Monday, October 17, 2011

Are we becoming Obsessed with Food?

Despite good intentions, yesterday was not spent in the kitchen. I watched two episodes of 'Downton...'. also 'Strictly', and Hugh F.W's new cookery series (meals with no meat). Between time was reading books - one being Dorothy Hartleys 'Land of England'. Have three of her books and they do make really good reading.
Suddenly remembered yesterday three paperbacks I once owned (given to my daughter when she moved to life in a small cottage in County Mayo and now wish I'd kept them). Written by Elizabeth West and called 'Hovel in the Hills', 'Garden in the Hills' and 'Kitchen in the Hills'. Perfect reading for anyone who has moved to live 'in the sticks' and starts from scratch. See Amazon books have all three (differing prices), but am sure they can be ordered through the library (if you still have a library - a lot are being closed down for some stupid reason).

Whether it is because of the trade mag I now read each week, or the sight of all the food on the shelves when (for the first time in years) recently went shopping in person, but we are spoilt for choice. We don't need all that much (need - not want - being the word to remember here), and after reading about the vitamin-gel (13 vitamins we can spread on toast), and reading brochures popped throught the door (and memories of wandering round Holland and Barratt) feel that there is no reason why we couldn't live healthily by just 'popping' pills. My tub of multi-vitamins and minerals show the contents contain just about all we need - other than fibre, so given 'hard times' we could all probably survive on a daily intake of a bowl of All Bran and a pill. And water of course (in this country at least we have a good supply of that). Who knows - if the world population increases, it could come to that.

Yesterday watched Hugh F.W start his year of eating meals containing no meat. Mind you it wasn't really a veggie diet in that cheese and eggs were allowed. Nevertheless a healthy way to eat and almost certainly cheaper than meals that contain meat.
Have to say if I deny myself meat for too long I get anaemic, so sometimes take iron pills (as do many vegetarians on a regular basis), and do eat some chicken, liver and fish occasionally to prevent myself getting too tired. Am feeling very tired at the moment, so think its time for more iron intake and had better begin eating more meat again, although almost certainly this time the tiredness is the reaction after the worry of the past few weeks, and after our daughter's visit to the specialist on Thursday am hoping that he knows the cause of her illness, and just knowing will be a help. Not knowing leads the mind to thinking all sorts of things, and although I know cooking should channel my thoughts in other directions, at the moment it doesn't and I keep making all sorts of mistakes. So sit and read instead - and then have to read it all over again because half-way down a page my mind has drifted away thinking about other things. Or perhaps this is normal for old age. Just have to accept I'm not the woman I was.

Must now start replying to your comments before I drift on about something else. As you have said gillibob, our British countryside is very beautiful, and maybe because B and I have moved to a different region (with new things to see) I have begun to notice more what is around us. Lancashire is so very different to Yorkshire (despite the small size of our country, all our counties are different, particularly with the architecture). All I can say is my idea of heaven would be being able to eternally wander through woods thickly carpeted with bluebells and then moving on to see fields full of red poppies. With a few high hills and waterfalls to give a change now and then. The sun would always be shining, but not too hot, the sky would be blue with white fluffy clouds, and rain would only be at night. Plenty of birdsong and loads of butterflies (can do without moths). Perhaps a little thatched cottage to live in, a couple of dogs for company and maybe a comfortable horse to ride if I ever got tired. But then - me being me - would need some sort of 'creativity' to keep my hands from being idle, so hope I would get the chance to make things as well. Always supposing I'm allowed that sort of life. Sometimes the life I've led feel that Hell is a more likely option.

Lucky you to have a Rayburn Woozy, wish I had one (or an Aga). More recipes for slow-cooking will be given today, and - as the weather gets colder, will continue to give these so we don't have to slave away in a cold kitchen during the winter. Slow-cooked food is also good to have ready and waiting in the oven for us if we have occasion to leave the house (like going to work).

Have you decided to now shop only on-line Urbanfarmgirl? You mentioned ordering last week and again this week. Ordering frequently means paying a lot in delivery costs. If possible, order just once a month. Most foods keep that long (at least the ones I order), even milk when kept in a cool fridge (ours is set at 4C) (and fresh sem-skimmed - but not full cream - can be frozen. UHT milk is fine for most purposes, so worth keeping a few cartons of this as back-up.

The advantage of on-line shopping is we are less tempted by foods on display, and even though I usually end up ordering some things that I don't really NEED, the next day go back to the virtual 'basket' and remove them. In a way, putting the 'naughties' in my virtual shopping trolley, is almost as good as buying them 'for real', by this I mean the pleasure of giving in to temptation, but on-line shopping means after this feeling has disappeared, have time to remove them from my 'basket' and 'put them back on the shelves'. Almost like "having your cake and eating it too", but without eating it. If you get my drift.

The disadvantage of on-line shopping is that we now can't take advantage of the assortment of foods at really low prices that are on the 'reduced' price shelf, and only able to be purchased when in-store.
These are usually broken packets, dented tins and fresh foods that have reached their use-by date, so we are not really missing something, but nevertheless, occasionally some great bargains can be had. Suffice to say that on-line shopping usually ends up cheaper (for me) - even with delivery charges - than if I went to the store to buy in the normal way because I KNOW I would be tempted to buy one or two items I didn't really need and just don't have the self-control to stop myself at that time.

Do agree that eating only seasonal food is the very best way Scarlet, for we then will have always something to look forward to. Perhaps this limits us only in the dishes we make, and when buying locally grown produce we have to stay with 'British traditional' meals. Nothing wrong with that, but so often many 'ethnic' dishes are so colourful, tasty and very cheap to make we could perhaps save (more) money if we move in that direction - although this would mean buying imported ingredients and 'fresh' produce.

Sometimes I wonder if we might be better returning to the 'old ways' where a joint of meat was cooked on a Sunday and the 'left-overs' used in various dishes throughout the rest of the week (plus fish on Friday and probably egg and chips on Saturday, and maybe a chop or liver mid-week). This would save so much bother having to work out 'what shall I cook today?', but have to say (the memories still stay with me), although the food was good, knowing exactly what we would be eating each day did make it very boring. But would it work out cheaper? Maybe I should try it for a week and find out.

Have been buying Tesco's cheap milk for ages Cheesepare, but notice they keep changing the 'offer'. At one time we could buy 2 x 4 pint containers of milk for the lower price. Then we only got the cheaper rate if we bought 3 x 4 pints. Now it seems we have to buy 6 pint containers to get the lower price, and not sure if these would fit into the racks on my fridge door. Although I suppose there is nothing stopping me keeping the smaller containers, thoroughly washing them and then decanting the milk from a larger container into those.
Considering the rising price of most foods today, the price of milk is still amazingly cheap, for over 2 years ago (when we lived in Leeds) we paid 45p a pint for the bottles of milk left on our doorstep by the milkman. This supermarket low-price can't last forever, and due to the fact the farmers get paid a pittance for their milk and many now don't get enough money from the supermarkets to even pay for the cattle feed, a large number of farmers have given up dairy-farming.. This means that some milk is now being imported from the continent (and maybe elsewhere) so possibly the cheapest milk is not English at all. Usually the country/county of origin is market on the container, so we should make sure we still buy British when we purchase milk.

Loved hearing about your microwave oven C.P. Would like to own one of these 'dual-ovens' (can both microwave and roast) myself, but have no-where to put it. Our own microwave is fitted under our twin (one electric ovens, and so is below knee height, which would make it a bit difficult when it comes to more elaborate cooking. It's not difficult to just pop in a dish with some vegetables to cook, or a jug of something to heat up, or bake a large potato or pack of microwave 2 minute rice. Also useful to thaw then reheat (thoroughly) a home-made curry/chilli con carne etc, but that's about all I use the microwave for.

There seem to be some amazing appliances to use for cooking these days. The 'Remoska' has always appealed to me (but too expensive unless it would be regularly used). There are also almost fat-free 'friers' where we are supposed to be able to cook crispy chips, roast spuds etc in a teaspoon of oil (or even no oil at all). And something called a 'halogen' cooker? Have any readers got one (or more) of these, and if so are they pleased with them?

My most favourite 'appliance' has to be the slow-cooker (sometimes called a 'crock-pot'). Obviously a pressure cooker would be much speedier, but myself (having used a pressure cooker for years) feel that there is a lot less 'flavour' when cooking meat in one of these, than when cooking it in a conventional oven or crock-pot. At least - once in the crock-pot - we can almost forget about it and no pan having a 'hissy fit' to battle with. Most of the time I cook a variety of stewing beef together in the one pot (so I get loads of well-flavoured gravy) and leave it on to cook all through the night on Low. Leaving it for an hour (or three or four) longer doesn't really do any harm ( the longer it cooks the more tender the meat), so lovely having no need to clock-watch. Also when cooking a meal in the pot throughout the day, for those caught in traffic on the way home from way, or stopping off for a bit of retail therapy, the meal will still be perfect eventually arriving home.

My favourite recipe for Yorkshire Puddings is the one that most chefs are now taking on board - originally introduced to us by Brian Turner. No need to weigh anything, just use the same measure (it can be an egg-cup or a bucket!) of egg, milk and plain flour (if you need to be exact, one egg measures around 2 fl oz, so you will need the same of milk, and the same measure (not weight) of flour. This is exactly the right amount to make four individual Yorkies using those special four-compartment shallow tins. Whether this 'recipe' would work in a microwave cum 'roaster' oven needs to be tried. Let us know if it does C.P.

Have now learned that the 'memory-stick' for the computer is called a 'dongle' (why?). So maybe this is not the same as a 'router' (and what is that?) as mentioned by Ciao. Not that it matters. What's more important is that she says snow has been forecast in the North East, so we have to concern ourselves more with keeping ourselves warm. At the moment - after a lovely sunny day yesterday - we are now having high winds and rain.l We (along with the South West) are probably one of the last regions of the country to get snow. In fact when we moved here two and a half years ago we were told "it never snows in Morecambe". Oh ha, ha. Both winters since we arrived we have had snow, and lots of it. Have to confess being thrilled because I love seeing snow, and if we don't have to venture out it is nice to be snuggled up in the warm and watch the snow fall.

In my early childhood remember all winters were very cold and we had weeks of snow (and no central heating to combat it). The snow always seemed to fall in large flakes, and we always knew the first snow had fallen during the night when we woke up and the outside world was deathly quiet. As well as the snow, once we drew back the curtains we would see beautiful fern patterns on the window caused by the moisture in the air in the room freezing on the glass.
However cold it was, going to bed in a cold room, after a hot bath and wearing warm 'jim-jams', then snuggling into a cosy bed heated with a hot water bottle, and tucked up under clean cotton sheets and fluffy blankets with a quilt on top, is something that I wish all children (and adults) could experience. The 'luxury living' of today (central heating, electric blankets, duvets etc., does not give the same pleasure. Just the feeling of being 'tucked up' I find really special and often try to tuck my duvet under the mattress once I've got into bed. Not easy as when one side is done, tucking in the other drags it back out again. Like most things, it's always better when someone else does it for us.

Your mention of seeing a programme about living in Spain Eileen, where the field were arid and brown, and this reminded me of my Uncle Max and Aunty Doris who had emigrated to Australia. They returned to visit the family about once every four years, and always said the best moment was when their plane flew over the English countryside towards Heathrow and they could see the green patchwork fields below. To them this had now become a magical sight. They lived in New South Wales - fairly near the border to Queensland, at the most Eastern edge of Australia, and although they did have a fair amount of sunshine, they sometimes had a lot of rain and - more inland - flooding. And apparently - from photos - very little 'greenery'.

Thailand is experiencing the worst flooding ever on record, and Pakistan too has had severe flooding, so - as always - we should be thankful we live in this small island that although does experience some bad floods in some areas, normally not on a regular basis, and nothing (yet) on the scale of those seen abroad.
Sadly, much of the flooding in the country (but not all) is 'our' fault. If we didn't cover so much ground with concrete (buildings and car-parks etc), there would be more land to soak away the excess water caused by heavy rain-fall. Read somewhere that we are now being asked (in fact 'told') not to remove our lawns and replace with paving, as too much of this leads to problems around our own property and also behond. Have noticed the frontage of the house opposite to us - which has been concreted over for car-parking space, is now having to be swept by the occupant with a heavy brush after heavy rain to remove all the water that has collected - mainly due to the area not being level and dipping slightly towards the house. Takes him quite a time to do this. In Leede we lived in the last house at the bottom of a hill, and our cellar used to sometimes collect a few inches of rain after several days of heavy rain. We used a pump from an old garden fountain to pump the excess water to the drain sited above. There was a 'soak-away' just outside the cellar door (at the bottom of a flight of steps) but was told that underground streams ran under the ground and as I once saw a little fish in the water at the bottom of the hole, was not surprised when sometimes (after heavy rain) water came up the hole rather than draining back down.

Being on the west coast we do get more rain than other parts of the country, and there are times when - if we walk over the back lawn here in Morecambe, after a few days of heavy rain - we find our feet 'squelching' in the grass and almost leaving a puddle of water behind in each 'foot-step'. Not sure what the sub-soil is, but obviously it can't drain away the water fast enough, and its amazing how many inches can fall in quite a short time. Perhaps the reason why this house seems slightly 'damp'. Not noticeably, but any crunchy biscuits left on the kitchen table are soft the next morning, and some wooden trays etc, leaning against something - if not used for a week or two - have patches of grey dust (mould?) appearing on them. Sometimes the windows also 'steam up', but once the central heating is on things seem to dry out fairly rapidly.
At least our bed and clothes don't seem to feel damp - perhaps due to the central heating boiler being in the bedroom. Anyway, not enough 'damp' to concern us (although possibly this is why we keep finding slugs on the carpet in the kitchen and living room, although how they arrive there we have no idea).

Two recipes today, both 'slow-cooked' and have suitable for cooking either in a convential oven or 'slow-cooker'. If wishing to cook the first recipe meat and veggies in a slow-cooker, best to part-cook the carrots before adding to the meat or they will never beomce soft. Also cook only in the stock which should be and thickened once the meat has been cooked. This then only leaves the potato topping to be 'crusted' up in the oven. Or cook the main part in a slow-cooker, forget using the oven at the end, and fry the potatoes separately in a frying pan to make a sort of 'rosti' or large 'hash browns' to serve with the beef and veg.
Slow-cooked Beef with Crusted Potatoes: serves 4
1 lb (500g) stewing beef, diced
half pint (300ml) red wine
slices of orange peel
salt and pepper
2 tblsp light olive oil
2 onions, cut into chunks
2 carrots, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
8 oz (225g) button mushrooms
5 fl oz (150ml) beef stock
3 tblsp cornflour
1 lb (500g) potatoes, grated
2 tblsp creamed horseradish sauce
2 oz (50g) grated mature Cheddar
Marinate the meat by putting into a non-metallic bowl with the orange peel. Season with black pepper. Give a stir, then cover and leave in the fridge for at least four hours or (better still) overnight. Then drain the beef and reserve the marinade.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the meat (in batches to prevent the oil becoming too cool) for five minutes to seal the surface, then add the onions, carrots (part-cooked if to be cooked in a crock-pot) and the garlic and cook for a further 5 minutes, then stir in the mushrooms, the marinade juices and the stock. If cooking in the oven, blend the cornflour with a little water and stir in to the pan and cook until it thickens. If using a crockpot, thicken the 'gravy' at the end. Transfer from pan to either an oven-proof casserole or slow-cooker. Add seasoning to taste then cover and slow-cook in a convential oven for 2 hours at 150C , 300F, gas 2 (needs to cook longer in a slow-cooker, time depending whether it is set to High, or Low).
Finish the dish by making a potato topping about half an hour before the end of the cooking time. Blanch the grated potatoes for 5 minutes, then drain well, squeezing out as much excess liquid as you can, then mix with the horseradish sauce and cheese. Sprinkle this evenly over the top of the beef. Raise the oven temperature to 200C, 400F, gas 6 and cook for a further half an hour so the potato becomes crispy and golden.

Second recipe is slow-cooked lamb on the bone, but no reason why the meat cannot be boned before cooking. Many butchers will bone the meat for you and re-wrap the flesh around the bone so we get the advantage of the flavour without the difficulty of carving (as the bone is then easily removed before slicing). No reason why a cheaper cut of 'stewing' lamb (or mutton) cannot be used (remember that the weight of bone has been allowed for so this means not all the weight is flesh - so buy less) and best kept in a piece rather than cut in small chunks (mainly because it then looks more like a 'roast') and allow a slightly longer cooking time if using a slow-cooker instead of a conventional oven.
Pot-Roasted Lamb: serves 8
2 lb (1kg) lamb on the bone (see above)
4 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed
juice of 1 lemon
half tsp ground cumin
3 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
2 onions, sliced
approx 15 fl oz (500ml) lamb, beef or veg stock
1 rounded tblsp tomato puree/paste
1 tsp ground allspice
1 cinnamon stick
1 tblsp sugar
14 oz (400g) sliced runner beans
crusty bread to serve
Mix together the garlic, lemon juice, cumin and oil with salt and pepper to taste, then rub this all over the lamb. The can be used immediately, or covered and placed in the fridge for a couple or so hours to allow the flavours to be absorbed.
Heat a large flameproof casserole (or deep frying pan if later using a slow-cooker), then place in the lamb and sear on all sides, then add the onion and pour in the stock to cover. Stir in the tomato puree, spices and the sugar. To cook in a convential oven, cover and cook for 2 - 3 hours at 160C, 325F, gas 3 for 2 - 3 hours. Alternatively transfer to a slow-cooker, and cook for longer (time depends upon whether set on Low or High, and its a matter of testing the meat to see when it becomes tender).
When the lamb is ready, pour off the stock into a saucepan (keeping the meat and onions warm in the oven or crock-pot), and add the beans to the stock and cook until tender.
Slice the meat, serve with the beans, onions and the pan juices (which can be 'mopped' up with chunks of crusty bread).

Just noticed the time. Forgot that I rose late this morning, so began today's blog later than when yesterday's was completed. It's now lunch-time, and those who like to read this at your 'elevenses' (coffee-break) will be spitting feathers. Apologies, but better late than never. Hope this won't stop you from coming back tomorrow when I hope to publish earlier. See you then.

(spell check has failed AGAIN - so sorry for any errors).