Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Simple Life

Only one comment to reply to (where has everyone else gone?).
Why do I buy Premium Bonds when money is of no importance? asks Les of me. Not that what I do with my money is any one's business, but for those who feel it is - firstly, the interest rate is so low in the bank that it makes little difference where the money is put these days, and certainly the pleasure of hoping to find a cheque for £25 popped through the letter box now and again (as is happening) makes it a lot more fun.

The reason why I would like to win enough money is so it can be given to family, to charity, maybe even buy a caravan or narrow boat so that friends and family can have free holidays (having appreciated being given free holidays when we couldn't afford it, know how much this can mean). As the balance of money still stays with NSI no loss to me, but at least others will gain. If the money was not 'invested' in this way and my savings are spent to 'improve my life' short-term, the money will then soon be gone, and so will end up worse off in the long run. Personally hope to leave money to be shared by our children when I've popped my clogs, as my parents did, and most people do, so the Bond balance makes this secure - with the very good chance of 'Ernie' smiling on me from time to time.

Small winnings of £25 (have had five so far from Ernie) either go to charity or pay for my DR meat or other 'bulk buys', and also help to pay for gifts. Which does help a LOT, for in the paper the other day it said that pensioners with State Pension as their income have only £24 a week to cover ALL costs. Not sure if that meant one person, as B and I have a little more basic State Pension than that (£34 a week) which was enough to cover all our payments, but with the extra deducted by direct debit now each month (caused by higher fuel prices), will now have start tightening our belts another notch.

Seems that pensioners are now being forced to give up buying new clothes, and not taking holidays or going to the pictures etc. Is that deprivation? Haven't myself had a holiday for over 10 years, hardly even buy new clothes as have enough 'old' ones to adapt if necessary (as long as I've just one set of 'good clothes' to wear at important functions, then am happy wearing what I've already got). Also not been to the cinema for a good 20 years or so. Why bother when we can watch almost new films on the small screen in our living room without the bother of breathing in other peoples germs and continually irritated by the rustle of their crisp and sweet bags (or even chat) in our ears? Maybe our life is far too simple viewed by someone else who expects a lot more out of life, but me - I'm glad I'm still alive with books to read, cooking to occupy me, TV to watch and the occasional outing in the car (to save petrol B tends to use his bike - an old one but 'free' - to get around locally, and when raining he uses his free bus pass). At least we have no mortgage, and some savings in the bank (therefore we can't claim pension credits), so are a great deal more fortunate than some.

Seems teabags are not what I thought they were (like bags of tea- 'dust' sold cheaply). True, many bags contain the fragments (aka dust) of tea, and in the past they were filled with the 'cheap stuff', but nowadays it seems the more expensive bags contain real leaves, but only broken parts of leaves. The cheaper brands are still 'dust'. My memories are of these cheaper bags, and as I now don't drink tea (unless green tea) probably out of date. There seems to be little difference now in the price of some bags v whole tea leaves. Mind you, if I bought my favourite tea: Twinings English Breakfast and Earl Grey in leaf form would be paying more than the fairly well-known brands of 'quality' bags. And get a better tasting tea because of it as the full leaves ALWAYS make a better tea than their broken siblings in bags.

With no requests for recipes am having to come up with some suggestions, and of my own, taking the season into account (it is the autumnal Equinox at the moment, so does that mean the clocks go back this coming weekend or do we have to wait a week or two?).

Came across this recipe that can be used to spread on morning toast in place of butter (that alone will save a few pennies). It doesn't have a long shelf life, but will keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. As well as toast, use this spread on bread (again sans butter) with Cheddar cheese to make a sarnie, or use instead of pickle or chutney with cold meats, a Ploughman's lunch etc. Use lesser amount of spice if you wish to use it as a spread for toast, use the full amount if you wish to turn it into a spicier spread/pickle.
Orchard Spread: makes about 2 lbs (1kg)
a good lb (500g) cooking apples, peeled, cored, chopped
9 oz (250g) ready to eat dried pears
9 oz (250g) ready to eat dried apricots or peaches
12 fl oz (360ml) apple juice
4 fl oz (120ml) water
half to one tsp ground mixed spice (see above)
2 tsp lemon juice (or to taste)
Place the apples, pears, apricots/peaches, spice and water into a heavy-based saucepan. Place over high heat and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low then leave to simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the fruit has reduced to a pulp and no liquid is visible on the surface. Stir frequently to prevent the mixture sticking to the base of the pan.
When the fruit is ready, remove pan from heat and allow contents to cool slightly. Taste, then if you prefer a sweeter 'spread', fold in lemon juice to taste. When to your satisfaction, tip mixture into a liquidiser/blender or food processor and blitz down to make a thick puree.
Leave to cool completely before serving, but keep covered and chilled in the fridge where it will keep for 2 - 3 weeks.
variations: replace dried pears with additional dried apricots/peaches and use orange juice instead of apple juice. Omit the spice and add a vanilla pod to the mixture while it cooks.
OR replace the dried pears and apricots/peaches with 500g prunes, and use orange juice instead of apple juice. Omit the spice and instead add seeds from 3 cardomom pods.

Yesterday gave a mention of frozen yogurt, now apparently becoming as popular as ice-cream. So here is a 'proper' recipe on how to make one version, but as it is very adaptable, feel free to use your choice of berries and flavourings. This one is based on raspberries - either fresh or frozen can be used - and for those who are concerned with calorie intake, Greek-style yogurt, although rich and creamy-tasting, has only around 17 cals per level tablespoon while double cream has 67 for the same amount!
Rasberry Fro-Yo: serves 8
1 lb (450g) raspberries, fresh or frozen
4 tblsp raspberry jam
2 tblsp rosewater
500g Greek-style yogurt
3 tblsp icing sugar, or to taste
Put the berries into a pan with the jam, then warm over low heat for about 5 minutes or until the raspberries are pulpy, and give this a frequent stir to help it on its way.
When ready, pour the lot into a sieve placed over a bowl and rub/press through using a wooden spoon, leaving the pips behind. Add the rosewater to the puree in the bowl, then whisk in the yogurt until the mixture is smooth. Taste and stir in icing sugar to the sweetness you require.
If you have an ice-cream machine, spoon the mixture into this and churn for approx 1 hour or until solid.
If no machine, pour mixture directly into a large freezerproof container and freeze for 1 hour or until set around the edges, then remove from freezer, beat until smooth, and return to freezer. After 30 minutes repeat the beating, and repeat several times more until the frozen yogurt has a smooth consistency. Leave it to freeze for 1 hour further before eating OR when storing longer, remove to the fridge for 20 minutes to allow it to soften slightly and make it easier to serve (always returning the remainder to the freezer if not using up).

Traditionally made with jam, this recipe uses fresh raspberries, but - as ever - another fruit could be used according to season (such as chopped fresh apricots and apricot jam). Another difference to the standard recipe is the 'custard' this time chocolate flavoured.
Raspberry Queen of Puddings: serves 4
3 eggs
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
10 fl oz (300ml) semi-skimmed milk
2 tblsp cocoa powder
2 oz (50g) fresh breadcrumbs
2 tblsp redcurrant jelly
5 oz (150g) raspberries
few flaked almonds (opt)
Break one egg into a bowl. Separate the remaining 2 eggs, adding their yolks to the whole egg (in the bowl) and setting aside the whites to later make meringue.
To the whole egg plus yolks add one third of the sugar and whisk together until blended. Put the milk with the cocoa into a pan and heat to just beginning to simmer, then remove from heat, whisk into the egg mixture, then fold in the breadcrumbs. Leave to stand for about half an hour to allow the breadcrumbs to absorb some of the liquid, then pour the mixture into a shallow baking dish and bake at 160C, 325F, gas 3 for 30 minutes or until set.
Meanwhile, melt the redcurrant jelly in a pan, then add the berries and crush with the back of a spoon so they break up and mix into the melted jelly. Simmer for 2 minutes then set aside to cool.
When the pudding is cooked, whisk the reserved egg whites until stiff, then whisk in the remaining sugar until the meringue is glossy. Spoon the raspberry 'sauce' over the top of the pudding and cover with the meringue, piling it up and 'peaking' it. Sprinkle almonds on top (if using).
Bake for approx 15 minutes or until the meringue is pale gold, then serve immediately.

Day before yesterday, decided to experiment to see if I could find an easy way to make baked beans that resembled the ones bought in a can, and not Boston Baked beans (which is a bit more complicated and tastes different).
Weights and measures I find fiddly at times, so decided to empty a 500g pack of pinto beans into a measuring jug (these being only mall dried beans I had - haricot would have been more authentic). These came exactly up to the pint level which was useful, for I then could work out exactly how much water they would absorb. Put the beans into a large bowl and added 3 pints of water, and left them overnight to soak. Next day (this being yesterday) discovered the beans had absorbed much of the water but still enough left to use for cooking, so tipped the lot into the pan, brought it to a fast boil, gave it 10 minutes (to remove toxins - I also removed the scum that has risen to the surface) then reduced heat to a simmer, put on the lid and left the beans to slowly cook for about an hour. By then they were tender and just about all the water had been absorbed - this meant one pack of beans had just about quadrupled their weight).

To the beans in the pan added 1 tblsp dark muscovado sugar and one can of cheapo tomato soup plus 1 heaped teaspoon paprika pepper. This was simmered until the liquid had reduced by half. Gave it a taste - not as sweet as I liked, so added a tablespoon of golden syrup, and then it was almost perfect. Maybe not quite as good as Heinz, but certainly better than many of the cheaper brands I've tasted (and quite liked). Not sure how many 'cansful' were made, but taking into account the final weight of the soaked and cooked beans, plus the soup and sugar/syrup must have ended up with at least 5 'cans' worth for probably no more than £1 - AND the 'cans' would have been full to the brim with beans as my version ended up with a lot less sauce - just enough to thickly coat each bean.

Probably no one will bother to make baked beans (for they are still cheap enough to buy), but knowing the easy way might prove useful in the future as there are many recipes that use baked beans that would take the home-baked far better than the more liquid canned beans. So always worth keeping a pack of dried beans in the larder, although these should be cooked within the b/b date as the older they get the longer they take to cook (too old and they never soften), but can always be frozen once cooked, drained and cooled - preferably in small bags - then later turned into baked beans as and when needed.

Using pinto beans seemed to make no difference to the end flavour, for generally a bean is a bean is a bean, so either use the traditional haricot to make baked beans, or instead use cannellini beans, pinto beans, or something similar. But not the red kidney beans - they just wouldn't look right. Butter beans are too large.

Supper yesterday was 'shared' (sort of) by both B and me. Chose to make a Thai green prawn curry, so began with frying some finely chopped onion, red bell pepper and the last three chestnut mushrooms in a pan with a little oil and butter, then tipped in a jar of the curry sauce. Whilst cooking, emptied a pack of Tesco's 10p noodles (now 11p), into a pan, covered with boiling water and cooked for 2 minutes before draining. Then drained and tipped this into a bowl and topped it with some of the curry sauce (that was for my supper). To the remainder in the pan added half a pint of small frozen (thawed) prawns, and whilst they were heating through, 'cooked' a pack of 2 minute Lemon and Rosemary rice in the microwave for B. Rice on plate, sauce and prawns poured over. We both enjoyed our similar (but different) meal.

Looks like being a better day today, but have decided not to go to the farmers' market as really don't need any food. If we could all realise that most of the time we have enough food at home to make a meal, why is it that we still feel we need to go out and buy more? Am not including foods that store, but how so often we are inclined to go out and buy something to cook/serve that very day. Always when I go down to our local shopping parade come back with something I didn't really need. But wanted to buy at that time. Am I a shopaholic? Probably so - but at least have controlled that now to buying food - which is always used, unlike another lipstick or pair of ear-rings (as used to buy when in my teenage years - and still have some now very old lipsticks that have rarely - if ever - been used. What a waste of money!).

Suppose - when it comes to 'disposable income' (this means money left over after all the bills and running costs have been paid), we should be free to spend it on what we wish. Somehow though, we never seem to be encouraged to save most of it. Which is why the nation and most of its inhabitants is now in the state it is.
It just doesn't' seem fair that those who spent their lives being frugal are now expected to pay for everything, whilst those who have frittered away all their pennies are propped up by the state who continues paying for their upkeep.

Enough for today or I'll start to feel even more gloomy. Life is for enjoying, and with my comfort zone being mainly in the kitchen will now retire then and see if I can come up with something interesting to eat. If so, you will hear about it tomorrow.
Do hope my 'regulars' will starting chatting to me again for I miss your comments. Also love to hear from readers who are 'lurking' but have not yet written in. All queries and recipe requests will be gladly received as they give me a chance to write something useful.
Join me again tomorrow to find out what's new in the Goode life. See you then.