Thursday, December 29, 2011

Open All Hours!

Loads of comments sent in re my larder. So pleased it met with your approval, and have to say the larder and the kitchen is the one place where I am always organised. But never anywhere else. Just find it makes it easy when I don't have to hunt for things.

Several of you have mentioned storing your food in kitchen cupboards (probably wall units?), and we also have these in the kitchen here in Morecambe. In one of these I keep all bottles - cookery 'booze', and assorted oils and vinegars. Another cupboard holds as yet unused coffee jars, and bags of rice (basmati, paella rice, risotto rice etc - the long-grain in the larder). Also pasta shapes/sheets (although spaghetti is in the larder). Other cupboards hold glasses, plates and serving dishes, assorted teas, the last remaining cuppa soups, and the very top shelves that I can't reach are either empty or hold empty glass jars saved for later preserve making.

When we lived in Leeds, we also had wall cupboards which I found a real nuisance, as anything hidden behind closed doors can often be forgotten, so asked B to remove them and fit narrower shelves instead. As I still have a photo of these, this is shown below. The 'storage jars' in those days were empty glass jars that contained (fresh?) orange juice. More and different containers were added as I collected more. We did have an original Edwardian cupboard on another wall (recess at the side of the fire-place (which used to house a Yorkshire range but unfortunately that was long gone by the time we moved there), in the recess the other side of the fireplace were more open shelves on which I kept all my serving plates, dishes, etc.

If not wishing to move wall units and replace with open shelving, possibly not need to go the whole hog, just removing the doors might help. This will give easy access to what is stored in a cupboard, and also everything being always in sight will prompt its use. It is also possible to buy (or make) 'stepped' shelving that fits at the back of a deep cupboard to 'lift' what would otherwise be hidden items into full view. Alternatively, narrow shelves could be fitted inside a tall cupboard (the ones in our kitchen here have shelving that can be raised or lowered by means of holes/pegs drilled into the sides of the cupboards).

We now come to the cardboard 'crowns' that our daughter made for us to wear on Christmas Day. I was so taken with them that I thought you'd love to see at least one of them.
Old Christmas/birthday (or even cardboard packaging around food!!) can be used to make these as long as they are fairly colourful. The design often gets lost with the cutting, but try to make at least one have a recognisable picture so that it can be worn at the front.
With Twelfth Night festivities still to come, the crown worn by the one who finds the bean (Lord of Misrule) could be made in a similar way, but with gold coloured cards, and no reason (if you feel THAT artistic) why shapes couldn't be cut from each pentagon to form a more 'lacy/filigree' effect.

The first picture shows the white (back) side of cards, cut into ten pentagons, each folded in half to give a crease (this helps to make a better fit when placed over the head). Our daughter either leaves the tips as-is, or as seen below, snips off a bit at the fold to give a double-point.
The pentagons are held together with sticky tape, but could be fastened with staples.

The photo (below) shows the same, but turned over to show the colourful side, with several of the shapes having a 'complete' picture, one should be placed at the front of the head when worn.

Final picture (below) shows the crown as seen as worn on the head, and the one thing about these 'paper hats' is that they can be folded to pack away easily and be used year after year, unlike the paper hats found in crackers that tend to be discarded after wearing.

Even if you don't wish to make these yourself, always worth keeping old cards as they can be used to make gift tags, or maybe make the crowns and sell them at a charity stall as children would love to wear them, not necessarily at Christmas, but for any party. Backs of cards can be used for many purposes - writing shopping lists for one.

My thoughts turn now back to my larder (my comfort zone - you note there was a chair in there where I sit and enjoy looking at my collection), and although feeling rather guilty at the amount of food there, remembered that Nigella Lawson's larder was almost the size of a small room (at least 3 times the size of mine), and her shelves were also well stocked (but slightly more disorganised than mine). One of Delia Smith's programmes showed her having well-stocked larder AND an outside shed where she also stored a lot of food. She had an even larger shed where she kept all her crockery and other kitchen equipment. Loads and loads of it. So perhaps 'cooks/cookery writers' do tend to keep more food in store than average. After all, we do like to have enough ingredients to hand to try something new that we've just thought of. The thought of having to go out and buy something tends to dampen the sudden inspiration and so what might start off as 'the rolling stone' often never sees the light of day. Not quite sure whether that is a mixed metaphor or some such thing - but I tend to mix my 'sayings' all the time, so live with it.

Today is our turkey dinner day. It is now not quite 8.00am as I write, and already the potatoes have been peeled, waiting in the saucepan for a par-boil later, the stuffing made and in the dish ready for the oven, the sausages and bacon rolls also ready. Clove studded onion infusing in hot milk, the breadcrumbs ready at the side to make the bread sauce. Carrots prepared ready to cook. Only the Brussels sprouts and peas to take from the freezer, the turkey crown to be cooked from frozen - that has to be in the oven by 10.30am - the spuds put in later, followed by the bangers, bacon and stuffing. The cranberry sauce to be put on the table, and gravy to make. Don't think I've forgotten, anyway got the full list in the kitchen, so can check later.

My Beloved of course is still in the Land of Nod. Not sure what would have happened if he'd gone on with my idea of "why don't you cook the turkey lunch this year darling!" He agreed, very crossly, and I said he didn't have to, it just would have been nice to have it cooked for me/us for once. He got grumpier and grumpier and started shouting at me when I suggested he made a list of things to do. I gave him a small booklet on how to cook a turkey dinner (Jamie Oliver's) that came with our newspaper and he began to read it. Almost immediately after, there was a prog. on TV with Gordon Ramsay showing how to prepare the Christmas meal, and I suggested B watch it, and he almost immediately fell asleep and was very, VERY cross with me when I woke him to say 'the best way to learn is to watch rather than read'.

As B (like most men) is not capable of multi-tasking, when he said he'd TRY (it was he who emphasised the word) to cook the meal - I replied "trying is no good, you have to make sure you get it right, after all you expected me to the first time I cooked Christmas meal" (this less than three weeks after we moved into our first house, we lived with my mother before that and she did all the cooking so I didn't know anything, and - incidentally -I gave birth to our third child two weeks later). Also reminded B that he had then brought me a turkey - someone had given it to him - and it was the complete bird, head on, feet on, possibly innards still intact and certainly all the feathers on. B then leaving me to deal with it as he wasn't prepared to (women's work!). How I coped I don't know, but I did, and if I could, then why can't he now??

Anyway, thought it through, hoping to find a get-out clause, so while B was in a good mood on Christmas morning, gazing happily at the high tide blocking the causeway to Sunderland Point, mentioned to him that "silly me, had completely forgotten something important. so I'll have to take over cooking the turkey dinner" adding that with B having to drive over to fetch our daughter that morning, no way could he (or even I) manage to cook AND spare the time to drive to Lancaster and back and get the timing right to get the meal on the table. B seemed quite relieved, but said the only thing that he had been worried about was making the gravy!!?? He had read the bit in the booklet how Jamie makes it, using chicken wings, vegetables, and - well - a bit too complicated for B (he didn't know I'd got some chicken wings in the freezer, not that I was intending to make gravy with them, as my gravy would be made with the juices from the bird with a touch of Turkey concentrate from a jar!!)

Sometimes it's best to keep easy ways secret. The more B thinks that cooking is difficult, the more likely he is to appreciate what I do.

There was still one trifle left in the fridge that B hadn't eaten. When I mentioned that it wouldn't keep for ever, he said he thought he might eat it for 'afters' (after the turkey) and share it with our daughter "as it was a bit bigger than normal". I said not to keep it that extra day as we'd got Christmas pud for afters anyway.

Later said I'd have the 'spare' half of the trifle, and B immediately pulled a face and said divide it into thirds, two for him, one for me. I said if he was prepared to have only half for his 'afters', then he should share it just as equally with me. Suggested he could divide up the trifle himself if he wished, but (knowing he'd give me less) bring in the two portions and let me choose which one I wanted.

Mind you, after I'd eaten my half (with some of the ice-cream (I'd made for him) wished I hadn't. Was full to start with having eating Pukka Pie and veg for supper (same as B, only his pie had a different filling). More meat in those Pukka's than any other bought, the pastry also excellent. Well worth the money (on offer recently for £1 at S'bury's). They can be frozen, cooked from frozen or thawed and cooked for a slightly lesser time. B wanted to go and buy more, but had to (regretfully) remind him that no more food was to be bought for weeks and weeks and weeks, and needed to make more freezer space anyway.

Yesterday cooked a square Bakewell Tart (pastry case, jam on bottom, cake topping, almonds sprinkled on top), and a cheese quiche. Forgot to mention the day before had sorted out the fridge and collected up oddments of hard cheese, then grated them up and mixed the lot together to store and use later (B having immediately helped himself to some of it to make 'cheese on toast'). Some of the grated was used for the cheese quiche. Noticed this morning that Beloved had eaten half of it yesterday evening. As he was using the comp. for several hours (usually he plays games on it), he must have taken his snacks in 'the comp room' (aka our dining room) with him to eat.

Think also B was messing around with sea-charts and maps, for the dining table - that had been cleared for our meal today - is now completely covered with papers and books and things, and I mean COMPLETELY. So will probably serve our meal in the conservatory - which is simpler as this is at the open end of our kitchen, and saves me walking out of the other end of the kitchen into the inner lobby, then down a short corridor to the dining room.

Was yesterday having a think about all the different appliances and gadgets that we can buy (or be given) for culinary use. All these should make cooking very easy to do, and often they do, but so many end up pushed to the back of a cupboard. Sandwich toasters come to mind.

Certainly some 'useful' equipment I own, is not used very often. I have a liquidiser/blender, that hardly ever leaves the cupboard, much preferring to use a food processor, and a hand blender that can blitz up soups while still in the saucepan us not used as often as it should be.

Also rarely used is a large electric mixer on a stand (a Kenwood, but not the super-duper type that I used to own), this is used mostly for whipping a large number of egg whites (when making soft-scoop ice-cream/meringues etc). It is too heavy to move around with ease, so prefer to use my electric hand whisk whenever possible.

We have a deep-fat fryer, only used once since we moved here two and a half years ago.

My food processor is set up at one end of the kitchen table, plugged in ready to use. And this I do use fairly regularly. Although it has to be said if only a small amount of grated (cheese, carrots etc) is needed, tend to do this the old-fashioned way using a metal hand-grater that belonged to my mother.

I do have a very small 'food processor' (Delia uses this one) that is useful for blitzing up small amounts such as herbs, nuts, breadcrumbs etc. But not used as often as the larger one.

Another often used 'appliance' is the slow-cooker, also the bread-maker (this too plugged in ready). The electric slicer used probably less than once a month (maybe only 8 times a year), but worth every penny (sliced home-cooked beef/ham/tongue/turkey breast so VERY much cheaper than bought pre-packed slices).

Do have two sets of scales. The one with a clock-face dial, but have never found this satisfactory when weighing small amounts. Much prefer using my old fashioned balance scale that has a brass scoop and (imperial) weights from 2 lb down to half ounce.

For many years used to have a pressure cooker, but then couldn't get the spare parts, so ended up just using the base-pan (useful for making jam, stock etc). Don't know what happened to it, but haven't seen it since we moved here, so it probably got chucked out when B did his final clearance (I'd already moved out a couple of days previous to moving day). Had thought of getting another, but don't really see the need (other than to save fuel). The microwave can steam veggies at speed, and the slow-cooker good for 'tenderising' other things such as meat and dried/soaked beans. Takes a lot longer, but uses very little fuel.

Lovely lot of comments again and hope you won't mind if I give a 'blanket' thanks to several readers (KC's Court - nice to hear from you again, Susan G, Mother Noah, Frugal Queen et al) who referred to my larder. My suggestions for gaining more 'shelf space' have been given at the top of this posting.

As you said Elaine, the picture did have some similarity to the old fashioned sweet shop. In fact thought that myself when sitting at the kitchen table the other day (could then see only the glass storage jars).

Think all readers can understand how easy it is for me to role play both 'grocer' and 'customer' once in the larder, for it is like a mini-supermarket.

That was a good idea Sue15cat re paying child benefit for the first child only. It makes a lot more sense than when we had our children and no 'family allowance' was paid for the first child, we only got it with our second, third and fourth (and in those days was probably about 5/- each).

It is the first child that costs the most. By the time the second is born, then we already have a pram/buggy, a cot, high chair and numerous other baby equipment, not to mention outgrown clothes. Second children hardly cost any extra at all.

Once I've got today's meal out of the way, will put my 'fresh fruit and veg' on the kitchen table to photograph, so you can see what I have to work with. This will include a few 'old stock' that still has to be used (but kept separate).

Will include a recipe for ice-cream for you Lynne, but if it is double cream that you have a surplus of, this will freeze and can be used later.

After writing about birth control yesterday, had another think (Ceridwen might be interested in the way my mind works re this) and this is where nature and 'human intelligence' seem to divide. Nature's one wish to to keep creating, improving with each generation, and also in a balanced way, so any creature that is not that strong, or who has a deformity etc, would be left to die, or be eaten as food by other creatures. Survival of the fittest they call it.

Some creatures (esp fish) are food for larger creatures, so a lot of babies are born as most of them never grow to maturity. Just enough left to keep the balance and produce the next generation.

Early man lived by his natural instincts. To pro-create being a very strong one. In those days the sick, ill, maimed would be left to die. It made sense.

As man evolved, so did his intelligence, and with medication and treatment, many babies were able to be saved that would have died in the past. Strangely (or not - there has to be a reason), some of the cleverest and intelligent people have been (and are) those that are not 'perfect'. If they had been culled at birth, we wouldn't have the technology and such wonderful music that we have today.

With this in mind, and the realisation that as the world population is growing far too fast for the amount of food (and fuel) it can provide to keep us alive, it makes sense to control the number of offspring we have. We can see with our own island, that because it has boundaries, unless we slow down immigration, we will end up like lemmings falling off the cliffs into the sea. Certainly, unlike pre-war when we could grow/rear/supply almost all the food we needed without having to import much, now we have to import LOADS to keep us all alive.

Eating is another instinct that still seems beyond the control of many of us. Perhaps the best thing we can do is go back to 'no sex before marriage and then be careful', and let wifie stay at home and cook only healthy meals, and not a lot of that.

There must be more to life than sex and food. Trouble is not sure what else can give us quite the same pleasure (yes, I still remember, even though I am nearly 80!).

Presume your Jamie 'pasta maker' Alison is the type that rolls out pasta dough. It probably also has cutters on it for making noodle 'strips'. This has reminded me that this is another 'gadget' I own and have not used recently. But if you like pasta dishes, certainly one worth having. Must drag mine out again and start making ravioli etc.

Some cooks use their pasta 'mangle' to roll out short-crust pastry. Now there's a thought.

To make a really tasty and dark stock, the bones (or chicken carcase etc) need first to be roasted - possibly on a bed of veggies, then simmered (with the juices) with water and vegetables, for a few hours.

To make a light stock, don't roast, just put the raw bones in water with veggies and simmer (and a really low simmer, just so the water 'burps' rather than bubbles). DON'T mix beef and lamb bones together. Different types of meat bones should always be cooked separately.

To save freezer space, one the stock has been drained, put it back into the pan and reduce down by half (or even a quarter), then put into small containers (if really concentrated put in ice-cube trays), cool and freeze. These can then be popped into water and thawed to bring them back to normal 'strength' before using. Just make sure all you freeze is labelled correctly as certainly stock can look like something else once frozen (chicken stock can look like lemon juice, egg white or apple sauce, beef stock can look like red wine, dark fruit puree etc).

Just time for me to give a couple of recipes for ice-cream, one uses double cream, the other uses single cream. Myself would split the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and put these in the milk, and shove the pods into a tub of caster sugar where it will add vanilla flavour for years (just keep topping up with more sugar as it gets used).

Vanilla Ice-Cream: serves 6

half pint (300ml) milk

vanilla pod

1 whole egg

2 egg yolks

3 oz (75g) caster sugar

half pint (300ml) double cream

Put the milk in a pan with the vanilla pod and bring almost to the boil. Remove from heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes, then remove the pod.

Put the whole egg, yolks and sugar into a basin and whisk together until thick and pale, then slowly stir in the flavoured milk. Strain this into a clean pan (helps to remove vanilla seeds - although they can stay if you wish - also any 'lumpy' bits of egg).

Heat this (custard) mixture slowly over very low heat, continually stirring, until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Pour into a bowl and leave to cool.

Lightly whip the cream, then fold it into the custard. Either pour this into an ice-cream machine and set it working, or pour into a container and place in the freezer for an hour (or so) until half frozen, then whisk the mixture and return to freezer. Best repeat this part-freezing whisking twice to give a really smooth cream before freezing until solid. Cover and keep frozen until needed. It will need bringing into room temperature for 15 or so minutes to soften it enough to be 'scoopable'. Alternatively can be put into the fridge where it make take about half an hour to soften.

Rich Chocolate Ice Cream: serves 6

3 oz (75g) caster sugar

6 tblsp water

4 egg yolks

1 pint single cream

vanilla pod

7 oz (200g) plain chocolate, roughly chopped

Put the sugar and water into a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil nd continue boiling until the sugar has reached thread stage (about 220C). Beat the egg yolks, then - adding it slowly in a thin stream - whisk in the hot syrup.

Put the cream, vanilla pod (or seeds), and chocolate in a pan and heat gently until just below boiling point. Remove the pod, then pour the chocolate into the egg mixture, whisking until thoroughly mixed together. Cool and freeze (as above recipe).

Time for me to now go and put the oven on ready to roast the turkey breast, also par-boil spuds etc. Hope you all have a good day, and looking forward to meeting up with you again tomorrow.