Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Disaster Strikes!

Yesterday ended up not as planned, so before I go into the supper (and other) details, must first admit to a disaster. Even then don't think it was my fault as I followed a Jamie O's recipe as written.
My intention was to make some candied peel using some of the orange and lemon peel that I'd got in the freezer. One thing I did find after it had thawed was that it was very easy then to remove the pith by just flattening the peel on the work surface and sliding a sharp knife between pith and peel - somewhat like removing fish from its skin!

Previously had always believed that 'candied peel' (as used in baking) had some pith left on, but Jamie's recipe needed it removing. His recipe was speedy, no need to cook the peel, then leave it, then cook again, then leave it - taking two or more days until finished, this time it was first simmer the peel to remove the bitterness, the bring to the boil sugar and water, put in the drained peel then simmer for 1 hour - by which time most of the sugar syrup will have disappeared.
This I did, and discovered the peel seemed to have gone very hard, and the syrup setting as it was removed from the pan - sitting at the table, lifting each piece of peel from the syrup I ended up with fine strands of syrup all over the place - looked like I was spinning a web.

Terrified that the remaining syrup in the pan would set and be unable to be scraped off, then put some hot water into the pan and was able to bring back the thick syrup to boil into something like runny golden syrup - this then stored this in a hot sterilised jar to use later.
The empty pan then immediately filled with hot water, then placed upside down in the washing up bowl (as the sugar has set like enamel around the rim - luckily it all dissolved in time and the pan was OK to use again. Whew!)

Because I intend treating triumphs and disasters the same, thought you'd like to see a photo of the failure. I call it that, but those pieces of peel - this morning set in rock-hard glaze (which is strangely still very sticky) might - after it has stood to 'dry' for a few days (as Jamie recommended), might be able to be blitzed up in the food processor or blender to make a sort of orange/lemon flavoured fine caramel that can be sprinkled over ice-cream or on top of fruit loaves, even added to cakes as a 'flavoured sugar'. The one thing I intend NOT to do is throw it away.

Whilst taking the photo (did it this morning while the water was boiling for me to make my coffee - B is still in bed - was also show two pots and a bowl behind the tray. One of the pots now hold the white lard that I saved after roasting the potatoes last week, the other holds a slightly 'pinker' fat that came from 'roasting' sausages. B had put the tins back into the oven without cleaning them, so I was able to put them back into the cooling oven after making my bread and so re-melt the fat to save it for frying.
The third dish (a plastic tub), holds some flour. This is another of my little money-saving ideas. When making bread I first grease and plentifully flour the tin, then shake the surplus flour from the tin onto my pastry board, this I then use to dump the dough onto, giving it a final knock-down before shaping and putting it into the tin. Any surplus flour on the board is carefully swept with a soft brush (specially kept for this purpose) into a small container (the plastic tub as seen above). When making pastry, and flouring the board, surplus flour is again swept off the board and put into the same tub. This I then use again to flour tins, boards etc.
You see my problem, I can't even throw away a teaspoon or so of already used flour!!

Supper yesterday was not the chicken curry after all, mainly because (for once) I thought before I acted. It has occurred to me there was no point in using up a pack of chicken fillets because it could barely fit into the freezer, when my intention was to make a big enough batch-make with them that would lead to one or two surplus home-made ready meals that would then needed freezing? I just didn't have the space to do this. The previous day - just using 1 lb minced beef - led to me to having to find a lot more space than the beef had taken to store FIVE portions (3 chilli con carne, 2 spag bol meat sauce) in the freezer. Better I used what had already been prepared. So suggested to B (as I have so much already cooked beef frozen away) that I'd be using beef (again) so he could choose between beef curry or beef casserole. He chose the latter).
So supper was simply a matter of slicing one carrot, cutting one onion into wedges (then breaking these up), and frying them off in a little bacon fat left in the pan (Beloved having made himself some bacon sarnies for lunch). Added four baby new potatoes (cut in half) and one parsnip, cut into chunks. The thin end of the parsnips were removed and put into my 'saving for stock' bag of veggies, along with the parsnip peelings, and parsnip cores, onion and carrot trimmings. Soon will have enough veggie 'scraps' to make that stock.

Having thawed a pack of cooked diced meat (previously cooked in the slow cooker before being frozen) and also thawing a tub of its 'gravy/stock (saved from the crockpot)' - the 'tub' being a small tub that once held cream cheese - see I even keep my empty tubs - then poured the tubful into the veggies so they would cook and also soak up some of the beef flavour. When cooked these were removed from the pan and the 'stock' from the container of beef added to the pan with a spoon of Bisto Best granules to thicken, then added the beef and heated it through.
As my aim is to make even the spuds last as long as possible, had decided to make myself a bit of instant mash spuds using Smash from the larder, B then having all the 'real' ones with his meal.

Made the 'mash' whilst the meat was heating through, put the other veggies into the microwave to reheat, then put the mash into a bowl, some of the meat and gravy on top, a few of the now-hot veggies and also some peas that I'd cooked in the microwave. The rest of the veggies were put into the pan with the remaining (and most of) the meat and gravy, peas sprinkled on top, lid on and then left on a very low simmer for B to plate up for himself. He was playing games on the computer at the time, so I took my bowlful into the living room and ate my supper watching TV.

Even the small amount of veggies plus the meat, gravy etc made enough for both of us - possibly having the mashed spuds made a difference, but again a lot from a little. Not sure how it would have worked out re cost as the meat was some of DR's that had been bought AGES ago and paid for at that time with money that had been deliberately saved from a challenge such as the one starting this week (so I tend to think of this as 'free' meat - well isn't it?) The veggies (incl mash) worked out to no more than 50p total so you could say this was a 25p per head casserole.

Another thing I didn't do was make cake/biscuits, yesterday ( as planned to do) after realising that if I did, in two days they would all be eaten. When any baking has been done - and however much there is - B just can't resist it, and every time he wanders into the kitchen he just helps himself to some more. Even if in one day I've made four things, say Bakewell tart, biscuits, heavy fruit cake, and a fruit pie/crumble, he can make them last a bit longer (say three/four days), but it isn't easy for him to control his love of snacking on 'treats', and as long as he has a good supper, don't feel he needs much more. Cooking too much for him will run down my stocks too low (here I'm thinking eggs, butter, milk, cream etc - have plenty of flour), and only wish he would gain weight on all the 'goodies' he eats, then maybe he would cut down, but he never does. It is me that gains lbs just nibbling the crumbs my lord and master leaves for me. And often they are crumbs!

From the comments sent in it seems that some of you are enjoying the blow-by-blow account of my daily cooking, possibly the photos help too. So will continue, although maybe not every day as some meals are just basic enough for you to know what I'm talking about.
A quick reference to your comments before I give a recipe.

Sounds as those those small red and yellow plums grow in your local park Campfire, and free for the taking? The only thing I've seen in the very large Roundhay Park in Leeds (close to where we lived) were elderberries. Picking any 'edibles' seemed to be frowned on, maybe even not allowed there, perhaps because of the danger of eating fruit and berries that could be poisonous (horse chestnuts look exactly like sweet chestnuts when fallen from the tree), fungi could be dangerous, also many berries.

Have seen the Bento boxes being used in Japan (but only in a documentary) Lisa, where they are made and taken all over the city to various offices etc as a 'packed lunch' for the workers there.
Do love the concept of Japanese food, it is extremely flavoursome and attractive to look at, but so far have not got around to making any of it myself. Chinese I can just about manage because it is more of a mixture (in my case mess) than every 'component' being arranged decoratively.

Was interested in the American way of canning (aka 'bottling') as a way of preserving jams, jellies and pickles, especially as it seems to cause more work than necessary, because over here (and presumably in other parts of Europe et al) we just fill hot sterilized jars (first wash then dry off in the oven, then fill whilst still hot with the just cooked preserves (mentioned above), screw on the lid (these also sterilised by boiling in water - we recycle jam and other jars and lids and then when cool, label these and store). Cooked properly (as per a recipe) most of these preserves will keep for a year, and often longer without any need for further sterlizing. The hot-water method of sterilising is usually for tomatoes and fruits (and also tomato ketchup, sauces etc). Myself prefer to 'store' these by freezing anyway, cutting out the need for the more laborious 'bottling/sterilizing', so no need for any special equipment.

Cutting out 'soda' (by this I think you mean all fizzy drinks Lisa), I've been doing myself, not as a New Year resolution, but after finding the bubbles always made me feel 'bloated', gave the diet lemonade a miss and went back to drinking tap water, and feel all the better for it. My tummy must have shrunk several inches! Sometimes I dilute blackcurrant concentrate to make a drink, also occasionally drink cranberry or apple juice (bought in containers), but normally stick to water, green tea or coffee for 'refreshment' now. Yesterday - because I felt cold - stirred a teaspoon of Marmite into a mug of just-boiled water - this as good as any soup (I call it my vegetarian consomme) for warming me up, tasty too.
Mustn't forget the beetroot juice that I aim to drink daily for a week before going to have my blood pressure checked (beetroot juice helps to lower blood pressure), but it is only about an eggcupful each time, hardly worth calling a 'drink'.

Thanks also to others who wrote in. Love hearing about the meals/savings/way of life you have and everything else you share with us. Have mislaid the notes I wrote down (re replies) so am sure I've missed some names today. Forgive me if this is so. I've read all anyway, and - as ever - think of this as a head-to-head chat with each and every one of you even though don't always give a response.

My little book of 'cookery quotes' has come up with another gem: "True gastronomy is making the most of what is available, however modest".
These words from Claudia Roden, who I once was able to meet in person. We were both at a BBC arranged book signing, me with one of my BBC books, she with her 'Mediterranean Cookery' (also another cook who I'd never even heard of) . Miss Roden gave me a copy of her book, signing it: "For Shirley, to a great cook, with admiration. Claudia Roden." I was overwhelmed, this great cook thinking I was even worth speaking to. let alone 'admiring'. Me, I felt I should be the one to curtsy. Perhaps it was the way my cooking was based on making the most of 'what was available' that she found worthy, for she seemed to have read my book which was surprising to say the least.

Can't say the same for Jilly Cooper (Michael Barry, Jilly Cooper, Michael Smith and myself met up at a photo session for a Christmas cover edition of the Radio Times many years ago). She asked who I was and when I mentioned my series, turned up her nose and sniffed saying 'I never watch programmes like that!" Thankfully, I'd worked with M. Smith and we got on famously. Even Michael Barry (don't know if he knew of my prog or not) who I met for the first time was very pleasant, but J.C. ignored me for the rest of that day.
Oh, I do love name-dropping, even if it's not always to my benefit. It helps me to remember that once I might have nearly been 'someone'. Unfortunately not that memorable.

In memory of the above am today giving a slightly adapted recipe from 'Mediterranean Cookery.
as it is forwarded by "Stories abound of the Ottoman Sultans eating a whole lamb at one sitting so as to be able to satisfy the wives (and concubines) in their harem. This pilaf - the Sultan Reshat's favourite- is on record in the archives of the palace of Topkapi."
So - if you wish to serve this meal to male guests (or even just husbands), am sure they will be impressed with its history, and feel that after eating it they will have gained a few more 'macho points' to add those they already think they have.

Sultan Reshat Pilavi: serves 4
1 large aubergine, diced
salt and pepper
1 large onion, chopped
3 tblsp sunflower oil
12 oz (350g) long-grain rice
1 pint (600ml) lamb or chicken stock, boiling
1 lb (450g) minced lamb
half tsp allspice
1 tblsp pine-nuts
2 tblsp flaked almonds
1 tblsp pistachio nuts, halved
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
Sprinkle the aubergine with plenty of salt, place in a colander and leave to let the juices drip away.
Fry the onion in the oil for a few minutes until softened and just beginning to colour, then stir in the rice until it looks translucent. Add the boiling stock and a pinch of salt, stir well and cover the pan. Simmer for 18 - 20 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender (more boiling water may need to be added towards the end of the cooking time).
Season the minced lamb with salt and pepper to taste, add the allspice and knead together. Roll into small balls (the size of a hazelnut).
Fry all the nuts in a little oil in frying pan, keeping them stirred and turned so they turn a light gold without burning, then drain in kitchen paper. Add the meat balls to the oily pan and quickly fry until brown. As long as cooked through, the meat can stay slightly pink inside the balls.
Lastly, fry the tomatoes until slightly soft, then drain before mixing all the fried ingredients (nuts, meat balls, tomatoes) with the rice in the pan, giving final heat through before serving. Alternatively, serve the rice on a heated dish and pile the fried foods.

As I keep hitting a wrong button and have had to edit this three times (when it goes into draft it usually leaves wide gaps between each para and every listed item in a recipe, which means I have to lift everything back where it should be - each time I edit) am signing off before I hit another wrong button.
Today I think is the first (outside) working day of the New Year, to us domestics every day is a working day. Every holiday we seem to work twice as hard. Just wish members of the family would realise this. Am sure some do (although know of one not a million miles from where I am sitting who doesn't).
Please join me again tomorrow, and keep those comments coming.