Friday, December 23, 2011

New Beginnings

Several readers have said they'd love a walk round my larder, and I did put a photo on this blog showing my laden shelves, possibly 18 months ago. Was about to publish it again today, but because B has added more shelves (so now able to store more food), and what was in there then has now been moved around, thought it better to take a new photo before I start running 'the collection down'. Too much food of course. I'll probably be ashamed to show it. But if I do, it will be at the end of this year - just before I begin starting to use it all up.

What a good idea to break chores into what can be managed in 5 minutes Lynn - which makes good use of the time taken up by those ads on TV! Do I get tired of cooking you ask? Sometimes now I do. Never minded when I had four children to feed (plus B, dog and grandma), even though it was often hard work. If my Beloved was a bit more appreciative, then perhaps it wouldn't feel such a slog. Honestly, I can spend all day in the kitchen cooking up 'something special' for him, and he just eats it and rarely gives any praise (though quite good at criticising).

Yesterday mentioned to B that Christmas probably doesn't seem any different to any time of the year as his meals are always 'treat standard', and he said he was always telling his sailing buddies at the social what good meals he ate at home. I then said "bet none of them regularly eat such good meals as you get here", and he agreed. So suppose that's a compliment in a roundabout way, even if I had to drag it out of him. But it would be nice for him to say so, like often.

Generally am happiest when 'experimenting', rather than just cooking meals that I've cooked hundreds of times before. Yesterday made B a spiced fruit loaf. Put far too much spice in it (I thought), but think it is OK. It was the normal bread dough (but this time half white half brown flour used), plus a little sugar and plenty of cinnamon and mixed spice. Plus a knob of butter and water of course.
Halfway through making dough (in the bread machine) threw in a 'guestimated' amount of sultanas and finely chopped dried apricots. The dough was enough to make a 1 lb loaf and four large 'teacakes'. The latter I cooked in a covered baking tin, this helped to keep the tops soft (normally they tend to crust up a bit too much for my liking).
I toasted on of the 'teacakes' for my breakfast this morning, and think there was too much spice, also should have let them rise a little more. The loaf appears much better and lighter, so later today will see how that cuts/toasts.
Although the loaf was cooking in the tin in the normal way, half-way through covered the top with foil (shiny side up), to prevent it getting too brown and crusty. This too helped to give the loaf a soft 'feel', more like the fruit loaves on sale.

Making the loaf was interesting, but thinking about what to make for B's supper was not, so (luckily) found a home-made Beef Jalfrezi (curry) I'd frozen, so thawed that out, leaving B to finish heating it through in the microwave, and also 'cook' his 2 minute rice in the microwave once the piping hot curry had been taken out.
He helped himself to my soft-scoop ice-cream for 'afters', and also continued snacking during the evening, although wasn't able to see what he was munching.

I'd taken the second tin of assorted sweets (recently bought but saved for Christmas) and yesterday shared them between three bowls (one bowl slightly larger than the other two matching ones). B asked what they were for, and I suggested he took one bowl and kept it by his chair so he could snack from it, so he immediately picked up the largest bowl! Bless him, he still has this fear that someone else will take what he feels is rightfully his (having four older brothers meant when he was small he only got what they didn't want, and often than meant nothing left for him at all). Told B he needn't panic, as ALL were for him, and I'd just put them into bowls so that there would be sweets for him in each room he was likely to be.
Did ask him to try and to make the sweets last until New Year, but doubt he has that much self-control. Mind you, tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and only just over a week to go before we hear the fireworks bringing in the New Year. Just can't wait! I love new beginnings.

Think I've eaten black beans only once, and have tasted most of the other varieties more often, and to me doubt if eating blindfold I would know one from the other. So perhaps your husband's preference Lisa, as to which beans he eats comes more from what he was used to seeing in a 'traditional' dish he enjoyed. Or is there really a difference in flavour? Do know that chilli wouldn't look as appetising if I used a paler bean than the normal deep red kidney bean. Even though the taste might be the same.

Heavens Woozy, shopping late afternoon on Christmas Eve? Not my idea of fun, even though there might be plenty of bargains. Did do this once myself many years ago, and remember there was little meat/veg left on the shelves then, and none reduced in price. But it was a smaller store (Safeways), so that may have made a difference. If you can trust your husband, then let him go by himself to discover bargains worth buying. He will probably enjoy the old 'hunter/gatherer instinct being awakened in him. You never know what other old instincts it may arouse. Just prepare yourself to be dragged by your hair into his cave later that evening.

Having had my fright over the possible food loss due to electrics failing (which fortunately never got that far), began to realise that the old ways, when we had no fridges, may have been the best and right way to go, even though this would mean going out to shop for fresh food to make the main meals almost every day. This worked because most women stayed at home and (suppose) had the time to do this. Also meals were pretty standard, none of the 'clever stuff' served up today that uses umpteen more ingredients than were ever used before. Life then was so simple and food served more to keep us alive than to keep us happy. There were much more interesting things to do than bother about what food we ate. Sometimes even sitting down to a meal took time away from the 'better things in life'. Now it seems that food is the only enjoyable thing left. Perhaps not a bad thing considering.

Can't quite understand your logic Les. For one thing water is not measured in grams but in mls or cls. and any measure can be used when cooking rice, it doesn't have to be the America 'cup'. Rice grains can differ in size (basmati being smaller than long-grain), so when measured by volume may not necessarily weigh the same.
All I can say is that if anyone uses one measure of rice to one and a half measures of water, then the rice will be cooked perfectly and also 'free-flowing'.
As you seem to appreciate the scientific side of cooking Les, you will probably be keen to purchase a 'sous-vide' (water-bath) that so many chefs now use. Am happy to tell you that Lakeland is selling one suitable for domestic kitchens, this will be seen in its latest catalogue (or on its website). If not too late to spread the message, this would probably be the best Christmas pressie you could ever have.

You mention clementines Campfire, and in my opinion these are far superior in flavour than the satsumas that most of us buy, and they peel just as easily, and don't have so much fibrous membrane. I've bought two 'nets' of clementines for the festive season and planning to save all the peel either to use as zest, to use for candied peel, or to remove membrane and dry the peel to add to casseroles etc (gives a wonderful flavour to the gravy). In January we will be having the large navel oranges appearing in the stores, these are my most favourite oranges (good flavour and no pips!).

Liked the idea of soaking dried fruit in cold tea AND scotch Margie. For those in the US, 'scotch' is Scotch whisky. If you see whisky with an added 'e' (whiskey) this means it is made in Ireland (Irish whiskey). Believe American whisky/whiskey is called 'bourbon'.

Sorry your Stollen didn't turn out as it should Lynn, but probably due to different flour being used. If something similar happens again (even if the correct ingredients are used as per recipe, some flours will always absorb more liquid than others), so - if necessary - we can always work in a bit more flour to 'stiffen' up the mixture and make it easier to handle/shape.

There was something mentioned on the news about the price of Christmas dinner, but as I wanted to watch 'Eggheads' missed what was said. No doubt we are (as a nation) paying more than last year, certainly far too much anyway. Might be that we HAVE all cut down. All I can say is that by keeping within my food budget, am still able to cook/serve the festive feast, even if not on the correct day (this year it will be closer to New Year). Really there needn't be much difference in the cost of a normal Sunday roast, and the Christmas dinner.
Breaking it down, already have sausages in the freezer, bacon in the fridge, packs of stuffing in the larder, breadcrumbs in the freezer for bread sauce, jar of cranberry sauce in the larder, Brussels sprouts in the freezer, also peas, string beans, broccoli....carrots in the fridge and onions and potatoes stored in their respective baskets. A turkey crown is also in the freezer (plus an uncooked gammon - we already have some cooked ham in the fridge). What else do we need? Even gravy can be made without having to buy anything more.
Christmas cake, mince pies, trifle, ice-cream, sweets, sweet and savoury biscuits, cheese, pork pie, salads, fresh fruits, already made/bought, so perhaps I've got away with it lightly. Mind you, watching TV pictures of families sitting round tables heavily laden with all sorts of festive food, makes me feel we all provide far more than is necessary. We can make the table look just as good without filling every last gap with something we probably wouldn't eat anyway.
Perhaps we are so used to eating 'well', that we now have to go OTT to make Christmas Dinner even more special. It's strange how things change. In my youth we always had a large joint of meat for our Sunday roast (beef one week, pork another, lamb or veal), and a roast chicken only once or twice a year to celebrate an occasion. Now most of us eat chicken all year round, possibly several times a week, and can only afford a roasting joint of beef (or other meat) once or twice a year.
So if we are now used to serving up what our ancestors would call 'a feast' most days of the week, then of course it will cost us a lot more (time, labour, and money) when we wish to provide 'the extra' for our enjoyment (if you can call heartburn, indigestion, and hangovers 'enjoyment'). Next year perhaps we would be wise to ease off a bit, and enjoy fresh produce only when in season, and discover that looking forward to the 'first fruits' then eating them gives far more pleasure than being able to have them any time we wish.

Yesterday took my Tesco not-quite-statement handed to me with the Wednesday delivery, and began working out how much each onion, baking potato, carrot would cost once they had been remove from their bags. It was really surprising. Had bought some loose onions (because they looked bigger than those in bags) but they worked out much dearer than the bagged ones even though there was not that much difference in size. Despite the weights being the same, in one 'bag' of onions there were 10, in the second there were 12. But when cooking, an onion is an onion, is an onion. A slight difference in size rarely matters. But cost per onion does.

The bagged carrots were a bit of a mixture. Some really large, most were medium sized, the large ones would be cut into two. each half then used as one 'medium', and one medium carrot would be enough to add to a casserole for 1 - 2 servings, so averaged the number of (medium) carrots and they worked out at 3p each. I

Anyone who really wishes to prove that home-made can work out cheaper than bought 'readies' will find that by working out the price of any ingredient either by ounce or gram (flour, sugar, butter, rice, pasta etc...) or by unit (onions, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, eggs.....) and keeping a note of these, we can then easily cost out what we are making, and then compare prices. Also if we feel like 'having a play' (often more fun) we can challenge ourselves to 'spend no more than 50p total on ingredients, and then see what can be made from these - and quite a lot I can tell you).

At one time I always did this, and the reason why I discovered that in the past I'd been spending double the amount of money on food products that I should have been able to make far more cheaply at home. Since then never looked back, although now - perhaps because I've learned enough over almost half a century - tend now not to 'cost out' what I make, instead take the easier route and just aim to never go above a set monthly food budget, with an ongoing challenge to try and spend less each month. Sometimes spending even less than the month before, and - very occasionally - not spending any money at all. January is almost always the best month to keep the purse padlocked. Then maybe again during the summer when we hope to have some home-grown produce (windowsill salads etc) to provide us with our fresh 'greens'.

Although it may seem unfair for me to have a larder full of food when others do not, my January 'challenge' is more about being able to explain/prove how basic ingredients (always the cheapest and have a good shelf-life) can be used to 'pad out' our meals, and make 'fresher' ingredients (whether frozen or chilled) go that much further.

My friend Gill rarely keeps flour in her kitchen cupboard as she tells me she never has a use for it. Well, maybe it does require a bit of effort to turn flour (plus a couple or so other ingredients) into something, and as she lives alone and can afford to buy rather than make or bake can see her reasoning, but as we use flour to make: bread, biscuits, cakes, pastry, pasta, pancakes, batter, for thickening sauces....and more besides, we can see how useful it is.
Even the price per oz/g can vary according to the brand, and it is possible to make a cake using top-price flour and free-range eggs that works out twice as costly than if we used 'own-brand' flour and the cheapest (8p) eggs (and possibly Stork marg). Yet not THAT much difference in flavour/texture. Certainly nothing that anyone would notice, for an egg is an egg, marg often works better in cakes than butter, and 'cheap' flour we can twice-sift ourselves to bring it (almost) to the quality of the 'super-sifted' (which settles back down in the bag when packed anyway, so needs sifting again).
When it comes to some ingredients we should not be too precious about the ones we choose. If it is cheaper and works, then why pay more?

Although my larder has a good variety of foods in there (some I can't even remember), many ingredients that I don't have seem to be regularly used in recipes throughout the year. Perhaps this is the reason why we (as a nation) spend more than we need - buying an ingredient for a recipe that takes our fancy but we probably might never make/use again.

Have just taken a look at a December cookery mag that gives recipes they hope (at least some) we will follow and serve this Christmas. Practically all 'expect' me to have one or more of the following ingredients (listed below) and give or take a couple, the rest I DON'T have at this moment in time and not intending to buy them in the near future - if ever. It just shows how easily we can be persuaded to go out and buy what we feel we ought to have.

The following ingredients are listed as they turn up in almost every recipe given from start to finish of the mag, and are not shown in 'types' (veg, spices, booze kept together). Worth reading through to find out how many YOU may - or may not - have).
caraway seeds; juniper berries; lingonberry jam; whole almonds; pancetta; pine nuts; ciabatta loaf; Marsala; pecans; cooked chestnuts; Brie; walnut oil; duck or goose fat; sherry vinegar; polenta; leeks; red cabbage; Savoy cabbage; chipolata sausages; white peppercorns; blade mace; allspice berries; pomegranate juice; Puy lentils; fresh and dried cranberries; Drambuie; prosciutto; canned Morello cherries; pistachio nuts; marshmallows; edible glitter; Turkish delight; Brazil nuts; Roquefort cheese; dark rye bread; celery seeds; chicory; poppy seeds; spring onions; shucked oysters; mirin; red chillis; malt syrup; bok choi; oyster sauce; rice wine; fresh pineapple; ripe mango; cooked lobster; lobster stock; celeriac; black pudding, scallops, truffle oil; fresh tarragon; avocado; bulb fennel; blini pancakes; mangetout peas; dark and white crabmeat; dried porcini mushrooms; chorizo sausage, sourdough bread; dried chilli flakes; radicchio; sumac; frozen mixed seafood; Camembert; salt beef; cornichons; pomegranate seeds; marscapone; chestnut puree; bottle Pinot Noir; creme de cassis; hazelnut liqueur; savolardi biscuits; buttermilk; fennel seeds; chilli bean paste; salami; peppadew; lemongrass; fish sauce; rice noodles; tilapia (fish) fillets; ras el hanout spice mix; caramelised onion chutney; sandwich baguettes; chipotle paste; taco shells; panko crumbs; Thai fish sauce; shiitake mushrooms; laksa paste; beansprouts; Gruyere cheese; toasted sesame oil; sushi rice; nori seaweed (sheets); jalapeno peppers; guacamole; black cherry conserve; Angostura bitters; Calvados; Italian '00' flour; lemon balm, passion fruits; white miso paste; maple syrup; fresh pea sprouts; bird's eye chillies; tamarind; pig's foot (trotter); port; can stout; pear brandy.

Phew! Goodness me, how much would all the above cost to add to my stores I wonder? One or two might actually be able to make/grow myself. Honestly though, during a whole year, would use very few (maybe no more than five). The rest would never be considered worth the expense.

What would my mother make of all the above? She probably wouldn't know what most of them are. Which perhaps goes to show that we don't really need any of them to still be able to cook and eat wonderfully tasty meals. Or maybe it is that I am 'old-fashioned' in my outlook, and ignore the fact that others are quite happy to spend loadsa money so that they can keep eating 'something new'.

Before I finish for today, must given a mention to yesterday's episode of the Amish series, the family shown seeming to be a lot more closer to their religious 'teachings' than the previous families in this series. Yesterday's reminded me a lot of Jehovah's Witnesses. Having once a close (friendly) connection with a JW family, remember the many bible readings, daily prayers, and the 'spreading of the word'. Not that this is a bad thing, but can be a bit oppressive to those that take a more relaxed approach to the Christian faith. Sometimes too much of a good thing (like in your face), can push people away rather than encourage them to join in. Which is a pity. But there you go.

What is noticeable is the way the Amish tend to work from dawn to dusk, starting working life at a very early age - barely more than a toddler. Very young children seem to enjoy helping their mums and dads (we should try this with our youngsters). Most of adult life is spent doing something useful, although the Amish still allow themselves free time to meet up with others of the faith and enjoy what they call 'partying'. Truly a good life, and probably a better and happier way to live than that we consider 'normal' today.

Well that's it. Am now taking Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day off (although will be checking my email and if a comment requires an urgent reply will probably give that on Boxing Day). This means it will be Tuesday when I am back busily tapping away at the keyboard telling you about anything of interest that has happened and if it didn't, then will bore you instead.

Happy Christmas To You All!