Friday, November 18, 2011

Canny Cooking

Thanks to Alison and Lisa for their concern re my daughter. Hopefully, once the specialist has received the results of tests, then we are hoping there might be some light at the end of this particular tunnel.

When my Beloved and I visited America some 15 years or so ago to visit our daughter (who lived in New York state, and my cousin - who lived in New Jersey. it was for about 10 days around Christmas and one Sunday we all went out to eat breakfast at a diner. Apparently it was common for families to eat breakfast 'out' on Sundays.

Anyway, I had what I call the 'full American' - and have to say suffered with heartburn for days after. Can't remember everything on the plate, but sure there were sausages, crispy bacon, baked beans (possibly), certainly fried egg ('over-easy' I think I needed to ask for - which to me meant turned over when the underside was cooked, and have to say the 'Americanism' of 'over-easy' and 'sunny-side up' makes much sense. We should use these expressions here). Think there might have been hash browns on the plate but certainly were a pile of pancakes (not what we call 'pancakes' here - aka 'crepes' - but smaller and thicker that we would call 'drop scones' or 'Scotch pancakes'. These had a liberal serving of maple syrup poured over.

American bacon truly does cook beautifully crisp, and not surprising for when we visited a supermarket noticed the bacon rashers seemed nothing more than rashers of fat that looked as though they had stripes of 'meat' drawn on them with a felt-tip pen. Not good for our cholesterol! Our 'streaky' bacon has more meat than fat, and our 'back' bacon has fat only at one edge, with maybe a little bit more in the tapering end.

Am sure it is possible to bake gluten-free biscuits Lisa, and will try to hunt out a recipe for you. Have you tried making them with cornmeal or rice flour? Scottish shortbread is made with (normal) flour and rice flour, so a mix of gluten free flour and rice flour might work.

You sound as though you have the perfect life Lisa - well The Walton's style anyway. If only everyone could have a family life with a mother like you. Am sure you are very much appreciated. If not, why not!!

Possibly a year ago now there was a programme on about several Amish teenagers who came to live in the UK to experience our way of life. They stayed with several and very different families, and all but one decided the Amish way of life was the best. A new programme will be on TV soon where UK teenagers will be travelling to the UK and living with the Amish. Bet they will get some shocks, but let us hope that the gentle (yet- hardworking) life rubs off on them.

Myself just love the way of life of the Amish (esp after seeing the film 'Witness). It is only recently that the Amish have allowed TV cameras to enter their way of life - although some of the more 'orthodox' are still against it.

Another religious group I admire are the Shakers, but as they don't marry, and therefore have no children to follow in parent's footsteps, they rely on converting people to join their 'group', which - I believe - means their numbers are dwindling. They also are renowned for their crafts. I believe either the Shakers or Amish (or maybe both) always make a deliberate mistake when sewing their patchwork quilts.

There was something in our newspaper yesterday which was - sort of - interesting. It was all about how so many people from overseas are now working over here, which has raised the unemployment level of British folk. Several articles covered this, a few written by someone from an unemployment bureau, others by people who had taken on both British and foreign workers, and all agreed that we Brits are just downright lazy and 'foreigners' are prepared to work hard AND longer hours. Youngsters these days - it was said - have not learned responsibility, so can't cope when they start work. Also it seems easy enough to get benefits, and when going 'out to work' pays only a few pounds more for a week' (hard!!!) work, why should they bother?

Examples were given of how young Brits would party late at night then couldn't work the next day because of a hangover. How they started work then two days later walked out - because the work was too hard. How they took time off because they wanted to go out with their mates. How they couldn't work because they were 'ill in bed', then seen on Facebook or somewhere partying at the time they should have been at work.

Also many Brits who have applied for work and been interviewed have degrees in subjects that bear no relation to any work they are seeking. Most employers wish their workers to learn 'on the job' anyway. A mention was given to the now head of Tesco who began his grocery career from the bottom up - stocking shelves.

Apparently foreign workers (well most of them) are 'reliable'. More than you can say for Brits. Yes, possibly I am generalising, and there are many people - young and old - who genuinely want work, but even then they tend to be a bit selective about what work they do.
All I can say is 'get a job. Any job'. Once in work it is far easier to seek other employment that might be more suitable, but at least proof that one is 'able' to work and be able to give a good reference, means more than gold these day.

....It was here the blogsite failed. So will now take up my 'pen' again and continue with a bit more chat...
When we shop cannily (aka thriftily) we make the most of the foods we have in our larder, fridge and freezer. Once we have - over time - built up a good stock, we should be able to live off this for some weeks - even months, and perhaps 'canny' cooks MIGHT tend to use food from cans more than others - but why not? Do we always have to buy the expensive beef tomatoes in the depth of winter when canned plum and chopped tomatoes have - as many chefs say - much more flavour than any grown in this country, also much cheaper than the fresh AND - at present - usually 'on offer'. By the same token, it MIGHT again work out cheaper to use canned cooked pulses, than cook our own from scratch. At the moment, possibly not, but it these are convenient and it does save fuel. Again buy when on offer.

First recipe today certainly could be made from what is in my 'stores', and hopefully yours also. True the mushrooms are 'fresh', but often we have three or four left in the box that really need using up. Bacon is normally something we keep in the fridge, rice always in the cupboard, and thrifty cooks should have some chicken 'scraps' picked from the carcase after making stock (either 'fresh' or frozen). Even the white wine could be a frozen (and thawed) 'cube' of wine.

Whether or not we intend making this dish like NOW - or another other for that matter - when a recipe takes your fancy it is always worth reading through the list of ingredients then taking note of what you don't have at the moment, but could 'store away' (like freezing cubes of wine) in the near future, so that you WILL have what is needed when the time comes.

Chicken, Bacon and Mushroom Risotto: serves 4
6 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
2 oz (50g) butter
1 onion, finely chopped
8 oz (225g) mushrooms, sliced
10 oz (300g) risotto rice
half glass white wine
2.75 pints (1 1/2 litres) boiling chicken stock
approx 7 oz (200g) cooked chicken scraps
handful parsley, chopped
2 oz (50g) grated Parmesan cheese
Put half the butter in a frying pan and fry the bacon until just cooked, then stir in the onion until softened. Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 3 minutes, then stir in the butter - making sure it is coated with the butter, than continue to cook until the rice begins to look transparent.
Pour the wine into the pan, then simmer until evaporated (the rice will absorb the flavour), then reduce heat and add a ladleful of stock. Simmer until this has almost evaporated, then add a further ladleful of stock and cook until this has evaporated, and repeat - stirring all the time - until the rice is tender and all or most of the stock has been used (this will take about half an hour to get to this stage).
When the last ladle of stock is added, also add the chicken, and stir through so it is thoroughly reheated. Finally add the chopped parsley, the Parmesan and the remaining butter. Remove from heat, cover pan and leave to rest for a few minutes, then give a final stir then serve.

Next recipe is a variation on Minestrone Soup, and when it contains no meat this would then be given the name 'Minestra'. This is a version that uses several different 'green' vegetables that most of us might keep in our freezer. The pasta can be any 'bits', broken or crushed that might and possibly not be worth using in a 'proper' pasta dish (so never throw pasta bits away). The beans used are canned - but could be home-cooked (and then frozen ready to thaw and be used as an when). The pesto too comes from a jar - but (as ever) could be made by whizzing up some home-grown herbs with either pinenuts or almonds and crushed garlic.

Green Minestra: serves 4
8 oz (225g) mixed green veg (peas, broad beans etc)
2 spring onions, chopped (or 1 shallot)
1.25 pints (700ml) hot vegetable stock
5 oz (150g) cooked pasta (see above)
1 small can (215g) butter beans, drained and rinsed
2 - 3 tblsp green pesto (or to taste)
Put the stock in a saucepan with the green veg and onion, bring to the boil then simmer until the vegetables are cooked through (this should take about 3 minutes).
Stir in the cooked pasta, beans and half the pesto. Bring back to the simmer, then serve in individual bowls with remaining pesto drizzled on top.

Not wishing to rock my boat, think I'll publish now before blogger gets another wobbly. Fingers crossed this site will be working properly tomorrow - if so, hope to see you then.