Tuesday, October 18, 2011

First Frosts

A late start again this morning (it is now nearly 9.00am) due partly to the fact I went to bed in the wee small ours (3.30am) due to me falling asleep in front of the TV. This mainly because I was very cosy tucked up in my chair under a quilt and a 'fleece', PLUS wearing bed socks (these keeping my feet beautifully warm all afternoon, evening and night - and if we keep our feet warm then we stay warm all over).
The weather had turned very cold and also extremely windy, so wrapped myself in a bit more 'fleece' before getting into bed (still wearing the bed socks) and was wonderfully warm right from the start - which makes a change.

Today started off with rain and we have just had a shower of sleet tapping on the window in front of me. That has now stopped and blue skies are appearing, although the clouds are flying past, so no sign of wind dropping. We did charge up Norris, but feel there is little chance of me venturing out (unless in the car) for several days or even weeks. Pity I missed the chance a few days ago.

From comments sent in it seems as though MSE had just been talking about the book 'Hovel in the Hills' so quite a coincidence it came back to mind, myself having read the complete 'set' some twenty or thirty years ago and only this week did they come back to mind. Is that the Universal memory that is often spoken about?

As you say Cumbrian, own-brands are cheaper than branded, and in many instances at least half the price without losing much flavour, some are (almost) as good as the 'real' thing. Beloved called in a Morrison's yesterday and said they were selling loads of things at half--price. He had noticed bags of mixed 'casserole' vegetables, and mixed 'ready-prepared' vegetables and said "they were only £1 a bag"". To which I replied bought individually the small amount of vegetables should work out cheaper than that. He sort of agreed.

We have seen lots of bluebell woods, and the flowers growing by the roadside when we drive through Littledale in May, Gillibob. They must grow well in this area for our front garden is also full of them at that time of year, although not easily seen from the house as they are below our window in the shade (faces east). Really should transplant some and replant in the shady corner of our garden under the apple and holly trees, then can see them from the conservatory.
We too loved going to Skipton (myself really enjoy going round the castle), and we once had a week's holiday on the canal in a narrow boat. One night we moored alongside the canal path (Leeds side of Skipton) at the side of a huge wood full of bluebells - a sight to remember, and the scent from the flowers also lingers in my mind.

Think you have been getting the weather we are about to have now Urbanfarmgirl. From the weather map it seems there is a diagonal line across the country from the south-west to the north east. The top part getting the much colder weather and frosts (maybe even snow over the hills), and the rest having slightly warmer weather. Of course we are just on the wrong side, but it was ever thus! Gill said last week she woke to find her car was covered in frost, but so far we have not seen any frosts, but B says we are due for minus degrees C in the next few days.

Although we call them 'flower gardens', where the flowers are sited we too call them flower 'beds' Lisa. Your 'lot' (your property where your house is built) we call a 'plot' (of land). You have a good sized garden (compared to many in this country), and your previous home having much larger land we would call a 'smallholding'.
So sorry to hear of your fall and at least managed to get away with only bruising - which I hope are not too painful.
An interesting way you make pastry for your Pumpkin Pie, here we used butter or lard (or a blend of both) to make short-crust pastry, and almost always the proportions are twice the weight of flour to fat. The fat is rubbed into the flour with our fingers, then bound together with a few drops of water. Sometimes the yolk of an egg is added and a bit of sugar to make 'sweet shortcrust'.
The pastry is then formed into a ball, wrapped and chilled for half-an-hour before rolling out, then cutting to shape and (eventually) baked.

Beloved had a puff pastry lid cooked for his steak and kidney pie yesterday. Puff pastry is fiddly to make and even chefs tend to buy this ready-made (which I always do). The previous time I had cooked this dish had cooked the pastry separately to the pie (didn't want the underside to become soggy with the gravy/steam) but it didn't rise as hoped. Having made two pies and cut out two lids, froze the second (both separately) and this time heated a metal plate BEFORE placing the pastry onto it and this time it rose and rose and the underneath was beautifully crisp, so when cooking puff-pastry always worth heating the tin before commencing the cooking.
To give a flat top to puff pastry (when wishing to make cream slices etc) have heard that some chefs place the pastry on (say) a Swiss roll tin and then place another - inverted - on top, so as the pastry rises it hits the hot tin above and both base and top are golden and crisp. After cooling, slice through lengthways through the middle and sandwich together with jam and cream. Can put water icing on the top as well if we wish.

Wen is another who has mentioned Hovel in the Hills (seems a lot of readers have read this book), and the John Seymour book on Self Sufficiency was also one worth calling a 'bible', as was Richard (was it he or his brother?) Mabey's book: Food for Free. Could have made more use of the books if we had been living in the country (and kept chickens, a goat or cow etc and had countryside on our doorstep for foraging) but nevertheless it taught me a lot about being self-sufficient and was able to adapt much to fit into our surburban life-style (and very small garden). Think this must have been the time when I began making my own yogurt, cream, butter, and both soft and hard cheeses from Channel Island milk left on our doorstep by the milkman.
The series 'The Good Life' showed just how much can be done in suburbia (and wish they'd show the series again from the start).

Must ask our daughter about her 'dongle' Sairy. Have seen her use it - it is a little thing (about the size of a thumbnail) that she plugs into her lap-top and stores all the memory on it. Not sure if it is selective and can store only the bits she wants, or stores the lot, but considering its size, it is incredible its storage space. But then our brains are not THAT huge, and as have heard we use only part of it for memory, and considering how much memory we absorb during our lifetime (although not always easy to bring back - but still there) we too have our own sort of 'dongle' in our heads.

Thankfully have finished replying to comments in time for me to give a few more recipes, and also give me time to do some cooking before I settle down after the 1.00pm news to watch Celebrity Masterchef, and later - No Taste Like Home. Caught the very end of a cookery prog on Beeb 2 last night where a girl was butter-icing a cake and then drizzled patterns with thick 'toffee' over baking parchment which she then lifted (whilst still warm) and wrapped around the sides of the cake. It really did look impressive. Must have a go making this 'wrap-around'. Who needs cake? Placed inside a container, this 'toffee mesh' then be filled with a mousse or ice-cream, then chilled/frozen to make a dessert.

I'm a great one for keeping anything that will hold something. Recently bought a container of ready made poppadums (to save me frying them), and the clear round plastic box they came in I knew would be perfect as a 'mould' for holding a dessert. Once frozen it could be tipped out and the mould used again (and again, and again). Have done this previously, painting the insides with melted chocolate then filling the centre. When melted chocolate has set it shrinks slightly which makes it easy to turn out of the container. The container should always be quite clean and free of grease before using, and it works even better if the surface where the chocolate touches is 'polished' with a (preferably silk) cloth.

Another way to make a chocolate 'case' is to line a paper cake case (muffin or fairy size) with melted chocolate, but because of the tendency for the paper to bend, always use several cases stacked together to give stability(once the chocolate has set and been filled the outer cases can be later used in the normal way). Peel the final paper away from the case when ready to serve. Desserts served like this looks really impressive.

At the moment, supermarkets are in such competition with each other we should take advantage of the lower prices on milk and eggs. Being 'protein foods' these mean we can serve meatless meals without having to be too concerned about the intricacies of eating vegetable protein (two types need to be eaten at the same meal for the body to be able to absorb the protein in veggies), So here are some recipes making the most of these 'dairy foods', as well as other 'seasonal' produce.
As the British 'pint' is 20 fl oz (600ml), readers abroad should be aware their 'pints' may differ (an American pint (possibly also Canadian, Australian...) is less - being 16fl oz (450ml). So if necessary, use the metric measures rather than believe our pint is the same as yours.

This first is a pancake dish, and remember that pancakes can be made ahead of time, then - when layered between baking parchment/greaseproof paper can be frozen to use as and when.
Hopefully most of us grow a few herbs on our windowsill, and almost any can be used to flavour these pancakes, singly or mixed, but use only a very small amount of the strongly flavoured ones such as sage. My preference would be to use parsley, mint, basil... but as ever - it is YOUR choice according to what you have and your personal taste/preference.
Although spinach is one of the 'main' ingredients in the filling, any green leaf vegetable could be shredded and wilted - such as kale, lettuce, and a leafy cabbage. The cheese in the filling could be home-made cream cheese (drained yogurt), or a Philly type cheese, or cottage cheese (if you freeze a tub of cottage cheese the freezing breaks the lumpy bits down to make it much more like curd cheese - which is not often sold these days.
The ingredients for the recipe have been divided up into three sections to make it easy to sort out, the first makes the pancakes, the second makes the filling, the last makes the sauce (which can be made earlier then reheated if you wish).

Herb Pancakes with Cheese and Spinach: serves 4
1 oz (25g) chopped fresh herbs
1 tbslp sunflower oil (plus extra for frying)
4 fl oz (120ml) milk
3 eggs
1 oz (25g) plain flour
pinch salt
1 lb (450g) fresh spinach, cooked and drained
6 oz (175g) ricotta cheese (see above)
5 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
2 tblsp pesto
grated nutmeg and pepper
4 egg whites
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 x 400g (14oz) can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar (pref soft light brown)
Start by making the pancakes. Place the herbs in a food processor with the oil and whizz until smooth, the add the milk, eggs, flour and salt and whizz again - also until smooth, then pour into a jug and leave to stand for half an hour.
To cook the pancakes, first heat a dry pan then add a small amount of oil. Pour in a ladleful of batter and tip and swirl the pan so the batter covers the base evenly. Cook for 2 minutes, then turn and cook the other side for a further 1 - 2 minutes. Slide out onto baking parchment, add a little more oil to the pan (if necessary) and repeat until all the batter has been used. This should make 8 pancakes.
Make the filling by mixing the cooked spinach (or other greens, see above) with the ricotta, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, nutmeg and pepper. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold one-third into the mixture to slacken, then carefully fold in the rest.
Place one pancake at a time on an oiled baking sheet, add a spoonful of the filling, then fold over into quarters. Repeat until all the pancakes have been filled, then bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 12 minutes.
While the pancakes are baking, make the sauce by frying the onion in the tblsp of oil for a few minutes, adding the garlic towards the end, then stir in the chopped tomatoes and sugar and bubble over high heat, stirring, until the sauce has thickened. Cool slightly then whizz in a blender to make a smooth sauce.
Serve the pancakes straight from the oven with the hot sauce either spooned over, or the sauce put into a jug for each person to help themselves.

This next recipe is a 'sort of' souffle without the hassle of worrying about it collapsing. It's also made in a slightly different way to the classic souffle, this time so easy everyone should have a go at making this. Again milk and eggs are prominent ingredients, and together with cheese and breadcrumbs (and a few flavourings) mean - if the bread is stale and needs using up, and you have 'ends of cheese' in the fridge, this could prove a very economical dish to make. It's always worth grating oddments of cheese, and 'crumbing' staling bread to bag up (separately) and store in the freezer so that this cuts the preparation time down for many dishes (including this one).

Cheese Pudding: serves 4
8 oz (225g) grated Cheddar type hard cheese
4 oz (100g) fresh breadcrumbs (thawed if frozen)
1 pint (600ml) milk
2 oz (25g) butter (use extra for greasing the dish)
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp English or whole-grain mustard
salt and pepper to taste
First prepare a a 2 pint (1.2 litr) ovenproof souffle by buttering the inside.
Mix three-quarters of the cheese with the breadcrumbs. Put the remaining ingredients into a pan and mix well together over low heat, keep stirring until the butter has just melted - don't let it get too hot or the eggs will begin to set. Pour this into the cheese and crumb mixture, then tip into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for about 30 minutes or until golden and just set (a knife/skewer stuck in the centre should come out clean). Serve immediately with cooked green veggies, or alternatively a crisp green salad.

Final recipe today is for a sweet pudding. Probably have given this before, but worth repeating. Made (of course) with milk and eggs, is never expensive and has a way of separating when baking so the sponge rises to the top and the sauce is hidden beneath. Hence the 'surprise'.
Surprise Pudding: serves 4
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
2 oz (50g) butter, softened
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
2 eggs, separated
2 oz (50g) self-raising flour
half pint (300ml) milk
Use a smidgin of the butter to grease a 2 pint (1.2lt) baking dish. Then put the remaining butter into a mixing bowl with the lemon zest and the sugar, then beat together until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks and the flour, then gradually whisk in the lemon juice and milk. Don't worry if the mixture then 'curdles' as it this is supposed to happen.
Lightly beat the egg whites, then - using a metal spoon - gently fold them into the mixture and pour it into the prepared dish.
Stand the dish in a roasting tin, pouring hot water to come halfway up the sides of the dish, place in the oven and bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 45 minutes until golden. Serve immediately.

And that's it for today. At least managed to finish an hour earlier than yesterday - just in time for the 'coffee break'. Please remember that tomorrow is 'hair day' and my appointment now has been changed to 9.00am, which means I won't be able to start my blog until 10am-10.30am at the earliest. So no point in logging on before noon. See you then.