Friday, August 26, 2011

Good Food on the Cheap

Are we having a late summer I ask myself? Yesterday was another beautiful day, so trotted outside with my 'brunch' (tuna, lettuce and tomato sarnies), and sat in the sun. It is noticeable how the sun is not as high in the sky as it used to be, our large apple tree now shading more of the garden. B went out for his usual bike ride, and on return suggested we went out for a drive again. The intention was to go to a trout farm on the way back so B could 'catch' a trout for his supper. We first went through Silverdale (a very beautiful part of this region) ending up at Leighton Moss (RSPB bird centre). Saw loads of woodland birds, and persuaded B to buy two bird seed thingys to hang from our trees so we could watch the birds feeding from our conservatory . He did buy one, but instead of the second bought a bird box (which will have to be placed on a wall, not visible from the conservatory.
On the return home (via a different route) we ended up in Carnforth, heading home, and I mentioned the trout but 'oh, dear' B had forgotten all about it. Well, there is always another day.

Watching someone on TV catching sea-fish yesterday, it crossed my mind again to take this up as a hobby, if i can get past the picking up wriggling worms and sticking them onto a fish hook (also removing the hook from the mouth of a fish (should I be lucky enough to catch one). If this was taken up as a hobby, it would put paid to my desire to turn Buddhist as no creatures can be deliberately harmed.

Back to birds. After watching the birds flying back and forth from the feeders, it crossed my mind that once we have removed the plastic cover from the greenhouse for the winter, we could bring the metal frame to the centre of the garden (visible from the conservatory!!!) and hang bags of peanuts, fat balls etc from the cross bars. If I decided not to use it as a greenhouse again (it is really too small), could sit it against one of the fences, grow either clematis and rambling roses up it (or runner beans and any other climbing vegetables), get B to fix a bench inside and use it as a mini 'summerhouse'.

For ease, decided to thaw out the remaining sliced cooked turkey, also thawed then cooked some sausages, and we both had these with watercress that needed using up, the last of an ice-berg lettuce, some (vacuum packed) cooked beetroot, a third of a yellow bell pepper (diced), and my own salad had a little Caesar Salad Dressing (B not wanting his dressed).
During the morning had collected a few fallen apples, and pulled about ten sticks of Rhubarb which were so thin and weedy that were hardly worth using, but they did add some flavour to the apple and rhubarb crumble that I was intending to make, only just cooked the chopped fruit in the microwave with some sugar and a little water until just tender, then suggested to B he ate that warm with double cream poured over. Saved the cost of the crumble, and B remarked on how good it tasted. Sometimes I think we add more to a dish (whether sweet or savoury) just because it is 'traditional', when it can often taste just as good without the 'trimmings'. Every penny saved "is a penny earned" as the saying goes.

As you say Woozy, the Farmers' Markets are more expensive than (say) supermarket prices. Being that everything is 'fresh', expect this is why we are expected to pay more, and it would make more sense to lower their charges, for they would then find they would sell out as more people flock to buy. Maybe they sell out anyway. I don't know, but all the time we now see 'home-made' jams, marmalade, pickles , cakes, biscuits etc, on sale at very high prices, and people buy them because they believe they are far better than any other (presumably not realising they could make the same themselves for about a tenth of the asking price). There are also enough people around with enough money who don't want or need to bother to make anything themselves. At least readers of this site who make their own, grow their own are the lucky ones. Dare I say the winners?

As to not being able to make Lemon Meringue Pie (because an OK doesn't like meringue), we could always use the lemon filling to fill 'jam tarts', or make it into a large Lemon Pie in its own right (without the topping of meringue).

Having only recently begun using your polytunnel Urbanfarmgirl, you will probably find you will be able to grow veggies throughout the winter in yours. Certainly 'salads' such as rocket, lamb's lettuce grow better in cooler conditions, and with a bit of cover should grow all through the winter. American 'Land cress' is another worth growing (we used to grow this in Leeds and without any protection), this tastes (and looks a bit) like watercress.

The addition of garden 'fleece' thrown over some of the more tender 'tunnel' plants would help protect them and you could probably grow even more varieties.

Don't apologise for ranting on Polly, I blow my top regularly on this site. Gets it out of our system, and certain issues are always worth a mention. As you say, there seem to be more and more thefts from shops these days.
Many years ago remember when pushing a trolley down a narrow passage at the side of Safeways, a young man suddenly appeared before me, clutching a full plastic carrier bag, running like mad, followed by a male store assistant. I instantly realised the man has stolen something, and could easily have swung my trolley across the path to block his path, but didn't. It was one of those times when everything seemed to go into slow motion, and I can even now remember the haunted look on the man's face, as if he NEEDED the meat to feed his family (as it turned out this was what he had stolen, for he dropped the bag just after passing me, and vaulted over a fence into someones back garden). Maybe he had planned to sell it elsewhere to get some money to buy other food (or maybe even drugs). It was just the look on his face that has stayed with me ever since.

This of course is no excuse, but when there is little money for food, and no knowledge of home-cooking to make what we have go even further, seeing supermarkets packed with obscene amounts of food doesn't really help. There is far to much variety of food on sale these days, and we can see (through the trade mag) more and more new and unnecessary products are being introduced each week.

In some ways our 'benefit' system also doesn't really help, because this leads to being able to 'exist' without the incentive (and to some n0 need) to find any employment. In the 'old days' you either got a job, even sweeping streets, or just about starve. No-one sat around waiting for 'hand-outs' as so often seems to happen these days. No need to worry if another child comes along for this will mean even more money 'coming in'.

There are people who genuinely have to live on benefits, and usually hate having to do so. But there are thousands (millions?) who won't even bother to look for work, or find a reason why they can't. They have that chip on their shoulder about the 'them and us divide' and see no reason why they shouldn't have a share of the good life without paying for it. Hence the recent thefts during the riots when many stole huge TV's and designer gear, jewellery etc, and very few stole food.

Now you see what's happened. I'm mouthing off again about the way the world is today, and nothing I can do about it. Let's change the subject.

Not sure of the weight of the breast of lamb you bought Polly, but it was much more expensive than mine. As to making dripping from its fat. Doubt it's even worth it, as rendered down lamb fat does not taste as good as beef and pork 'dripping'. If you want to make dripping, just put the fat in a small roasting tin in a moderate to hot oven and let it sit there until most of the fat has melted and is 'runny' in the pan and the remaining fat is crisp (this crispy fat B loves to eat when sprinkled with salt)

One of my 'signature' dishes (which has been published in several mags in the past) is 'breast of lamb with cabbage', and because this is a very unappetising name for a dish, always call it 'poitrine d'agneau au chou' which (I hope) means the same thing, but in French. Give any dish a French name and it lifts it to gourmet level don't you think? Here is the recipe. Do try it, for it is very, very tasty.
Poitrine d'agneau au Chou': feeds 4
1 small white cabbage, finely shredded
1 tsp sunflower oil
2 oz (50g) bacon scraps
1 large onion, finely chopped or sliced
4 oz (100g) porridge oats
1 breast of lamb, cut into ribs
zest and juice of 1 large or 2 small lemons
black pepper
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Steam the cabbage until tender. Meanwhile, fry the onion and bacon in the oil until the onions are tender and the bacon has released its fat and become slightly crisp. Stir this - with the oils from the pan - into the cabbage, then fold in the oats and lemon zest and juice, adding pepper to taste. Spread this mixture over the base of a greased, shallow oven-proof dish, place the lamb ribs on top, fat side up, sprinkle with a little more pepper then bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until the lamb is tender and the fat crispy. Sprinkle the top with chopped parsley and serve.

This next recipe makes use of those cheapo packs of Chinese noodles (were 10p at Tesco, maybe still are), and almost any 'chunky' fish could be used (cod, haddock, coley, salmon....). The chilli adds 'bite' to this dish, a Peppadew I find even better, but omit this if you don't wish the dish to be too spicy, or use Thai sweet chilli sauce instead of the vinegar and soy.
Lakeland do a range of 'non-stick' foil, parchment lined foil, and other very useful baking aids, so worth using one of these to make this 'meal in a bag'. Otherwise use baking parchment or foil. This method of cooking 'steams' the food and also keeps the oven clean.
If using the noodles mentioned above, use the chicken flavouring that comes with the pack to make the stock, but if you have it - use home-made chicken stock.
Baked-in-a-Bag Fish with Noodles: serves 4
2oog quick cook Chinese noodles (see above)
4 skinless chunky fish fillets (see above)
1 small bunch spring onions, trimmed and sliced
1 red chilli, seeds removed and sliced (see above)
half pint (300ml) hot chicken stock
2 tblsp white wine vinegar
2 tblsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
Pour boiling water over the noodles and leave to stand a few minutes before draining (they will cook in the bag). If using ordinary noodles, cook until just tender. Drain and rinse under cold water, then drain again.
Take four large squares of baking parchment or kitchen foil and fold up the sides to make sort of 'box', then divide the noodles between each, placing them in the 'box'. Sit a fish fillet on top, then sprinkle over the spring onions (including their sliced green leaves).
Mix together the stock, vinegar, soy sauce and oil and pour this over the fish. Fold the sides of the parcel over, and also fold up the ends to enclose the filling and prevent leakages, then bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 15 - 20 minutes (depending upon the thickness of the fish).
To serve: put each 'bag' on a plate and let the diner unwrap and eat directly from the package.

Final recipe today is another that makes good use of those cheap noodles. Fresh fish is used in this recipe, but cooked chicken scraps picked from a carcase could be used instead, also canned salmon or tuna. Thawed cooked prawns go well with this dish, so 'a bit of this, a bit of that' can together make a very tasty meal/
Oriental Soup with Noodles: serves 4
2 tsp sunflower oil
3 tblsp Thai red curry paste
2 x 165ml cans coconut milk
1 pint (6ooml) chicken stock
2 skinless chunky fish fillets (see above)
7 oz (200g) dried egg noodles
1 tblsp fish sauce
juice of 1 lime (or lemon)
finely sliced spring onions, or Peppadew for garnish
Put the oil in a frying pan and stir in the curry paste. Fry for a couple of minutes, then stir in the coconut milk and stock. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for five minutes, then add the fish. Cover and 'poach' for five minutes until just cooked (if using canned fish or chicken/prawns just re-heat).
Meanwhile, cook the noodles as per packet instructions, then drain. Divide between four soup bowls and place the fish on top. Add the fish sauce and citrus juice to the liquid in the pan and pour this over the food in the bowl. Garnish with spring onions, Peppadew if you wish. Serve immediately.

Having risen late today, find the time has moved on faster than wished for, so will wind up now and wish you all good day. The weather is again wall-to-wall blue sky (well almost) so will make myself another brunch and go out and 'have a sit' with a cook book in the hope of finding inspiration. Hope you can join me again tomorrow. See you then.