freeze etc. Again, depends upon price.
Perhaps the more unusual fish such as Red Snapper, Monkfish, and other fish from warmer waters will have more flavour. Can anyone suggest a 'tasty' fish that doesn't cost a lot?

Hope you have a good holiday Susan G. Look forward to hearing from you on your return.

Apologies Woozy for getting you mixed up with Sairy re the electric slicer. If you slice the cooked and chilled turkey thinly enough you should get at least 25 slices and maybe more. Did cook my 'roast' in a roasting bag to avoid it drying out too much, and whether that makes any difference to the end weight I don't know.
As you say, this is an exciting time of year now that we have so much produce and an abundance of 'free' foods we can forage. Must be about now the elderberries are beginning to ripen. It is easy to sort out which are the clusters to pick, for the 'heads' that normally face upwards from flowering to berry, will turn over and hang downwards when the fruit is ripe.

Took a second look at my comparison chicken prices gillibob, and double-checked the Tesco prices this morning. I paid £15 for a pack of 5 lb fresh chicken breasts (that were probably free range as they had good flavour when cooked) from Barton Grange. The Tesco prices for skinless chicken breasts were given as £7.39p per kg (Value range) to £9.26 per kg for better quality. Think I am right in saying that 5lb is more than 2 kg, so my 10 very plump (and very tasty) chicken breasts from B.G. were cheaper than the Tesco Value chicken. The Barton breasts each gave huge fillets that were removed from the back (enough to make at least two more meals) leaving enough meat on a single breast to still feed two.
It is true that the food in the Barton Grange Food Shop is not cheap, but have found their 'bulk' packs of chicken breasts and minced steak/minced beef (lamb or pork), excellent quality and cheaper than from our local butcher.

Even though aiming to live from your larder Urbanfarmgirl, normally we tend to use more fresh (or frozen) produce than our 'dry goods' (which included canned). The 'fresh' also are more expensive than foods that have a longer shelf life, so not surprising you have had to spend more this month, especially when a hungry teenager is staying with you.
With our daughter and spouse hopefully visiting us shortly (both have good appetites), am hoping that I will be able to restrain myself from buying in more food (certainly have enough to feed the five thousand, let alone two more), but old habits die hard. Must plan my meals carefully, maybe prepare some ahead to freeze to give me more time to be with the family, and also make 'snacks' like gingerbread, fruit cake as these always fill a gap.

A welcome back to Mark. Thanks for letting us know you are still with us, and hope to hear from you again - this time more often.

Yesterday went and gathered the first of my larger tomatoes which were now ripe, think it was the variety 'Shirley' (for which I had great hopes) but again sadly disappointed by the flavour, or rather lack of it. There were a few 'plum' tomatoes that tasted better, but not sure if they were true 'plum', the two plants (different varieties) both had tomatoes that were round at the stem end and pointed at the base. The 'Tumbler' has been the most prolific, and its fruits did have the most flavour (but still nowhere near as tasty as the toms my dad used to grow). Think next year I'll stick to growing the cherry varieties from the seeds that I bought this year.

The courgettes have been a disaster, plenty of foliage, mainly male flowers, and all the fruits that did grow have been eaten by slugs except one strange shaped one that I really don't fancy using. It makes more sense to grow veggies that will be more prolific (like French Beans and mange-tout) than bother with produce that we either don't like or has no flavour.
Our autumn fruiting raspberries are ripening each day, but no-where near as prolific as the summer variety we used to grow in Leeds. It could be the autumn varieties do not bear so much fruit, or maybe we should replant them this and give them more space. The fruits are tasty enough but very small compared to the summer ones we used to grow. The variety we have is Autumn Bliss, so if any reader has the same and theirs crop better, so advice would be appreciated as to what we've done wrong.

Apparently the weather will improve this weekend, with a rise in temperature. Yesterday was sunny enough, and today has begun very cloudy, but hope it will improve. Both B and I felt cold yesterday, with me keeping my fleece jacket on after returning from my scoot. Later I even put my bed socks on over my support stockings, and wrapped myself up in my cuddle blanket, and still felt cold. Beloved went out for a cycle ride in the sun, so didn't feel the cold until evening, when he went to bed at 9.00pm so he could get warm. During the evening B suggested we put the heating on, but I said it was a bit too soon (normally it would be October before the heating goes on). The rising fuel prices are now always at the back of my mind, and this will almost certainly be the main reason for my attempt to 'live from the larder' (and fridge/freezer) for AT LEAST two months, for this will then have saved enough money to pay for the heating that may be needed during the colder weather. It helps to have a good reason to do things, rather than just do them 'for fun'.

There was something in the paper yesterday about coffee. Apparently many people spend more money on coffee per year than on electricity. They buy coffee on the way to work, at lunch-time, on the way home...or just when out shopping, and think the article said coffee was £1.90 something at Starbucks (and not a lot cheaper elsewhere). Yet it is these people who moan how much they owe, how hard up they are, and how they can't afford this or that. Start saving by cutting out costly cups of coffee, take a jar of instant to work and a thermos of hot water and make it at your desk.

The prices we now have to pay for some food is quite frightening. Myself remember how cheap some foods were, and although a working couple will have had wage increases to keep up with (most) inflation, feel that pensioners end up worse off, the little increases each year barely pay for a couple or so postage stamps and one jar of coffee per week. Looking at the price charged for a quality joint of sirloin for example, who on earth can afford to buy this nowadays? Presumably some can, and possibly those who feed large families have more than two incomes coming into the house. The days of buying a large joint (even to slice and freeze the surplus) has just about gone for us pensioners.
Fortunately, the cheaper cuts of meat are still within my price bracket, and as these often have a lot more flavour - when cooked correctly - than the expensive cuts, we are hardly being deprived. Other countries do a lot more with cheaper cuts than we British used to do, so here are a couple of recipes that don't use much meat (per head), but are extremely tasty.

This dish is an 'aubergine casserole' that includes a little meat, either minced beef or lamb. A traditional Greek dish that makes a rich and satisfying meal. If possible, use home-made beef stock as this adds extra beef flavour (if using a cube, use only a third or the flavour will be too strong). Best serve this meal straight from the casserole with a tomato and onion salad.
Moussaka: serves 4
5 aubergines
1 - 2 large onions, finely chopped
4 tblsp olive oil
9 oz (250g) minced beef or lamb
1 tsp salt
2 rounded tsp tomato puree
5 fl oz (150ml) beef stock or water (see above)
salt and pepper
1 oz (25g) butter
1 oz (25g) plain flour
half pint (300ml) milk
1 egg
Peel and thinly slice the aubergines and arrange in a layer on a plate, sprinkling generously with salt, then leave to stand for 30 minutes to draw out the bitter juices. When ready to use, drain and rinse well with cold water and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Meanwhile, put 1 tblsp of the oil in a pan and saute the onions for five minutes, covering the pan with a lid as you do this. Remove lid and add the minced meat and fry until browned and sealed. Stir in the salt, the tomato puree, and stock, adding plenty of black pepper to taste. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for half an hour or until the meat is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
Fry the prepared aubergine slices in the remaining oil until golden, then drain on kitchen paper. Arrange a layer of these slices over the bottom of a greased oven-proof casserole, then cover with a layer of the meat, followed by another layer of the aubergines, and repeat until all used up, finishing with the aubergines.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, stir in the flour and cook for one minute over low heat before gradually whisking in the milk. Keep stirring until the mixture come to the boil, add salt and pepper to taste, then simmer for a couple of minutes before removing from heat. Beat in the egg, then spoon the sauce over the top of the Moussaka, then bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 35 - 40 minutes or until bubbling and browned.

The final dish for today is an interesting one as it uses the very cheap cut: breast of lamb. It not only gives meat to be used, but also plenty of stock that can be used for soup or gravy (with or without the vegetables).
Epigrammes d'agneau: serves 4
1 breast of lamb, fat trimmed away
1 onion, sliced
1 ribs celery, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
bouquet garni
1 tsp salt
3 peppercorns
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
2 oz (50g) dry white breadcrumbs
2 oz (50g) butter
2 tblsp sunflower oil
watercress and lemon wedges for garnish
Put the breast of lamb in a pan with the vegetables, bouquet garni, salt and peppercorns and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, removing any scum that comes to the surface, then cover and simmer over low heat for 1 1/2 hours.
Remove meat from the pan and carefully pull out the bones. Strain the cooking liquid and use for the base of a soup/gravy. If you wish you could blitz some of the stock with the cooked vegetables to make a vegetable soup.
Lay the meat between two plates and put a heavy weight on top, then leave to get quite cold. Trim off any remaining fat, then cut the meat into 2" squares. Dip each square into the beaten egg, then into the breadcrumbs, then set aside until the coating has hardened.
Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan and fry the meat squares until crisp and golden on both sides - this can take up to 20 minutes. Drain on kitchen paper.
Serve on a warmed dish with a garnish of watercress and lemon wedges. Fried potato 'rosti', broccoli spears also go well with this, and Tartare Sauce is the one to choose.

And that's it for today. If all goes to plan, my Beloved will have lamb shank, new potatoes, and green peas for his supper, with the usual redcurrant jelly and mint sauce. Not sure yet about his pud. The arrangement is that he is out both Saturday AND Sunday playing around with boats, so that will give me more time (and space) to do some baking.
I admire Beloved, he has taken to retirement like a duck to water. Not only does he have two or three visits to the gym each week, he has sailing on Sunday (weather permitting), the sailing club 'social' each Friday eveing, and the RNLI shop on Wednesday mornings, but also goes out bird-watching, and taking photos on other days. He fits in doing the washing up for me (but not putting away), and cutting the grass, taking stuff weekly to the tip, and the rest of his time taken either doing jigsaws, reading books, watching TV or sleeping in his chair.
All I flippin' well seem to do is some cooking, write my blog, a small amount of gardening, the very occasional scoot out with Norris, and watching a lot of TV. But do women who have husbands ever 'retire', all the household 'chores' still have to be done. Life doesn't change as much for women as men I suppose. But do think it is time I sorted my own life out and found a few more interests.

The dark grey clouds are now passing over with a much lighter sky on the horizon, even a hint of blue amongst them. If it clears up before noon, may even go out on another scoot for half an hour, and without my purse. Otherwise I stay at home and cook.
Until tomorrow in the hope we (and more) will meet up again. It's good to hear what you are all up to, so keep those comments coming.