Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Getting My Act Together

Had a pleasant day yesterday at Barton Grange, although not without its hiccups. Fortunately both their scooters were still available so chose one and set off to take a good look at everything, starting with the Cook's Shop (of course). They still have a very large (and working) Aga cooker on display and WANT ONE!!!. But far too big for our kitchen and too late in life to make it worth fitting a smaller one. They just look so homely (this word has a different meaning in the US).

While in the Cook's Shop the scooter let me know it had a mind of its own, and it wasn't long before I realised that when I took the pressure off the 'forward' tab (when the scooter should then stop) it carried on for several yards more. Had to yank the tab back to make it stop (alternatively press the 'reverse' tab which also stopped it) but this wasn't instinctive, so took a few seconds before I gained control again. It kept happening throughout the morning and the amount of times I just missed careering into people or stands full of fragile glass ornaments ran into almost three figures. When I finally managed to bring the scooter back to base, told the assisant and she took it out of circulation until tested.

Managed to get out of the Cook's Shop without buying anything other than a couple of icing pens (one red one green) to help decorate the Christmas cakes etc., plus a couple of EasyYo yogs, and a couple of packs of paper cake cases (am doing a big batch of cooking shortly for a charity stall). Oh yes, also a pack of ready-to-roll icing, and a small cookery book. More than I meant to buy, but do like to treat myself from time to time. At least didn't buy something 'expensive'.

Moving on through the main 'hall' - this normally filled with garden furniture, barbecues etc, this was transformed into a Christmas spectacular. Loads of artificial Christmas trees, all covered with decorations, each 'alcove' colour co-ordinated (blue and silver, red and gold etc) and shelves all around also filled with everything that glitters and shines and can hang, drape or light up.. Truly a magical sight. Managed to get through without buying anything more than one spray-can of gold paint, and ditto silver and a couple of boxes of 'sprinkles' (red and green) so that I can turn a lot of non-edible 'discards' (normally thrown away) into Christmas decorations. Am planning to cut the numerous hydrangea heads still on the bushes in our garden, bring them in to dry and spray some of these with the paints. Am hoping to 'deck the halls with boughs of holly' (we have two buge holly bushes) and spend not a penny more on decorations but still have our house (actually only the ground floor of a detached 1920's house). A real do-it-yourself job this year. We do have a handful of decorations bought since we moved here, but that's about it. Am hoping also to make our own artificial Christmas tree, although not yet sure how.

We had an early lunch in the Coffee shop at B.Grange. 'Home-made' soup (which was very good), with the usual roll and butter. Afterwards B wanted something sweet (as did I) so we both an eclair. It was MASSIVE, although not quite like I wished as the two choux pastry halves were sandwiched together first by a thick layer of custard, this then topped with a thick layer of cream. Eclairs don't need custard - just cream. B later told me they cost over £2.00 each (did he say £2.50 each?!!). The (almost same) eclairs sold in their farm shop were a bit cheaper (but they contained only cream and no custard).

We finished our day out by visiting the Farm Shop at B.Grange. As ever, full of food I was desperate to buy, but managed to control myself, buying just two small pots of double cream as they were 'reduced' in price. Then bought my usual multi pack of chicken breasts (always good value) and this time a multi-pack of diced stewing beef (also good value) as I felt this would be more use for winter casseroles than buying the packs of minced beef (same price/weight as the diced) as can always 'mince' up the stewing steak in the food processor if needed.

As it was, decided to freeze half the steak (in several small packs) and cook the remaining diced steak overnight (in water and wine) in the slow-cooker. This gave a lovely aroma when I went into the kitchen early this morning, and the meat was very tender. It is now cooling in the pot and will be decanted into several small boxes with some of the gravy for later meals. The remaining gravy will also be frozen separately.

The great thing about being able to browse round the Christmas display was that it gave me ideas of how easy it would be for anyone to make quite a lot of the things on sale (which were all fairly expensive). As I said to B - "if wishing to buy anything at B.G. you need to ignore the price tags and just be prepared to dish out loadsa money. Have to say though that the multi-bags of their meats (beef, pork and poultry) ARE really good value.

Think yesterday there must have been a coach load of disabled people visiting B.G. as there were so many people in wheelchairs, scooters (their own), and hobbling with sticks that for once I felt at home. Not that it made it easy to scoot around especially as I seemed always to be going against the crowd. Perhaps there was a one-way system that I was ignoring. But as ever - every disabled person had a smile on their face, and was enjoying their day out. Wish able people could find the same pleasure in their own lives.

Now to the remaining info from this week's trade mag. It was the several pages on cheap curry sauces that caught my eye, for readers in the past will know I had been buying Tesco's Value curry sauce when it was on sale for only 4p a can!! At the moment it is retailing at 17p (but pleased to say I still have 3 cans bought when it was at it cheapest).
Four 'cheapo' curry sauce were shown. Asda's (19p) and Tesco's (17p) said to be almost identical except one is in a tin, the other in a jar (and in this instance feel that the Asda one would at least leave us with a jar to use for jam/marmalade). In fact Tesco's curry sauce was the only one in a can, the rest were in jars.
Sainsbury's sauce at 25p was said to be "the most palatable", and Morrison's (19p) "the most unpalatable". But - as ever - 'one man's meat is another man's poison".

Personally have found the cheap curry sauces to be quite 'useful', although when reading through the article wonder if I've made yet another 'fatal error'. I quote:
"The packaging is awful, they look and taste terrible. They're so unloved by the multiples that they hide them away on the bottom shelf where they sell them for pennies" (If that is what they do with cheap stuff, then perhaps we should start walking along the aisles with our eyes now cast firmly down to see what lurks at ankle level). "And they're not even popular with customers any more.....so why do mults persist in selling value own-label curry sauces with value sales down 17.4%?
After all, what's so special about about own-label curry sauce? But with its echoes of the 3p economy baked beans of the mid-90s, cheap curry sauce illustrates perfectly a paradox apparent at the value end of the own-label spectrum: the explosion of products that are apparently being sold below cost - during one of the worst economic downturns in history".

The article covers many points - the difference in price between packaging in glass or cans (cans are cheaper), and a chef (who produces his own line of spicy gourmet marinades) said "all the above sauces taste as if they have been produced in the same factory, and adjectives used to describe the sauces such as 'basic' and 'mild' are misleading because none have any heat at all".
A nutritionist says they certainly don't score highly on the health front and "the trouble with cheap food is that you have to compromise on the ingredients. All processed food has to use some form of preservative"....and so on and so forth. But then have I ever bought a jar of any type of curry sauce just because it is 'high on the health front'? No, I've bought it to save me time and add flavour to the 'healthy' foods that I'm cooking.

Final words in this article are "Like it or not, cheap curry sauce is here to stay. Who is wrong to say they (retailers) are wrong to sell curry sauces at such a low price if it gains repeat sales? But then again - so does meths."

Next article talks about pasta. From the retail angle (and to some extent ours as consumers) "Cheap, convenient, comforting, healthy and delicious, pasta is arguably the meal solution most perfectly in tune with our times".
Seems that however good it is, most retailers stick with selling only a few different pasta 'types'. to find out more seek out the Wikipedia page which is devoted to different pasta shapes all over the globe - the list runs to more than 150. Yet - in this country we would be hard pressed to find more than spaghetti, fusilli, penne, linguine and tagliatelli.
Over the past few months more unusal shapes have begun to appear on the shelves, and there is a mention of Tesco launching orzo, paccheri and pappardelle pastas. Orcado is the only store to stock the Garafolo wide range of regional pasta shapes (including gnocchi sardi, mafalda corta nd casarecce).
But do we really NEED to keep a variety of pasta shapes in our larder? True all the dried pasta has a long shelf life, but to me pasta is pasta is pasta. Pasta 'wheels', 'bows' and 'shells' can certainly make certain dishes look more attractive than if made with (say) macaroni, but would it warrant spending that little bit more (always supposing that weight for weight shapes differ in price)?

Final words come not from the mag itself, but from a 'supplement' that came with it, this week's called 'Defining the Laundry Category'. A certain amount of advertising in it, but the following does give useful info, although it seems to contradict itself when it comes to what does contain bleach and what doesn't. Maybe this differs according to the brand.
choosing the right detergent:
Liquids/Gels and Liquidtabs DO NOT CONTAIN BLEACH. So great for coloured loads, especially the Colour and Style varients.

Enzymes are proteins that are very effective at breaking down stains and food residues. Non-Bio means no enzymes - it will still contain bleach if a tablet or powder.

Powders and Tablets (except colour varients) DO CONTAIN BLEACH, so they are great for washing white loads!

For white loads use a bleach-containing detergent such as Daz powders an tablets.

For light and dark colours use a detergent without bleach such as Ariel liquids or gels.

choosing the right format:
Gels - don't contain bleach and are great for washing coloured loads. Squeeze the gel into the dosing device and then place it on top of your load.
Liquitabs - don't contain bleach and also great for washing coloured loads, These should be placed on the bottom of the drum with the wash load on top.
Liquids - Great for pre-treating directly onto stains, especially useful for those most difficult to remove.
Tablets - Easy and convenient to use. They can be used either in the washing machine dispenser drawer or the drum. If put into the drum, place them in the bottom, at the back, with the clothes on top.
Powders - Can be dosed flexibly. Note that Ariel powder should be dosed directly into the washing machine dispenser drawer.

The average temperature of water entering UK households is approx. 15C. If you choose a cycle with no heat it will wash at a temperature of aroun 15C. This is classed as a cold wash. Most of the energy consumed when washing clothes is used to heat the water. Lowering your wash temperature will help save energy and money!
The revolutionary Ariel Excel Gel is designed to work at these low temperatures while still giving brilliant cleaning. Used in the heart of the wash it dissolves quickly and gets to work at once.....giving outstanding cleaning power n cold water.

Despite the above 'fuel-saving' advice re washing at low temperatures, have myself read recently there is concern that too low a temperature does not kill off any bacteria which can remain lurking in the machine and possibly hook itself onto (say) cleaning cloths/tea towels etc. So we are advised to do a boil-wash fairly regularly to help sterilise the machine (and towels etc).

Thanks to Suzi for her comment. My parents - who lived through World War I - remembered the food shortages then, so also built up a 'store' of canned foods to help see us through World War II. Remember them being kept in boxes under my bed.

Road speeds are similar here to yours in the US Lisa. In built-up areas we are limited to 30 mph, so roads having 'speed bumps' to slow traffic down to even lower speed. On some roads (such as 'ring roads' or more major highways, the speed limit is increased to 40 mph,, and once past the set 'boundaries' we can exceed that up to 70 mph (unless otherwise stated). On motorways (still an official 70 mph limit) more often than not drivers exceed this , but keep an eagle eye open in case there are traffic police around.
Recently have noticed signs at the road side in rural areas (usually when approaching a village) that light up with your speed as you approach it, this really helps to slow drivers down.

Am pretty sure that J. Oliver's turkey kit was only half a bird (one breast, one leg). Being free-range and a 'quality' reared bird, plus Jamie's name probably accounts for the excessive price. Turkeys here are much dearer this year than last, but am pretty sure there will be reduced prices on some of the frozen ones.
More and more people are choosing to go back to cooking and eating goose, pork, duck or even roast beef for Christmas dinner, and foregoing the turkey (which has only been 'traditional' since introduced from America).

Not sure whether your water pipes are 'reachable' Lisa, but over here we always 'lag' ours to prevent them freezing during the winter. Some people do this only during the winter months, we tend to leave the lagging on all year round to save us doing it again.

Myself tend to freeze 'fresh' herbs Deb , by finely chopping them and push firmly into ice-cube trays with little water to hold them together. After freezing the herb 'cubes' can be stored in containers, but keep each type of herb separate (after chopping they all look alike) and remember to label.
Some herbs - such as bay leaves and rosemary - can just be bagged up and frozen as - is. Those with more tender leaves are best chopped.

The first recipe today is another 'gluten-free', but don't let that put off readers who can eat 'almost anything' for this is a very unusual recipe as we don't need any special ingredients to make it (other than gluten-free baking powder if necessary). Although given as the usual 'lemon drizzle' it could also be made as an 'orange drizzle' if that is the flavour you prefer.
gluten-free Lemon Drizzle Cake: serves 8 - 10
8 oz (225g) butter, softened
8 oz (225g) caster sugar
4 eggs, beaten
6 oz (175g) ground almonds
9 oz (250g) mashed potato, cold
zest and juice of 3 lemons
2 tsp baking powder (gluten free?)
4 tblsp granulated sugar
Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in the eggs, alternating with a little ground almonds (to prevent the mixture curdling). Fold in the remaining ground almonds, mashed potato, juice of 2 of the lemons, the mashed potato and the baking powder.
Spoon mixture into into a deep 8" (20cm) greased and lined cake tin, level the surface then bake for 40-45 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 or until golden (and a skewer inserted comes out clean). Cool in tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto cake airer.
Mix the granulated sugar and remaining lemon juice together and spoon over the top of the cake (doesn't matter if some of it drips down the sides). Leave cake to get completely cold before cutting.

Final recipe recipe for today is one I really like (well I like all the recipes I give or I wouldn't give them would I?), perhaps because this cake tastes as good as a more 'expensive' one - and (perhaps even more important) he weights for the main ingredients also 'match' and the 'making' is particularly easy. The apple keeps it moist, so although not keeping as long as a traditional heavy fruit cake, once wrapped, this one will keep for at least a week in an airtight tin and can be frozen (without the icing) for at least a month (so could be made now and frozen ready to decorate and eat as a Christmas Cake.. Allow to defrost fully before adding any icing decoration.
Simple but Luscious Fruit Cake: serves 12
8 oz (225g) butter, softened
8 oz (225g) dark muscovado sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 tblsp black treacle
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp baking powder
8 oz (225g) eating apples, grated
8 oz (225g) mixed dried fruit (sultanas, raisins...)
Put all the ingredients except the apples and dried fruit into bowl and beat together until pale and thick (best done with an electric hand blender). Then - using a metal spoon - gently fold in the grated apple and dried fruit.
Spoon the mixture into a greased and base-lined 8" (20cm) deep cake tin and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 50 mins - 1 hour or until dark gold and shrunk slightly away from the sides (do the skewer test as well to make sure).
If wishing to ice the cake, do this after the cake has cooled completely, wrap and store in an airtight tin for up to a week, or freeze (undecorated) for up to a month.

A calendar month from today and it will be Christmas Day. And I haven't done ANYTHING yet when it comes to preparation (food or otherwise). Time now for me to get my act together. Have to blame the weather, it still feels more like summer (or early autumn) despite most of the leaves now falling (but the apple tree in our back garden still has all its leaves, the rest of the foliage being mainly evergreen. Noticed it was 18C further south of the UK yesterday, although it felt a bit colder here further north. If it carries on like this, we will be past the winter solstice and back to longer days and shorter nights before the cold sets in (if it ever does), and that always makes us feel like winter is on its way out (even if it hasn't truly begun).

Our daughter (who's health is not improving - if anything getting worse) saw her doctor yesterday who has requested the results of test to be taken this Thursday and next Sunday (over night in hospital), to be given priority (otherwise it can take weeks). Hopefully then we will know the root of the problem and hopefully treatment then given to be able to cure or contain it.

If I don't rise early enough tomorrow, due to my now early hair appointment, will be writing this blog later in the morning. However - with a footie match on TV tonight, might go to bed early in which case I wake early and can write my blog before Norma arrives. So 'expect me when you see me'. Enjoy your day.