Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Make Our Own Pleasures.

Because my Beloved pays to have a newspaper delivered each day, this does not cut into my 'housekeeping' budget. Even so feel that today - with world news broadcast (certainly on one channel) 24 hours a day, and national news on TV several times a day giving us 'local' information, who needs newspapers any more? Certainly they seem obsessed with passing on as much doom and gloom as possible, and if anyone does anything 'good' and worthy of reading, it is shoved into a back page, down the bottom where we are likely to miss it anyway.

So - yesterday - decided to leaf through out morning paper with a fine toothcomb to see if it was 'worth the money' and discover what good things HAVE been written about. The centre pages are packed with crosswords of various types, other puzzles and loads of sudoku. So that's something good I suppose, but alone feel the 71 page newspaper is not really worth the 55p (plus delivery charge) that we pay, especially when I could find only one 'good' yesterday thing worth reading. Well, maybe others are interested in full page article (plus photos) about Nigella Lawson appearing to have lost weight (I don't care one way or the other), and perhaps another full page about November now turning into Spring (as nature seems to feel we have missed out and now flowers, leaves, and animal behaviour is showing 'spring behaviour'). But even then feel this is more for concern than anything else. It worries me when nature gets a 'wobbly'. If we can't rely on nature anymore, then what is to become of us?

It was page 20 with its half-page on Xmas food before I discovered something that DID make interesting reading, but - again- not necessarily for everyone. More on that in a minute.
After that came pages giving TV programmes, followed by a few pages of advertisements for holiday - usually abroad (in fact most pages had ads, some took over the full page none of which I read or ever do read), followed by Financial News (more gloom), and finally from page 62 - 71 (inclusive) nothing but sport, sport, sport. Boring, boring, boring.

Perhaps the "Budget buys top the Christmas taste test" - (the only article I found worth reading in full) if followed - will at least save more than the money the newspaper cost yesterday. But we need more news like that to make it worth while buying a paper these days. True, many do give vouchers for 'free food' or other products, but to get these we either have to pay a heavy postage (possibly more than the price of the product) or - this is more usual - take the voucher to a given store to collect said 'freebie'. This usually means a trip into town and paying for transport one way or the other (and maybe even a parking fee).

The above article showed 121 products had been 'blind-tested'. All came from a mix of supermarkets, independent stores and producers. Eventually short-listed to 41. The judges had no idea where the products came from or the prices. Think you will be very interested in their opinion.
The Asda Extra Special Six Month Matured Luxury Christmas Pudding (£3) beat Heston Blumenthal's Hidden Orange (£13.99) and Mosimann's version (£14.50).
The Co-op's £2 pack of 12 mini-mince pies beat a £9.25 pack of six almond-topped from Harrods.
Tesco's Finest Fully Iced Holly Cake (£10 for 1kg) beat Fortnum & Mason's King George Rich Christmas Cake (£27.95).

The above was not much help to me as it compared supermarket produce against that from the top London stores (or chefs), but at least it showed how we sometimes are prepared to pay for a name rather than content.
Nevertheless the following is interesting when we remember the test was to find 'the best of the bunch' as regards taste.
"In its battle for mince pies, Tesco (£2.50) and Waitrose (£2.49) came top, ahead of Harrods (£7.95) and Fortnum and Mason (£8.95). And the editor of one set of judges said "We didn't set out to find the cheapest, as the tests are done without influence from packaging or price".

A 'box' on the page gave a list of the 'chosen few'. Top Christmas puds were the Asda Extra (mentioned above) followed by Duchy Originals Organic (£7.99). Runners up were Morrison's The Best 12-month Matured Christmas Pudding (large - £5.99) and Heston Blumenthal's (again mentioned above).
Top Christmas Cake was from Tesco for £10 (as above) with Waitrose Richly Fruited Snowflake cake (£16.99) coming second.
Top mince pies were the Co-op Truly Irresistible Mini Mince Pies (£2) with Riverford Organic Mince Pies at £4.99 coming second.

Not that I'm suggesting we even buy any of the above. With me it would always be 'could I make the same for better and for less cost?'. So the above is more a guide for costing than pushing to purchase. However, if wishing to buy, then at least you now know the ones that were judged to taste the best. There may be cheaper ones on sale, but those shown (if the judges tastes are the same as ours) give the best value for money.

Thanks to Sue et al for pointing out my error with the date. I'm a silly billy. Of COURSE Christmas is 6 weeks away, not four. Think it was seeing the '5' in yesterday's date that led me astray. Or maybe (true) it's around the 15th December that sleeves are rolled up and as much of the Christmas food started to be prepared (stuffing balls made and frozen, bread crumbed (and frozen) to make bread sauce, minced pies made up to the point of baking then frozen in their tins (to be later removed and replaced when ready to bake). All the 'necessary' - that has a good shelf life - bought in to be ready and waiting. Even extra bread frozen away. The turkey would almost certainly have been cooked ten days before Christmas, then - after chilling - sliced and frozen in a little of its stock. The turkey bones would also have been turned into stock - which gets this job done and dusted before the actual DAY.

If nothing else, the silly mistake giving the wrong date might actually have given food for thought. It certainly has reminded me that it is still not too early to make a start, but at least don't have quite the rush that yesterday thought lay before me.

You probably give it another name Lisa, but am sure you would normally also 'lag' your pipes for winter. 'Lagging' is what we wrap round our cold water pipes (both indoors and out) to protect them from severe frost. 'Lagging' I think is now sold (think like split tubes of thick foam that is wrapped around a pipe) although we normally use anything 'cosy' like strips of thick felt that is wound round and round each pipe open to the cold air. Think of 'lagging' like a duvet for pipes, and you'll get the idea.
In my youth, with no central heating and having such cold winters, our pipes often froze - often in the bathroom or loo where sometimes water drips down the pipes continuously, and as this froze eventually would split the pipe. As the water thawed it would then start dripping through the ceiling to the room beneath. Depending upon the source, it might just drip or fall in a deluge.

Today central heating tends to keep internal pipes warm enough not to have the need of lagging, but cold water tanks in lofts are best draped over with an old duvet to protect from cold, and even here in Morecame "we never have snow in Morecambe" we were told. That's a laugh!! We were advised by the man who services our gas-boiler to lag the air vent that goes through to the outside wall as this lets out the steam which could then freeze up and block the pipe. We have also lagged the water tap on an outside wall (beneath the window that faces me as I sit and type to you), as this too could freeze and burst.

Most people seem to have their roof space insulated these days (now done 'for free' by the council as a way to retain heat in the homes and thus save fuel). It is very easy to see which house has NOT had roof insulation for after a fall of snow, this disappears within hours from houses where the heat rises through the roof tiles. On the roof on an insulated home the snow could stay for days. Opposite where we live there is a semi-detached house where - after snow - half the roof keeps its thick layer of snow, the other side very soon shows bare tiles again.

By the way Lisa, 'ground almonds' are exactly what it is. We may think of this as a 'nut flour' (which I suppose it is - and ground hazelnuts can be used as a substitute), but all it is is a load of shelled and peeled whole or split almonds that have been blitzed down as finely as possible. Many chefs prefer to grind the nuts themselves so they can keep them coarse if they wish or grind them down to more of a 'powder', so if the whole nuts are available in your area, you could grind them down yourself.
Nuts in shell keep for several months in good condition, but once shelled have a shorter shelf-life. However, shelled or ground down, they will keep far longer when stored in a freezer.

The 'cooker' you mentioned Mimsy is the 'Remoska'. Have had glowing reports of this 'appliance' sent in some years back when I first gave it a mention, and it would be good to hear again from any readers who own one and use it regularly (or even not so regularly).

As I rose early this morning, managed to type my blog before Norma arrives, so have just time left to give a recipe. In fact it is almost two-for-one as the potatoes can be cooked as shown then served with something else if you wish. If you prefer a really rich 'tomato sauce' to the dish, then use two cans of chopped tomatoes and half the quantity of stock. It's my suggestion to include cooked sausages (which could be our 'normal' pork bangers, or the canned 'hamburger type' or even the spicy Polish sausage or Spanish Chorizo).

Not Quite Boston Beans - with Wedges: serves 4
potato wedges:
2 tblsp flour (any kind)
1 tsp cayenne, paprika or chilli powder
salt and pepper
4 baking potatoes, each cut into 8 wedges
1 tblsp sunflower oil
2 tsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 rashers streaky bacon, cut into pieces (lardons)
2 - tsp sugar (demerara or muscovado if poss)
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
half pint (300ml) vegetable stock
2 x 410g cans cannelli or haricot beans
4 cooked pork sausages (opt)
First prepare potatoes. Mix together the flour with the spices and seasoning to taste, then toss with the potatoes and oil until well coated. Spread in a single layer in a roasting tin and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 4 for a good half hour or until crisp and cooked through.
While the spuds are cooking, make the 'nearly' Boston beans by heating the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion and bacon over low to medium heat for around 10 minutes or until the onion is softened. Stir in the sugar, tomatoes, and half the stock, season to taste, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the drained and rinsed beans and continue cooking for a further five minutes. If the sauce is thickening too quickly, add more stock.
To make a real 'meal of it', chop up some cooked sausages, add at the same time as the beans so they have plenty of time to heat through.

Norma will be here in 15 minutes, so will take my leave of you for today, and hope to hear from you AND be with you again tomorrow. If so - see you then.