Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Now is the Time to Start

The cookery year seems to begin anytime we wish, but with each season having its own needs, we are wise to keep marching in time with the seasons. Mrs. Meaney's mention of making fruit leather reminds me that as fruits ripen we can already begin to store these in various ways for the months ahead, either made into jams and fruit 'butters', pickled, frozen, in spirits (as liqueurs) and dried. Fruit leathers make nutritious foods to add to a lunch box or nibble as snacks. Unfortunately the home-made 'leathers' keep only for a month at room temperature, but will keep about 4 months in a fridge, and a year in the freezer, but frozen whole or pureed fruits can be dried into 'leather's' at any time of the year, thus giving a constant supply.

Don't know about other readers, but am sure most ladies feel the urge around March to start spring-cleaning, even if we now don't do it to extremes as our ancestors did. But the instinct is still there. Would like to believe that the instinct to make, bake and preserve foods for the winter months also comes to the surface around this time of year, and though probably not always recognised other than a 'restlessness' (to those that don't cook) some that do cook follow it through, and myself find this gives even more satisfaction and pleasure when (even more) food is stored away for the winter.

If I had a chimney big enough to hang hams and bacon, I would be curing the raw meat bought from the butcher. If I had a smoke house I would be curing fish. If I had a 'still room', lots of flower essences and extracts would be bottled up. Thankfully, we still have kitchens and much can be done in that.

Yesterday evening watched a programme that explained how modern cleaning products were made, and - not surprisingly - most of them were made from chemicals that were available in times past. All natural. As the scientist explained, even the chemicals made today in a lab. are a blend of natural ones. Think we don't realise that there is nothing 'new' in the world, only a blend/mix of some that can be formed in a lab. so other than using gas in aerosol containers, what we buy 'bottled' as cleansers, is not a million miles away from what our grandmothers used.
What I did find useful was the info on the difference between biological and non-biological laundry detergent. Always wondered myself, and now I do. Highlighted this week when I did a load of washing in the machine using a non.b. detergent and very puzzled why it didn't wash as clean as the biological that I had previously used. As two packs of non-bio had been bought (because on offer - in the hope it would last me a few months) will now be mixing it with some of the biological that I have left to see if that makes a difference.

According to the weather forecast, most of the country seems to be set fair. Here it has been raining (which we did need) and yesterday was so dark with black clouds that I fully expected some thunder. Today I awoke to more rain, and hope the weather will improve to sun and heat again sooner rather than later.

My tomatoes are all now laden with fruit, but the Tumbler is the one most advanced and given me the ripe fruit, the rest of the tomato plants fruits are all green. All different sizes and shapes, so am looking forward to trying them when fully ripe. Problem is - other than the Tumbler (the only bush tom that has really 'tumbled' down), I've lost the labels on the others, so don't know what they are. There is a 'Shirley' (now why did I buy that one?), and think/hope I know which one she is. The others quite forgotten. Think I told you the names when I bought them earlier this year, but of course this info will now have been deleted to save more important info.

As Beloved had a meal out yesterday at a pub (scamp and chips he told me), he has chosen cold meats tonight, so that means the last of the pork pie can be eaten, plus some home-cooked ham, and I'll also cook some sausages. This with 'garden' salads and maybe some warm new potatoes should satisfy him.
Yesterday - as ever - didn't cook a meal for myself (glad to have a day off cooking after last week) so had jacket potato (hardly count that as 'cooking'' when done in the microwave' ) with baked beans. Did have some fresh fruit later and ate a few cherry tomatoes when I went into the greenhouse, plus a blackcurrant drink, so suppose I had my 'five-a-day'.

With the weather possibly being mega warm 'darn' south, some readers might be wishing to serve a chilled soup for lunch or the start of an evening meal. Eaten outdoors chilled soups can be even more refreshing, so today am giving a couple of good recipes with suggestions to make them even simpler.

The first soup is one for curry lovers being a chilled version of Mulligatawny soup. It requires few ingredients, and if you have made your own beef stock (you could make it from a cube I suppose), the only 'unusual' ingredient is mango liquid. Do not know whether this is sold as such, but myself would use the runny part of a bottle of mango chutney instead. Up to press have never bought a ripe mango (mainly due to the price), but suppose the flesh of a ripe one could be liquidised.
Mango being a fruit, no doubt another mild flavoured fruit could be used instead - pear perhaps. The substitution I leave to you.
Chilled Mulligatawny Soup: serves 3 - 4
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 oz (25g) butter
2 level tblsp plain flour
2 tsp curry powder (or more to taste)
1.75 pints (1 ltr) beef stock
1 tblsp mango liquid
opt. garnish: tiny cauliflower florets
Melt the butter in a pan and cook the onion and carrot until the onion is transparent. Sift the flour and curry powder together and stir into the veggies. Continue cooking over moderate heat until the mixture has turned a deep brown colour, then slowly stir in the beef stock. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool slightly.
Either sieve or put the soup into a liquidiser and pulse for 2 - 3 minutes, then stir in the mango liquid. Pour into a bowl and chill for a couple of hours. If there is any fat on the surface (from the butter or stock) remove before serving. Garnish with tiny cauliflower florets if you wish.

This next recipe is for the classic Andalusian 'salad soup'. In Spain it is traditional to add an ice cube to each bowl of soup when serving. As made with seasonal vegetables, we can - of course - substitute others if we wish. Myself have found that a can of cheap tomato soup works just as well (if not better) than using canned tomato juice, and less expensive - but of course this is NOT traditional.
Another tradition is the garnishes - each served in separate small bowls - which are then added to the soup until it is nearly solid, so allow plenty. A good selection would be diced cucumber, chopped bell peppers, diced tomatoes, fried croutons, stoned and halved black olives, and - an optional extra - sliced hard-boiled eggs. Adding the garnishes turns this soup almost into a meal in its own right, and quite a fun thing to do when eating al fresco.
Gazpacho: serves 4
1 lb (450g) tomatoes (skins removed), chopped
3slices thick toasting bread
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tblsp herb or red wine vinegar
3 tblsp olive oil (more or less)
half pint tinned tomato juice (see above)
1 roasted red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 - 2 Spanish onions, grated
half a cucumber, grated
salt and pepper
1 tblsp mayonnaise (opt)
half pint (300ml) iced water
garnishes: croutons, olives, tomatoes, peppers (see above)
Crumble the bread into a large bowl and add the crushed garlic, vinegar, and as much olive oil as the crumbs will absorb, then stir in the chopped tomatoes and the tomato juice. Mix thoroughly, then add the chopped peppers, grated onion and cucumber. Season to taste, then put the lot into a liquidiser and puree until smooth (or rub through a fine sieve) to give a really smooth consistency - which this soup should have. It can be made even more creamy by the addition of the mayo.
Dilute with iced water to the consistency of single cream, adjusting seasoning if necessary, then chill in the fridge. Serve with bowls of assorted garnishes, adding some of each to the soup.

Next recipe is a lighter and more summery version of spag.bol. As ever, another pasta 'shape' could be used, and if you've made your own chicken stock then this dish is easy-peasy.
As presumably the stock and wine are boiled down to reduce to give a more powerful flavour, then by starting with home-made and already reduced stock, and a little less wine, all we really need to do is just bring it to the boil. Takes a lot less time and a lot less fuel doing it this way.
Spaghetti with Tuna Sauce: serves 4 - 6
1 lb (450g) spaghetti
1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)
2 tblsp olive oil
2 oz (25g) butter
8 fl oz (250ml) chicken stock
3 tblsp white wine
1 can tuna (approx 6 oz/175g) drained
salt and pepper
2 tblsp finely chopped parsley for garnish
Cook the pasta as per pack instructions - until just 'al dente'. Heat the oil and HALF the butter in a pan and stir in the garlic, cook for one minute then stir in the stock and wine. Boil rapidly until the liquid has reduced down to about quarter of a pint (5 fl oz) - see above!!. Flake the tuna and add to the stock. Season to taste.
When the pasta is cooked, drain well and toss with the remaining butter, then put into a warmed serving dish, spooning the tuna sauce on top. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Final recipe today is a type of quiche that uses less eggs than normal. A good way to use up a spare egg yolk or two if we have chosen to use the whites for something else. Individual tarts can be made using a four-section Yorkshire pudding tin, or just make one larger one.
Tarte a la Basque: serves 2 - 3
4 oz (100g) shortcrust pastry
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)
1 oz (25g) butter
1 egg, plus one egg yolk
5 fl oz (150ml) double cream
1 medium slice white bread, crumbed
4 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
salt and pepper
1 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
Roll out the pastry to line a 6" flan tin (or flan ring set on a greased baking tray). Melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the onion until softened, stirring in the garlic at the end and cooking for one more minute before removing from the heat.
Pour the cream into a bowl, add the egg and yolk and beat together until combined, then stir in the breadcrumbs, followed by the tomatoes, pepper and seasoning to taste. Fold in the cheese then spoon the onion/garlic into the pastry case and top with the egg and cream mixture.
Bake for 40 minutes at 190C, 375F. Can be served warm but very good cold with salad.

Although we expect to sow most of our seeds in spring-time, it is not too late to sow another batch of (say) herbs that we can keep growing on the windowsill throughout most of the winter. Even a 'summer' herb like basil will keep growing if young enough. Mint unfortunately dies down, so worth making mint sauce and mint jellies now to see us through the winter months.
Have never found dried mint very satisfactory when cooking, but fresh leaves can be tucked into ice-cube trays in a little water to freeze to flavour dishes during the darker days.

When 'entertaining' last week (Gill plus others), decided to try adding more flavour to a basic mixed leaf salad by sprinkling over finely chopped mint, basil and parsley. Everyone loved it - finding the mint especially 'refreshing'. Now that some of my herbs are getting past their best will be cutting them down and blitzing together with a little oil and some pine-nuts and Parmesan to make a type of Pesto. This too can be frozen in ice-cube trays to later flavour dishes - especially 'just pasta'.

Today am needing to bag up more 4 oz (100g) bags of flour ready for future baking sessions. Also sugar. Used quite a lot when Gill was here, and how much time it saves to weigh the ingredients in advance. Gill couldn't see the sense of this - "it takes time to weigh it in the first place" she said. Well, it does, but sitting weighing out 10 packs of flour/sugar doesn't really take THAT much time, and far easier for me to then be able to go into the larder and pick up bags of pre-weighed flour and sugar than to have to start from scratch. Same with butter/marg. When already weighed into the 40z/100g it shortens the preparation time when baking, almost to nil. Especially if the baking tins have already been greased and lined, ready and waiting. All I normally need to do is switch on the oven, tip the bags into a bowl, break in an egg, give a quick beat and pour into the tin then into the oven. Takes no more time that it has taken me to write this paragraph.

Despite the awareness of obesity in children, and the recommendation that we should steer them away from the 'ready-prepared' foods and start serving them home-cooked meals, wonder why manufacturers feel there is a need to 'target' youngsters by introducing even more foods that might lead them astray. Possibly what I see advertised IS healthy enough, and marketed with the idea that the kids themselves can open a tin or jar and make their own meals (which seems to be becoming a sign of the times with many mothers now having to go out to work to make ends meet).
Teaching the children to cook under supervision is one thing - but letting them open a can to make their own supper (if you can call it that) is not the best way. Surely preparing home-cooked meals that can be reheated in a microwave is better than any commercially produced product. Here are a couple of examples of new products aimed at children even though possibly served by their mother. Tell me what you think.
Canned Hamburgers: A 300g can containing 2 hamburgers in gravy for quick and easy cooking. "An ideal teatime solution for young kids". This company's next launch will be hot dogs and buns in a vacuum pack (£2.49p for 420g) on sale from September.
Sausages: A new range that targets kids "with cartoon characters on the labels and child-friendly colours in the branding". Jars containing six big sausages, 36 mini-sausages, and a balls-and-mini-sausages mixture (rsp between £1.49 - £1.89) will be launched this September.

Oh dear, is that the time. Got up late this morning, thinking (at the time) how nice it is to be retired so that I can get up any time I wish - quite forgetting (due to taking last week off) that I needed to write today's blog. So apologies for keeping you waiting.
Looking forward to more comments and queries coming in. Don't disappoint me. I miss our one-to-one 'conversations'. Enjoy your day - sow a few more seeds if you can, or just relax and smell the roses. Will be back again tomorrow - so see you then.