Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Reasons Why

Comments flowed in yesterday, and am very grateful to those who took the time. It is good to hear that so many of you DO find there is a 'community spirit' between all who read this blog. Who knows - together we can climb mountains.

Seems also its been a week for bargains with gammon. Several of you have been cooking a ham, and in a slow-cooker (something I've not yet done myself, usually favouring the hob). As you are finding, home-cooked ham tastes so much better and FAR cheaper than those packs of sliced wet ham so often on sale.

A welcome to Cumbrian with group hugs from us all. His/her comment mentioned making soup from a ham hock etc. Don't know if the ham bone - left after carving ham from the bone at the deli - is still available for the asking. When I used to shop at Safeways, quite often they would sell these for a very few pence, and quite a good amount of meat left on that was not able to be carved away (but could be picked off).
Split peas are very similar to red lentils (size and shape but yellow) and make lovely soup with the stock left from cooking a ham. One of the cheapest pulses on sale. We should use these more often.
You mentioned the many different types of prepared potatoes now on sale. It's amazing how many people seem to prefer to buy 'prepared spuds' rather than be bothered to peel, even though now most of the small (new) and salad potatoes can be boiled in their skins. Even chips come in different shapes and sizes, and we mustn't forget potato 'waffles' - another invention. In my youth it was either boiled or mashed with every meal other than roast spuds on Sunday to go with the roast meat, and jacket potatoes (and cold meat) always and only on a Monday.

Thanks for asking Susan G. Yes, did enjoy my time alone, not that I did anything but relax and read and watched some Poirot. But it was lovely just knowing I didn't have to raise myself and get up and cook when I didn't feel like it.

There is a huge index for recipes in March 2009 Alison. When first posted, it covered all the recipes posted up to that day (almost 3,000). However - due to blogger removing most of my earlier-in-each-month posts due to length, have had to remove several of the specialised recipe lists (such as desserts) to enable the most useful to stay in.
Even then, many of the recipes that I considered were not that important (maybe not cheap enough etc) have now had to be removed from the early blogs (as has most of the 'chat) to enable most of the missing ones to be returned to be read (but only in part and now mainly recipes only). So if you see a recipe in the index that has been edited out, but wish to know it anyway, I can still pull it up from my personal data bank (or hope that I can), so all you have to do is ask and it can be given again.

Due to the fact it took me almost a month working all day every dayto edit out the 'rambles' and bring back the missing recipes, was too exhausted to index later recipes. A new index should be made, but this is something I've been putting off as it will take some time, but come the winter months, probably a task worth setting myself to while away the dark hours.
Recent 'early' postings of the past few months will also be missing, but will shortly be editing out the unnecessary so at least the recipes return.

Good to hear from you again Rachel and pleased to hear you enjoy our 'togetherness'. Thanks also to gillibob for giving info on her garden produce. Dare say it IS useful to grow enough to harvest and then freeze, but even growing just enough to pick and eat certainly can save money over the 'harvest months'. There really is nothing like eating freshly picked produce whether eaten raw or then cooked, especially the home-grown as this gives a real sense of achievement. Myself tend to prefer commercially frozen veg as they are frozen at such a low temperature they seem better than my home- frozen efforts. Certainly - in the past - have bought a whole sack of carrots (cheaply of course), and then prepared and blanched most of them to freeze (in different ways: carrot 'sticks', sliced in rounds, sliced diagonally, diced carrots, carrot puree....), and these did freeze well. But as I have never bought frozen carrots, have nothing to really compare them with.

Oh Les, the words you gave from a website were obviously a man's whose thoughts were probably on the fuel cost of cooking one DEEP round cake (which can take longer to bake but usually at a lower temperature anyway). Men seem to see things only in black and white, and we know that with them - 'size matters' and that a cake is only a cake if it is large and deep and so never consider the alternatives. Where I am standing a whole tray of cupcakes takes no less time to bake than one 'whole cake' made in one large but shallow cake tin (we tend to call these 'traybakes' but they are still a cake) which then costs no more in fuel to bake, but as I said before avoids the expense of paper cake cases as well as the time taken (and expense) of topping said cupcakes with 'fiddly bits'.

Beloved discovered a lot of our books that he had put on the top shelf of a large (formerly airing) cupboard in our inner lobby. We intend to get rid of those we don't want (charity shops etc), but as always, want to give most of mine another read before they go. Yesterday got stuck into one all about food - or rather why we eat what we do. Fascinating.

Because food is fuel for our bodies, we HAVE to eat, but fortunately for us have evolved over millions of years to now be able to eat just about everything (that isn't poisonous). Other creatures are not so fortunate and many can eat only meat, others only herbage. The danger with any food - that we have to rely on - is that given some disaster (flood, drought, disease etc), if the supply fails, then life could become almost extinct. Even in relatively recent years the potato blight in Ireland (the staple food of that country) caused a famine and many Irish folk died from starvation - and many had to move to another country to survive.

If - as we are supposed to do - eat three meals a day, we will eat over a thousand meals a year (per head). This amounts to over a ton of food taken in over the twelvemonth (consider the cost of that at today's prices!). But that record was taken in the days when we 'ate to live' and portions were not needed to be large. Add to that the now-common habit of eating snacks between meals, and the larger portions that most now seem to want, and the intake could be doubled. Looking at this from the cook's side of the fence, how many hours will be taken preparing and cooking said food? Almost a good excuse for buying the 'readies'.

Seems also that we have 'evolved' our way of eating from the 'hunter-gatherer' early stages of human life to what it has become today. The instinct to search for food being now so deeply embedded in our genes we still have the urge fo 'find' food - leading to our constant trawling around the supermarkets to 'hunt' out our next meal, and 'gather' as much as we can whilst it is there.
Not only that - we also want to keep trying new foods - just in case the few available (we are thinking cave-man times here) suddenly disappeared. To live we need food, and if the food is in short supply then those that find new and edible kinds are the ones most likely to survive, so this instinct too is now firmly embedded in our genes.

Even our working life is divided into periods of time between eating. We begin with breaking our overnight fast (aka breakfast), then probably have another break (aka 'elevenses'), then it's lunchtime. Given this 'energy' we can then work through the afternoon until returning home to a good supper. And possibly taking in a few snacks here and there during the day.
So food plays a major part in our lives, and so not surprising that most of us tend to turn our minds to making the 'eating' part of our life as enjoyable as possible as food also has become part of our social lives.

Although we now can control our food purchases if we are strong-willed enough, it doesn't come easy, so instead we could turn our thoughts to storing food (as many animals do) for 'lean times', then using it up (but only when necessary - which is why many of us keep food longer past its best-before date). There are times in life when the necessity does arise, and this 21st century recession I feel is one of them, so it comes almost 'natural' to find ourselves now using up what we've got, rather than keep on shopping for food that might normally end up in the bin. Like squirrels at this time of year (I see them do this every day in our garden), we can still keep an eye open for foods that are still there to be stored for THIS winter's use (but only 'free' foods, or those on good offer), and if we can keep at that level and curb the slightly stronger hunter-gatherer instinct, we will be well on the way to getting our priorities right. Certainly help save money (this not being a primitive instinct, but certainly is now).

It's only during the last couple of centuries that convenience foods (as we know them) and imported produce has been easily obtained, and these have now awakened the instinct to try new foods. The sudden shortage of potatoes in the 70's - leading to extremely high prices - caused me to change to serving a cheaper carbo (such as rice and pasta - previously served only as a 'pudding') as a main course 'savoury', instead of the usual boiled, mashed, 'jacket', roasted or chips. Since then have never served potatoes with every meal, and always now boil small spuds in their skins. Peeled and boiled potatoes really taste of nothing. So why was it normal to serve them with every main course? If this change to eating 'something different' on a regular basis' can happen in my life-time, then not surprising how easy it has been for the burger bars, pizza parlours, kebab, Chinese and Indian take-aways to now become the 'norm' with youngsters who know no different..

So we try something new, like it and then move on to trying something else. As most of the foods eaten all over the world are now available in our supermarket (give or take a witchetty grub or locust), our constant and genetic urge to keep looking to eat something different has now palled slightly (no fun in hunting when its always there before our eye), so we switched to seeking different ways to cook the same ingredients.

Fortunately, another 'instinct' has now been re-awakened, this is the one called 'doing/growin/making it ourselves' . To keep our heads above water, we are now finding it very rewarding (both financially and enjoyable) to become as self-sufficient as we can. This is not a new discovery, our ancestors have been doing it since the dawn of creation, but a century ago with food so easy to obtain, we lost the plot for a while. Now we have the chance to do it all again, and most of us take to it like ducks to water.

Well, you know me. Find something else about food worth knowing and I can't stop reading (and obviously) talking about it. But it makes sense of the way we shop now AND how the larger retailers (supermarkets) etc, are taking advantage of these 'instincts', and probably why we are suckers for any new products that comes on the market that is that little bit 'different', even if it does work our more expensive - these being the 'something new' that we are eternally seeking.

We have to be SO careful these days and to keep our money in our purse we should try to understand why we do what we do. Only then can we channel our 'instincts' into a more positive direction when it comes to food. Although our first instinct is to eat (our first meal being mother's milk), our second to find food to eat, later even to grow - or rear - our own food, then move on to preparing and/or cooking the foods not just for ourselves but also for others. These (latter ones) are the instincts we now need to develop. Perhaps most readers already have done so, but there is always room to 'make something different' from what we've already squirreled away. So time now to give a few more suggestions.

Using seasonal vegetables will always cut the cost of a dish. Growing our own veg lowers the price still more, as does using the oddments (ends, broken bits) of home-cooked ham (or any other home-cooked meat). So here is a recipe to make a perfect family supper dish that is very easy to make and right for this time of year, although can be adapted for any time of year according to what you want to use up.
Fried Ham, Eggs and Veggies: serves 4
2 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 oz (175g) cooked ham, cut into strips
8 oz (225g) courgettes, cut into strips
1 each red and yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 tsp paprika pepper
1 x 400g (14oz) can chopped tomatoes
1 tblsp tomato puree
4 eggs
4 oz (100g) coarsely grated Cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the onion. Fry for five minutes or until just beginning to soften, then stir in the garlic. Cook for a further minute then add the courgettes and peppers. Continue cooking over medium heat for 3 - 4 minutes.
Stir in the paprika, tomatoes, tomato puree, then finally the ham and seasoning to taste. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Still keeping the heat as low as possible, make four wells in the tomato mixture and break an egg into each, adding a little seasoning on top. Cook until the white has just set then remove pan from hob, sprinkle the cheese over the contents and pop under a pre-heated grill for about 5 minutes or until the eggs are set and the cheese bubbling. Serve immediately with crusty bread for dipping into the egg/tomatoes.

Here is another way to use courgettes. The way the weather is at the moment (horrid, horrid, horrid with gales and rain), our thoughts will be turning to casseroles, and the ever comforting dumplings on top. So next time you make a casserole/stew and you have courgettes to use, then make these.
Courgette Dumplings:
4 oz (100g) self-raising flour
1 tsp caraway seeds
2 oz (50g) suet (Atora type)
1 courgette, grated
salt and pepper
cold water
Sift the flour into a bowl and add the caraway, suet, courgettes and seasoning to taste. Stir in enough water (approx 5 tblsp) to make a soft dough. Using floured hands, form into 12 small balls (about the size of a walnut). Place these on top of a nearly cooked casserole/stew, cover and cook for at least half an hour or until the dumplings (and casserole/stew) are cooked.

Thinking about it, see no reason why a pan of good meat broth could not be put on the hob to simmer, dumplings floated on the top, the pan then covered allowing the dumplings to steam/cook in the normal way, and end up with a type of soup with the hot dumplings instead of the normal side plate of bread. Almost like meat balls made without meat. Well, one idea can lead to another...and that's what we're after. Something different.

Often the supermarkets have good 'offers' on chicken portions. On the other hand it can work out cheaper f we buy whole chickens (again on offer) and portion them ourselves. Try costing it out - buy three whole chickens, then work out the comparable cost (per 100g) between pack of supermarket breasts, ditto chicken thighs, drumsticks, and wings. You could also cut away the finger sized 'fillets' from the back of each breast and work out the price of these too (sold as breast 'fillets' or in strips/chunks). You will find financially, doing it yourself you win hands down - and not only that you have the benefit of three carcases to make chicken stock PLUS anything from 8 oz (225g) to 1 lb (500g) of 'free' cooked meat you can remove from the bones.

When jointing raw chicken, I always use a large platter for preparing as this is easily washed after use. It is important to clean up every vestige of chicken juices. Sometimes I wear plastic gloves to keep my hands from touching the birds (otherwise use well-washed hands before touching, and wash well after). When packing away for freezing, make sure you pack each breast/joint separately or they will freeze stuck together, and - after freezing - keep like for like in bags with a label or you won't remember what they are. A small bag of chicken 'fillets' (I use these for stir-fries/curries etc) look exactly like a chicken breast once frozen.

Normally I remove the chicken skin before freezing (and pop this into the stock pot as I also save the chicken fat once it has risen and set as this can be used for frying and for making a savoury pastry - B also likes it on toast as chicken 'dripping' with a little salt sprinkled over.
But having seen a chef last week put chicken skin between two baking sheets then popping them into a hot oven for about ten minutes to crisp up (then finely chop and scatter over a salad) feel that this is yet another way to use up what some might throw out. If it's OK to crisp up bacon to crush as a garnish, then why not chicken skin?

This next recipe uses chicken joints with the skin left on as these are first 'crisped up' in a pan before putting in a casserole, and this method helps to keep the flesh moist, but the skin can be removed if you wish. Use the largest chicken portions you can find, but if the smaller work our cheaper (per 100g) it would be worth two per head instead of one. Use the 'floury' baking potatoes as the waxier ones don't work in this dish.
'Stoved' Chicken: serves 4
2 lb (1kg) baking potatoes, peeled and sliced (1/4"- 5mm)
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 tblsp chopped fresh thyme OR
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 oz (25g) butter
1 tblsp sunflower oil
2 large bacon rashers, chopped
4 large (or 8 small) chicken joints
1 pint (600ml) chicken stock
salt and pepper
Lightly grease a large ovenproof casserole dish with butter, then arrange half the slices of potato in a thick layer over the base. Cover with half the onions. Sprinkle over half the herbs, then add seasoning to taste.
Put the butter and oil in a frying pan with the bacon and when hot, add the chicken joints, turning from time to time so they are browned on all sides. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and place on top of the onions in the dish. Reserve the fat left in the pan.
Sprinkle the remaining herbs over the chicken, add a little more seasoning then cover with the rest of the onions, with a final layer of overlapping potato slices. Season the top, then pour the stock into the casserole and drizzle the fat left in the pan over the top layer of potatoes, brushing this evenly over. Cover tightly with lid (or foil) and bake at 150F, 300C, gas 2 for about 2 hours or until the chicken is cooked and tender. The larger the joints, the longer it will need to cook through.
Remove the lid/foil, then place under a medium-hot grill to cook until the potato toppiing is turning brown and crisping up. Serve immediately. Steamed shredded white cabbage eats well with this dish.

A few words on a few ingredients. Never have felt it necessary to say 'peel and onion', although many books do say this. Just assume that every reader has the common sense to do so.
Normally I use sunflower oil (unless otherwise stated), but others may use a differerent vegetable. Almost any will do, although those that have least flavour I find better.
When it comes to frying garlic. Always add this after an intial frying of another ingredient (usually onion) as garlic burns quite rapidly, and so the shorter time it fries before adding remaining ingredients the better.

Salt should never be added to water when soaking dried pulses as it toughens the skins. Salt should always b addded to boiling water when cooking pasta as it greatly improves its flavour (and the salt tends to remain in the water strained off anyway).
Salt sprinkled over meat before frying/roasting will cause the juices to flow out, so only add pepper and add salt later (although some chefs still add salt at the start AND THIS IS WRONG!).

If your oven heats up fairly rapidly (let's say takes 5 or so minutes to get to 200C), then anything that takes longer than half-an-hour to cook can usually be put into the oven a couple or so minutes after it has been switched on. Or - if you prefer to wait until almost the right heat before putting whatever in the oven, then switch it off five or so minutes before the end of cooking time and let it carry on cookingin the residual heat. Much depends on our oven, but this can save a lot of fuel-time costs, so worth considering.

And that's it for today. Will now try and curb my animal instincts, although deep down there is a still a desire for someone to grab my tresses and drag me to his cave - where of course I will then contentedly make a broom from twigs and start brushing out the dust, the fleas and other dross, followed by making a dinosaur dinner for my old-age man (got one of those already) with a berry pudding for 'afters' (from a bush conveniently growing just outside the entrance), maybe weaving a basket from more twigs, and possibly sewing a few fig leaves together to cover my modesty, and then (hopefully), will tingle at the thought) of trying out the freshly shaken skins that WE will now be sleeping on (or under - pref both). Let's hope its a cold night so a good excuse for a cuddle. Or did cuddles come into fashion thousands of years later? Who cares? If it wasn't for the first cavemen (and women) and their 'basic instincts' we wouldn't be here now, would we?

Suddenly the clouds are disappearing and a lot of blue sky and sunshine can be seen through my window. But still the wind blows hard, so certainly a day to stay indoors and ponder on the meaning of food in all its abundance. Beloved has chosen salmon for his supper with an avocado salad. Obviously he hasn't cave-man tastes today, and there was me planning to make him a steak and kidney pie (far more macho). But salmon is simpler, so why should I complain?

There is much kitchen work waiting for me to do as intend today baking 'cakes that keep', such as fruit/gingerbread/flapjack etc,... ready for our family visit us next week, also preparing other 'goodies'. So from now on will be a happy bunny, digging myself well into my comfort zone. But - as ever - will be back tomorrow, and each day until the start of next week when I hope to take a few days off during the visit. Will remind you of that nearer the time. TTFN.