Sunday, October 16, 2011

Taking for Granted

Pleased you like seasonal recipes gillibob, although with all the imported foods, almost all 'seasonal' food is available now all the year round, and seemingly not a lot lower in price when they should be. Generally I try to give recipes that fit the time of year, and so going back through Archives to autumn in previous years more seasonal recipes will be found.

Sorry you have lost your computer-stored recipes Eileen, isn't there something called a 'dingle' or 'dangle' that you can plug in which keeps all the information in back-up form? It's every so tiny, but that's progress for you.
Anyway, if you remember some recipes you liked that were on this site, and you have now lost them, I may be able to put them up for you again.
Mind you, sometimes it's quite useful to start again from scratch, myself find I am snowed under with cookery books, magazines, and all things 'foodie' and when I pass most of them onto a charity shop find I hardly miss any of them - or is this just an excuse to buy new (or second-hand) ones?

Don't apologise for 'wittering' Karen. Wish more of you did this, for it is always lovely to read about things you all do. Love the sound of your volunteer work, you sound a very busy bee, but hope you manage to fit home-cooking into your free time (if you have any).

Writing about English gardens yesterday reminded me about the floral beauty of our countryside (and - in some instances - towns). All too often we get so used to what is around us we have stopped looking. It's a bit like a ticking clock. After the first few days we get so used to the sound we stop 'hearing' it, and only notice when it has stops.

Perhaps we are lucky here in Lancashire, but there seem a lot more flowers around than when we lived in Yorkshire (and there plenty then). In spring, when the first young pale green leaves appear on the trees lining the country roads, the hedges become covered with white blossom and the road side green verges also have lots of wild flowers in mainly white or yellow (sometimes blue). Close to villages, the verges have been planted with snowdrops and daffodils, and there are many woods that are carpeted with bluebells in May. There are also white drifts of wild garlic. Later we get the pink and white Hawthorn trees (May blossom), and later see trees and bushes covered with big white elderflowers. Pink and white Dog Roses also scramble over hedges and late summer the brambles (blackberries) flower and then produce loads of fruit.
Our 'patchwork' fields are also a delight to see. Each a different shade of green according to the crop (or it might just be grass to later cut for hay), and early summer some of them are a vivid yellow (blossoming rape). In late summer the cornfields (here 'corn' means any of the cereal crops such as wheat, barley, oats....) turn from green to pale gold as the crops ripen. In the areas of the country that have chalk or limestone, we can also see fields and roadsides covered with bright red poppies.
On 'lumpy' ground (too uneven to plough) we see bushes of gorse growing, covered with yellow blossom in the summer, and on moorlands the purple heather (which also smells wonderful).
Yet - most of the time we just take it all for granted. Which is a pity, as many of the above have edible fruits that we can get for free if we can be bothered to 'forage'.

Certainly here in Lancashire it seems that most of the country pubs and rural houses festoon their properties with hanging baskets and windowboxes full of flowers from early summer to late autumn. Some even plant winter-flowering pansies and/or primulas to keep the display going. It's an absolute delight to drive around the countryside at all times of the year. Just as long as we keep our eyes open to soak it all in.

Much the same thing is happening to the food we eat. We have begun to take it all for granted. No longer do we need to wait until summer to taste the first strawberries, or even Good Friday to eat a Hot Cross Bun (or Christmas to eat a mince pie). No, everything is there for us anytime we wish, and how boring it has become. Nothing to look forward to any more isn't really giving us the chance to appreciate what we could be eating if we only ate it at the right time of year.
Also, this mad desire to make all fresh fruit and veg look as though they have been cloned may give 'eye appeal' but it has done nothing for the flavour. In fact practically all flavour has disappeared. This is because the best flavour comes only when the food is perfectly ripe (which may last only 24 hours before it starts to rot), and so normally picked early (when it has hardly any flavour whatsoever) to allow to ripen as it travels (or even in our own homes). But it never does 'ripen', it just tends to soften and we believe this means the same. Generally it doesn't, and the flavour will not improve however 'soft' it gets.
This is why some frozen vegetables will actually taste better (and contain more of their vitamins) when picked from fields and frozen within hours. Otherwise we should try and grow as much ourselves as possible to obtain flavour as our ancestors remember.

We can - of course - buy fresh produce from farmers markets and farm-shops. Also butchers (where - with meat - age helps to increase the flavour). But this always costs more. By canny cooking and careful shopping of the 'basics' we should be able to save enough pennies to be able to afford (at least) some of the quality foods (as you know I do when it comes to buying meat - when on offer - from D.R.). Certainly doing this - over the year - my food budget has been able to be reduced but we end up with really good quality meals (that we would pay a fortune for if we had the same when 'eating out').

We now come to interesting facts in this weeks trade magazine. As ever all full of what stores can do to increase custom, and very little to help us although there is some good news (for us, but probably not for the dairy farmers who seem to get a rough deal): "Milk prices plummet in Price War drop". The article says that the average price of four pints of milk in the five leading supermarkets has dropped by 17p. Enjoyed reading this bit: "Tesco has seen the biggest drop - it first cut its standard own-label milk from £1.49 to £1.25 to match Asda and then, when Asda dropped its price to £1.18 a week ago, reduced it by a further 7p. Its four pints of milk are now 31p cheaper than they were two weeks ago."

Don't you just love the way the stores are trying to outdo each other, this HAS to be good news for us - at least for the time being, so we should make the most of it. Why not start making more milk puddings, and serve custard with fruit etc.? Milk is a really healthy food and we should take advantage of it. Eggs too help to make a good cheap meal, so together milk and eggs (which flour - which itself is not expensive in the amount used)can make pancakes, Yorkshire Puddings, and a whole lot more.

There is concern (mainly to do with manufactured products) that 'illegal eggs' are still being imported into this country. Not (normally) a health problem, more to do with we are moving away from battery hen laid eggs for domestic use (although we could be paying more for the eggs from happier hens), while the manufacturers still prefer to use the cheaper eggs from abroad. Scotch eggs, Yorkshire puddings were among the foods most likely to contain illegal eggs.
Does this mean if the cheaper eggs are banned from being used, we now see all products containing 'good' eggs rising in price?

Sainsbury's seem to have a new Brand Matching scheme that sounds simple enough (but only if I've got it right). Seems that if a customer spends over £20 and buys at least one branded product, they will be given a voucher at the checkout for the difference if the products in their basket were dearer at Tesco or Asda (the till itself presumably programmed to show this). So why not reduce the prices in the first place? Suppose this means that if we buy less than £20 of food they don't have to give the pay-back.
It sounds a good idea, and as their spokesman said "This new scheme would give direct assurance to customers without hurting Sainsbury's profits", adding "We wouldn't do it if we couldn't afford it". So does this mean they could afford to cut prices anyway, without all this malarky?
Anyway, it's a bit more complicated than it sounds so read this before you jump ship and go to buy your next trolleyload at Sainsburys. The long list of restrictions show that Brand Match only compares branded products, shoppers need to spend more than £20, the products need to be exactly the same as in Tesco and Asda, the voucher expires after 14 days, it counts only 10 of the same product, and doesn't include a host of mainly non-food items such as batteries and stationery.
Shoppers also have to buy the right number of products to make the most of rival deals, for example if Asda had a bogof on Coca-cola and Sainsburys didn't, shoppers would have to buy two for the system to recognise the deal."
Are we likely to know what price each of the above named stores are charging for their branded products? To find this out we either have to spend time checking on-line before we shop, or just get an unexpected voucher given us as the checkout to spend later. We don't even get money-back, just a 'tempter' to get us to return and buy more food. Personally prefer the reduced price offers, then this gives me more control of my spending.

An interesting piece about packaging has caught my eye - a launching of a new split-packet bacon product: "the 2.27kg packs, which open one side at a time, were intended to help customers minimise waste". Myeelf feel there would be very little difference in the amount of packaging used when two packs of bacon are individually wrapped or wrapped 'together'. Seems that something new has to be 'launched' each week to attract our attention enough in the hope we buy the product.

I've given up checking to see which of the big five has the cheapest shopping basket each week. If they could only stick to having the 33 items in the shopping basket the ones we would ALL normally buy, but often a good percentage are what I could class as 'luxuries'. Just one (luxury) item sold at the full price (the other stores selling it cheaper) can make the difference as to their ratings in the list. But at least ratings seem to matter, and as long as the stores keep trying to outrate the rest, then we 'shoppers' can rub our hands with glee.

Find this hard to believe (but when it comes to food there are always some fools who will buy anything) - . apparently there is a product called 'Vitamin-Gel' packaged in a small tube that claims to give consumers 100% of the RDA of 13 vitamins. Strawberry flavoured " it works well on a slice of bread, apparently."
Or what about the 'Nopalburger'. "Nopales are the paddle-shaped leaves of a cactus, and have been combined with onion, corn and carrot to produce a burger that will tickle the tastebuds of adventurous veggies".
For those who wish to make their meat and poultry taste of coffee, " a US company has made an Expresso Rub that claims to perk up food with a smoky, roasted (coffee) taste."

As if we can't - ourselves - adjust the amount of salt we add to something, an Italian condiment supplier has launched a liquid salt to help us reduce salt consumption. "Sold in a pump-activated spray designed to help consumers more easily control how much salt they use." Personally find it's easier to adjust a 'pinch' than control how much is sprayed from a can, but there you go. Mind you, this liquid salt is a bit different. It comes in three varieties: red Hawaiian salt, which takes on the colour of the clay used in its production; black Hawaiiain salt which gets its unusual colour from charcoal, and traditional white sea salt. There are people out there who - of course - can't wait to buy all three. I'm not one of them. Give me proper - and white - salt crystals any time.

How I wish I was young enough to buy the property and run the shop advertised in the trade mag this week. Called ' Linkhouse Stores' this is the hub of the small community of Mid Yell on the Shetland Islands. And I want it!!
"The free-hold for this post office and petrol station is on the market for offers of over £175,000, the single-story detached property includes a listed-status house with potential for development. Along with excellent profitability with annual income of £750,000 (includes the Post Office income of about £20,000, the purchase will also get amazing scenery and a surprisingly temperate climate."
As with any property sold in Scotland, the offers are over the amount given, and I believe sealed bids, so the one who offers the most gets the property. No negotiation. Considering the income, expect the price paid will be far in excess of the starting price shown above. Even so, looks like being a worth buy.

Got up very early this morning due to hearing a constant tap-tap-tap (or drip, drip, drip) just outside our window. Probably a leaking gutter, but after waking found it annoying enough for me not to be able to fall asleep again. B said it was probably upstairs central heating, but I doubt it. It's bad enough with the odd 'hum' that starts up now and again, lasts for an hour or so and then switches off. Think this is a pump or something to do with upstairs, but annoying at night, although have got used to it. Hear it more when our heads are closer to the wall, if I sleep with my feet at the head end of the bed can hardly hear it. If I time it right, can go to bed when the 'pump' is not one, then fall asleep before it starts up again. None of it is annoying enough to complain about. Like a ticking clock would probably have got used to it if it kept going. It's just the starting and stopping that makes it more noticeable.

It was a gorgeous day yesterday, no clouds, really blue skies and - of course - lots of sunshine. Sat in the conservatory for a while during the afternoon, and it was very warm in there. Still early (just 8.00am) and the sky is overcast but it looks as though it could improve. Really ought to go out with Norris for a scoot, but probably won't (he needs charging up - and this can be done today in the hope the weather holds out next week).

With Hallow'een about a fortnight away, perhaps worth giving a few recipes using pumpkins and use the seeds to make this savoury snack. Wash the seeds well to remove any flesh, pat dry with a tea-towel and place on a baking sheet in a warm place to dry. Leave for 24 hours, then toss 4 oz (100g) seeds with 1 tsp celery salt, half a tsp paprika pepper, 1 tblsp olive oil and a little black pepper. When coated, spread out seed on the baking tray and bake for 10 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4, turning them half-way through the cooking time. These can be stored for several weeks in an airtight tin.

This recipe for pumpkin or butternut (and should also work with a large marrow) uses no meat but nevertheless is packed with protein. Also a great dish for lovers of Indian flavours. Best to make this with 'planned' left-overs (beans, lentils, rice). If you haven't harissa, or garam masala, stir in chilli powder or Tabasco and a teaspoon (or more to taste) of medium hot curry paste.
Spicy Stuffed Squash: serves 4
1 or 2 squash (depending upon size)
2 tblsp olive oil
3 shallots, chopped
1 tsp harissa paste
1 tsp garam masala
1 tomato, chopped
1 tblsp tomato puree/paste
4 fl oz (100ml) vegetable stock
4 oz (100g) cooked red kidney beans
4 oz (100g) cooked red lentils
4 oz (100g) cooked brown rice
salt and pepper
4 tblsp grated Cheddar cheese
Halve the pumpkin or marrow and remove the seeds (see above what to do with these). Brush the flesh with some of the oil and bake for 25 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4.
Put the remaining oil in a frying pan and fry the shallots for 3 minutes to soften, then stir in the harissa and garam masala. Cook for one minute then add the remaining ingredients (but not the cheese). Mix together until well combined and use this mixture to stuff the two halves. Sprinkle the cheese on top and return to the oven for 20 minutes.

Making soup with pumpkin is a pretty obvious suggestion, as is Pumpkin Pie, but am still giving the recipes. If you've bought a large pumpkin, then worth cooking and pureeing it to freeze to use in various dishes in later months, so we start with how to make the puree.
Pumpkin Puree:
Use either whole or halved and de-seeded fruit in skin. If cut, brush the cut side with oil, then bake at 180c, 350F, gas 4 until tender. This will take anything from 30 minutes to an hour depending upon size. Scoop out flesh and puree in a blender until smooth, or mash the flesh thoroughly with a potato masher. Butter or olive oil and seasoning can be added depending upon what you intend making with the puree.

The next recipe is for soup where the pumpkin starts off raw. You could save time by using the above puree and then adding cooking it with the remaining ingredients. This adaptation I'll leave you to work our for yourself as it's not difficult to do. If you make a large enough amount, you can freeze some away to 'reheat 'n eat' during the cold winter months.
Pumpkin Soup: serves 4 - 6
2 lb (1 kg) pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
2 tblsp sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped
1.25 pints (750ml) vegetable stock
14 fl oz (400ml) milk
half tsp freshly ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
4 fl oz (100ml) cream
4 tblsp grated Cheddar cheese
Put the pumpkin and oil in a large pan, cover and fry gently over medium heat for 10 minutes to soften. Reduce heat to low, push the pumpkin to one side and add the onion then cook this until softened, then stir the two together. Pour in the stock, milk, nutmeg and seasoning to taste, then bring to the boil. Cover the pan and - still over low heat - simmer for 20 minutes. Cool slightly then blitz in a blender until smooth. You may need to add a little water if too thick for your taste. At this point it can be cooled then frozen.
To serve, reheat, stir in the cream and add more seasoning if required. Serve with a sprinkling of cheese on top, and a chunk of crusty bread for dipping.

No doubt there are many different recipes for making Pumpkin Pie - traditionally served on Thanksgiving Day in America. This recipe is the English version and uses the puree (recipe above). Maybe it is the same as in the US. We will have to wait to hear.
The 'cheffy' way to give a 'blind-baked' pastry case a neat edge is to be generous with the pastry and not to remove any overlap before baking (this then prevents the sides of the pastry shrinking back into its tin). Once cooked it can be carefully shaved across the top of its container/tin to give a really neat and tidy rim. This may seem to be wasteful, but myself have found the cooked pastry scraps can be used. Either sprinkle them with salt/pepper and grated cheese and pop back into the oven (or under the grill to allow the cheese to melt), then eat as 'nibbles', or just crush the pastry and use with butter and sugar instead of crushed biscuits for the base of a cheesecake. To be honest, I tend to just eat the bits as I remove them!
Allspice is not the same as 'mixed spice', but as it has the flavours of ginger, cloves and nutmeg, then could be used as a substitute for the individual spices. If the pumpkin puree is a bit 'slack', then place into a sieve and leave to drain overnight to remove as much excess liquid as possible.
Pumpkin Pie: serves 6
1 lb 6 oz (600g) pumpkin puree (see above)
1 9" (23cm) shortcrust pastry case, baked blind
3 eggs, beaten
1 x 400g (14oz) can evaporated milk
4 oz (100g) soft light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
half tsp each ground ginger, cloves and nutmeg...
OR 1 good tsp ground allspice (see above)
half tsp salt
Put the beaten eggs into a bowl with the pumpkin puree, the evap. milk, sugar, spices and salt and mix together thoroughly. Leave the pastry case in its tin, still on the baking tray, and fill with the pumpkin mixture. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 35 - 40 minutes until set but still has a tiny bit of a wobble in the centre. Can be served warm or cold.

Despite an early start, it's now nearly 9.30am so worth spending a little more time in the kitchen today in the hope of doing some baking. Beloved gave me a list of his favourite choice of cakes yesterday, so hope to make some for him today (and some for me as well - I do love chocolate eclairs!!).

Before I forget, not sure if many (or any) of you watched Gino last week during 'No Taste Like Home' showing how to portion up a chicken. Despite him leaving all the joints (including the breasts) on the bone, there was still enough carcase (the bit with the wings attached) to use to make stock. What was different to the way I joint a chicken was that Gino did not remove the breasts from the rib cage, but cut them across the bird as well as through the centre to give four portion of chicken breasts (on the bone), making a total of 8 portions from one bird (four half-breasts, two thighs and two drumsticks). The wings he didn't count. Leaving the joints still with bones attached means the meat will have a lot more flavour, so worth losing some of the carcase - in any case enough left - with wings - to make a pretty decent stock in its own right.
When we cook chicken joints in a casserole, then one joint per person should be enough. Enough chickens on offer at the moment, so the cost per 'chicken portion' should be less than 50p a head. But only if we joint a whole fresh chicken ourselves. Buy the chicken ready-jointed and it can work out VERY EXPENSIVE INDEED.

With that thought I will leave you to the rest of your weekend. Whether relaxing or slaving away over a hot stove, make sure you enjoy yourself. If you've done anything interesting (or even if you haven't) be sure to let us know. This way I know you're still there logging on. Join me tomorrow to find out if I've done anything worth writing about today. But don't hold your breath. Knowing me I won't do much more than think about doing the washing up. And only thinking about doing it.
Alan Titchmarsh the other day said the best way to get a dish-washer (machine) is to ask your husband to do the washing up. Didn't work like that with me. After years (and years and years and years) of washing up pots, pans, cutlery and crockery, did ask B if I could have a dishwasher. He preferred not to spend his money, and instead started doing the washing up himself (some of the time). Well it helps, just wish he'd put it all away when dry. And he doesn't like washing the cooking pots and pans, so they get left for me to do. I'd be quite happy to change roles and do all the washing up if B could do the cooking. There are times when making a meal does not appeal to me AT ALL. Feel today might be one of them.

Before I get maudlin, better take myself off into the kitchen and try and become enthusiastic about something. Seeing blue sky appearing on the horizen is immediately making me feel better. B soon will be off 'sailing' (now this means him driving the safety boat), so at least will have time to myself.
Nearly half an hour ago I was saying my farewells to you for the day. I just can't seem to stop chatting, can I? What I need is more self-control. So shut up Shirley and go into the kitchen.....