Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Making the Best of It

Again woke late due to more pleasant (and not so pleasant dreams). Do remember being served a dish of cooked (frozen) petit pois and thinking how much better they were than the ones I normally buy. So why did I dream that?

Anyway, back again in my chair writing to you. Taking a quick peek at the garden through the window in front of my desk see that it is still dull, although not - at the moment - raining, and the wind seems to have dropped to a gentle breeze. It could be we will have a respite on Thursday when high pressure is over most of England, and after that it is expected to turn very cold indeed. But then they said the weather would be freezing last weekend and so far it has been very mild, wet and 'muggy' (aka humid).

As always, thanks for your comments. Thanks Julie for mentioning that Kirstie Allsopp will be soon on TV with a new home-craft series. I have enjoyed her previous ones. One of my 'fantasies' (before I drop off to sleep) is discovering an almost derelict cottage in the country (with fortunately a sound roof) that hasn't been lived in for decades, then moving in, giving it a good clean out, then furnishing with efforts from my own hands or purchases from a car boot sale. So far I've 'done' the kitchen and got the old range cleaned and working again, the tiled floor has been well scrubbed and the windows cleaned and some old china (found dumped in a box in the shed) is now on shelves in an alcove on the wall. My old T shirts have been cut into strips and pegged into an old canvas sack to make a rag rug for the floor.

No electricity, and the only loo is outside (by accessible when I knock a door through the wall from an interior room (the shed behind the loo being planned as a shower room. Lighting is either oil lamps or candles, but then as I (in the dream) tend to go to bed quite early, and rise later in the winter, lighting is not that important. No TV of course. A battery driven radio (not often used), and a canary trilling in a cage, hanging in the kitchen window to give me noise and company. Plus a dog and cat!!

The garden still has yet to be tidied, but there are old perennial herbs still growing here and there and an old apple tree and plenty of brambles. Am planning to turn a ramshackle shed into part green-house and part chicken house. Almost can believe I'm actually living there.

As to a new photo on my page Polly. The one there is perhaps one of my (recent) best, taken about 3 years ago. With me (as the media have found) they need to take about 100 still photos to get one that looks worth printing. I really do not photograph well at all. You need to see me in action to get the best out of me.

Losing weight is never easy when on a normal 'weight reducing diet' Susan G, but having said that it HAS been easier for me once it was confirmed I had diabetes as was given a strict list of foods that I should be eating - mainly low GI carbohydrates. Not that this helped me lose much weight, because they are 'slow energy release' foods, an with me they were 'no-energy release', so always felt sleepy after eating them and never worked off the calories. After some months went to the doc to ask him if I could return to eating a high protein diet (this - in the past made me lose weight very rapidly, even when eating a lot). He said "yes" as losing weight was important to my blood pressure (high at that time), and by losing weight this would also help the diabetes. At the time the diabetic nurse wasn't that pleased, but now she has seen it really does work, and in the meantime have read in the press that the medics are changing their mind re what diabetics should (or should not) eat. Sugary foods are still to be avoided.
S0 - for some weeks stuck to high protein, and as that was not calorie counted and I could eat cheese, butter, cream, all meats, fish, eggs etc (with vegetables other than those with carbos), but absolutely NO carbos. In some way this is self-limiting, for what is butter without bread/toast to spread it on? Or cheese and biscuits?

After a while slowly re-introduced carbos again, found my weight loss slowed down (and sometimes I gained), so now and again went back on the high protein diet. Over the past months have found I've been eating far less (protein foods are very 'satisfying' with no craving after to eat even more, as happens with sugary foods), and because I had to cut out sugars (although allowed some occasionally), also stopped eating cakes, biscuits, jam, marmalade, sweets. So just by omitting these reduced my calorie intake.
Now I tend to have a 'brunch' (early lunch) and supper (also taken fairly early). Brunch is more substantial, supper is more often salads. I really don't get the urge to eat more and seem to be able to eat 'balanced' meals again. Seems to be working.

In the UK Lisa, we have many Chinese and Indian restaurants (and 'take-aways' of both). Thai and Japanese restaurants are very few and far between (probably more in London than anywhere else) but where we used to live in Leeds (a very big city) think there was (at that time) only one Japanese restaurant and don't think there was a Thai (although there maybe now). Here in Morecambe none, but close by in Lancaster have been to the one Thai restaurant and seen a Japanese one close by.
Sushi is becoming more popular and think there is a local place where it can be bought/delivered (but it is not cheap), and the big supermarkets also stock a selection sold in small trays (which I love). Not so long ago used to make it myself, but gave all my 'equipment' to a relative (who also loved eating it) and now wished I hadn't.
Myself prefer to make Thai dishes rather than the Chinese as these are cooked in a slightly curried coconut sauce whereas the Chinese tend to be more sweet and sour (although there are other options which I like even less).

Which brings me to today's recipes - the theme being making the most of the cheaper ingredients, and although more flavour can come from using a higher priced brand of the same thing, often we can get away with using the lowest priced own-brands - which is what I suggest using in the following recipes. Another bonus is that they are all fairly speedy to prepare/cook.

The first recipe is a tomato soup. Cheap canned soups really don't taste good, although you could start with this then add the other ingredients. My suggestion is to use a low-priced can of chopped tomatoes and the cheapest (second grade) carrots and onions (veggies at the moment are one of the loss-leaders in many supermarkets aimed to get us back shopping with them), because it is the other ingredients that give the flavour. If you grow your own tomatoes and have had a glut (maybe frozen some away), then this would make this soup even cheaper. Same goes for making your own stock. Chicken stock goes particularly well with tomatoes.
To save a few more pennies, always worth making your own 'light' olive oil by blending extra virgin (or normal olive oil) with sunflower oil. Reduce cooking time by grating the carrots and onions.
Worth making this soup in bulk as once cooled it can be frozen away to reheat in the cold winter months.
Carrot and Tomato Soup: serves 6
2 tblsp olive oil (see above)
1.5 lb (700g) carrots, thinly sliced
1 - 2 tblsp mild or medium curry powder (to taste)
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
2.5 pints (1.5 ltrs) vegetable or chicken stock
Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Fry the onions for a couple of minutes, then stir in the curry powder and cook for a further minute. Add the carrots, tomatoes, and the stock. Bring to the simmer, partially cover the pan, and cook for about 15 minutes or until the carrots are tender (see above).
Either use a stick/hand blender, or pour the mixture into a liquidiser and whizz until a smooth puree. If necessary add a little extra stock or water to bring to the consistency you require (at this point it can be cooled and then frozen). To serve, return to the heat and slowly bring back to almost boiling. Good eaten with crusty bread or a sprinkling of croutons.

For this next recipe would suggest using fish pieces (aka fish pie mix), or any oddments/trimmings of fresh white fillets/salmon etc that you might have in the freezer (don't use smoked fish). Alternatively use canned and drained salmon (often these are on offer). If you have no lime, then use a small lemon. The idea is to use your own home-made yogurt and grow your own herbs. If you have no Thai curry paste then omit this and substitute chopped parsley for the coriander so you end up with a more traditional 'English' fish cake.
Thai Fishcakes: makes 12 (serves 4)
1 x 200g tub Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp mint sauce
1 inch cucumber, finely diced
1 lb (450g) white fish (or salmon) cut into chunks
2 tsp Thai red curry paste
1 tblsp chopped fresh coriander
juice of 1 lime
1 tblsp sunflower oil
salt and pepper
Put the yogurt, garlic, mint sauce and cucumber into a bowl and mix together. Then set aside.
Put the fish, curry paste, coriander and lime juice in a food processor with seasoning to taste, then blitz until just turning smooth.
Using wet hands, divide the fish mixture into 12 balls and flatten slightly. Heat the oil n a frying pan and fry the fishcakes, a few at a time, until golden on all sides and cooked through. Drain on kitchen paper. Serve warm with the yogurt dressing (aka Raita).

Next recipe is another use for 'greens' and feta cheese. Although spinach was originally used in this dish, no reason why kale could not be substituted (just cook it until wilted) so have suggested this instead. Use what colour peppers you have (red, orange or yellow - pref not green).
Although a meal in its own right, it can be made more substantial by serving with warmed pitta bread or chapatis.
Kale and Sweet Pepper Pilaff: serves 4
2 yellow bell peppers, seeds removed, flesh roughly chopped
3 tomatoes, halved
3 tblsp olive oil
half tsp sugar
salt and pepper
1 red onion (half if large) finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or crushed
12 oz (350g) long-grain rice (pref basmati)
1 - 2 tsp chilli paste (harissa)
1.5 pints (900ml) hot vegetable stock
4 oz (100g) kale leaves, washed and cooked until wilted
handful fresh coriander, finely chopped
3 oz (75g) feta cheese, crumbled
Put the peppers and tomatoes in a roasting tin, drizzle with 2 tblsp of the oil then sprinkle over the sugar. Add seasoning to taste and roast at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 20 minutes, or until tender and beginning to char.
Meanwhile, put the remaining tblsp of oil in a frying pan and fry the onion for 3 minutes, then stir in the garlic. Fry for a further minute then stir in the chilli paste and rice. When well mixed together, add the stock. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer - uncovered - for about 10 minutes (depending upon variety of rice used) until the rice is tender.
Stir the roasted peppers and tomatoes into the pan contents, along with the kale and coriander. Taste and add more seasoning if required, then sprinkle over the feta cheese. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika and serve.

Final recipe today is Chinese style. The original recipe uses thick 'udon' type straight-to-w0k noodles, but see no reason why we could not use the cheapo 11p packs of noodles still available in the supermarkets (Tesco have them), but cook these first and drain before adding to the dish.
Pak Choi is probably not a vegetable we normally buy, but - I believe - easy enough to grow ourselves (remember this for next year) and myself would use Chinese Cabbage (which is a great winter substitute for both salads and for cooking - use the top leafy end for salads and slice the bottom end for cooking). We could also use the leaves of Swiss Chard, or Kale.
Although this meal can be eaten as it stands, you could also include some cooked (frozen and thawed) prawns, and or some cooked chicken 'shreds' pulled from the carcase after making chicken stock.

Much prefer to use chestnut mushrooms in a dish such as this as they are much firmer than the more usual white button mushrooms on sale, but you could use either (or both). As ever use up what you have rather than buy more.
Noodles with Chinese Greens: serves 4
1 tsp runny honey
1 tsp mustard (pref wholegrain)
1 tsp soy sauce (or to taste)
7 oz (200g) chestnut mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper
1 x 300g pack thick noodles (see above)
7 oz (200g) Pak Choi or Chinese cabbage
Heat a wok (or large frying pan), then add the honey, mustard and soy sauce. Let this bubble for 1 - 2 minutes before adding the mushrooms. Season to taste (you may not need salt as the soy sauce is salty).
Stir-fry until the mushrooms are tender then add the noodles (see above) and continue cooking for 2 - 3 minutes, making sure the ingredients remain separate.
Slice the Pak Choi through lengthways (do the same with the Chinese cabbage and this being larger will need slicing into quarters down its length). Add these to the wok and continue stir-frying until wilted, then serve immediately.

Despite yesterday's intentions of sitting and sewing, got no further than sorting out what needs to be repaired, then decided to continue sorting out our wardrobe (well it's one very big wall-to-wall one that B built soon after we moved here, and it holds all sorts of things as well as clothes!).

Did at least manage to make some large Cornish 'pasties' using up the remains of the beef casserole from the day before. Served hot with salad these made a good meal. B said the pasty was lovely. As there was one left, had that myself with salad and after the first mouthful remembered I must remember to savour the food I've served myself, so role-played 'eating out' and was able to tell myself that 'this is a great pasty, must come here to eat again'. This 'tasting what I eat' is certainly making me appreciate more the food I've been cooking. Beginning to wish now I was young enough to open my own 'eating house'. Still, who knows, maybe we could manage one of these new 'pop up restaurants' in our own apartment.

Today will either be a chicken dish or possibly a fish risotto. See what I feel like making later this morning then can thaw out what will be needed. At the moment am watching 'Celebrity Masterchef' (2.15pm BBC1) and later 'No Taste Like Home' (ITV 4.00pm). So have to plan my cooking times to fit in with my viewing.

Would you believe just hit the wrong button and lost this page, but it had been kept in draft although for some reason there were huge gaps between each paragraph and even more between each ingredient in the recipe listings. So had to spend some time bringing it all back together. Let us hope it prints out as I intended it to.

Back with you again tomorrow and hope to meet up with you all again.