Monday, January 16, 2012

Not Quite What it Seems

Yesterday our family lunch went fairly well. Not quite plain sailing as I had to improvise more than once. What was intended to be a beef casserole ended up more a Goulash as after I had thawed out two packs of diced beef I'd already slow-cooked, realised the flavour of each was not quite the same. One was D.R's diced stewing steak in its own gravy - the meat more tender and with better flavour than the bulk buy diced stewing beef bought from Barton Grange (although very little, if any, difference in price due to D.R's being on offer). Fried a couple of large onions cut into wedges (then broke them up slightly as they fried), added the strained cooked beef, then decided to add half a carton of tomato juice (bought to drink but I hadn't used it since making the Bloody Mary's), THEN added two good teaspoons of hot paprika. Plus the gravy from the two containers of meat. This certainly added extra flavour, but not as much spicy heat as expected. It just sort of made it taste 'warming' but mega-good. Pleased with that.
Oh yes, as by there there was quite a bit of liquid in the pan, shook over the last quarter of a pack of beef casserole mix, stirred it in, and over time this thickened to make a good coating to the meat by the time of serving, with just a little bit of extra gravy.

The chosen veggies were a bit of a disaster. The carrots were OK, this time sliced diagonally for better appearance (also gives more tender flesh around the centre core), these were cooked then set aside. Decided to cook a small cauliflower that had a late December sell-by date on it, so steamed that in the microwave. Felt the meal needed some 'green' so got some frozen broccoli from the freezer and put that in the carrot water to cook to tender - my idea was to mix the cauli and broccoli together to serve.
Unfortunately I went into the living room to read the paper whilst the frozen veg was cooking, and forgot it! When I went back into the kitchen just managed to catch it before all the water had boiled away, but by then the veg was so soft the only way to serve it would be to mash it. I tried eating a bit and strangely it had turned very sweet. Quite liked that, but not the appearance so then and there ate it all myself.
Decided to cook the last of the frozen broccoli left in the bag and start again. The cauliflower wasn't soft enough (for B) so put it back in the microwave, but for too long (obviously) as it had changed colour during the second cooking to a rather unpleasant pale brown. It didn't even taste that good - so rather than waste it, I also ate that up (there wasn't that much anyway). Well, you know me - hate waste!

So, slightly short of veggies for the meal (or so I thought), I slung some frozen Brussels sprouts in to cook with the second lot of broccoli, and when these were tender, added the ready-to-warm-up carrots. After straining, together they looked really good and I put these into a large serving bowl and into a cooling oven to keep hot (along with the stew in another serving dish, and also the spuds (more about these below). I couldn't serve immediately as by then 'the boys' had decided to 'do something on the computer that couldn't be left'. Men!!

The potatoes were halved baby new potatoes, which were then fried these off in a frying pan, squashing them down with a potato masher a la Jamie Oliver, turning them several times to give a good texture colour. These did work well.

During the morning made a fruit crumble, and this time - instead of using blackberries with the apple - made it with sliced apple layered between cherry pie filling. Topped with crumble (flour, butter, sugar, porridge oats - amounts 'guestimated' - it turned out very well, and was complimented on the flavour. Especially good eaten hot with the last of the extra thick double cream bought for Christmas (which had kept well in the fridge).

So at least the above shows that if we have only a few veggies, not enough to serve on their own, when cooked and put together will make a bowful good enough to serve to guests. Any green veg would go together: broccoli, string beans, sprouts, peas, and alone these would look good, but by including carrots (and also cauliflower) the colour effect would be great. Similar to but not quite as stunning as the appearance of roasted veg which I could have served only have now run out of brightly coloured bell peppers.

I sat with the family but didn't eat any lunch as was then full from my broccoli/caul intake. A few veggies and spuds were left at the end of the meal (plus casserole - I'd made a lot of that) so had my share later heated up for supper. Still casserole left so could use this to make a Pukka Pie 'type' for B, or - with added cooked veg it could make a couple of Cornish (type) pasties.

Although I've passed on what I felt to be the most interesting 'reading' from the trade mag, there was a mention of wholesale price of potatoes being cheaper in price due to a good harvest last year, and the price won't go up until after this new season starts in April. If the crop then is good, then the price won't rise. Am always dubious when it is a wholesale price given as when prices are sometimes reduced this doesn't necessarily mean the price will be lower at point of sale.
Probably we will be offered 'reduced price' offers on spuds that are lower in price than a previous 'full price', but really not reduced at all, as the stores will now be payingh less anyway, but the more they can make us believe they are reducing even more basics as 'an offer', the more they hope to keep us as a customer. There are times I feel I'm getting far too cynical and getting a much too jaundiced approach to what the stores are doing for us (or against us) these days.

Another thing that irritates me somewhat (and I know it shouldn't) is the way vegetarian food manufactuers keep coming up with meat/fish substitutes. Maybe this is because I've just noticed a picture in the mag showing a product called Gourmet Meat Free Duck style pieces (no price given so if probably expensive) which sounds good enough, but in the details given it said 'mock duck pieces', and this wording quite put me off. Any other product that is says 'mock' we would think twice about eating. Think about 'mock' chocolate, made to melt and spread over cakes, we would never eat that as we would normally eat bars of chocolate. The original hard blocks of margarine were used as 'mock butter' to spread on our bread. 'Mock' anything usually means it is much lower in price than the real thing, so considering the vegetarian substitutes - you would expect these to also be less expensive, but generally they are not. Just because the manufacturers have a captive audience I suppose. Doesn't seem quite fair.

Perhaps this is because I'm not fond of eating second best - which is a strange thing to say when everyone knows I normally buy grade 2 fruit and veggies etc. But these are as good as grade one, just mis-shapes. Often better flavoured for half the price. Maybe if 'mock' meat protein ready-made products were cheaper than the 'real thing' I'd be more inclined to eat them!
I've probably upset many vegetarians with my thoughts on this, but possibly my reasoning comes from old recipe books where they gave 'substitutions' so that we could make and serve 'mock turtle soup', or 'mock goose', 'mock cream' etc. Many such made in war-time where possibly the first 'meat-substitutes' came onto the scene. It is difficult for me to believe that today anything 'mock' can be as good as (or even better) than the authentic.
In a way, it's the same with furniture, fabrics, jewellery etc. 'Reproduction' is never as good as or worth as much.

Seem to have got one of my bonnet bees today over 'mock meats'. Sorry about that. It's been several days if not weeks since I had my last outburst, but then was 'off air' for quite a while, and probably an outburst would have been more appropriate then as was verbally venting my spleen over BT et all during that time. Anyway, said my piece for today, so let's get on with replying to comments.

One thing where we differ Lisa, is that in summer we don't get bugs to annoy us - at least in most of England, in Scotland they have swarms of midges that continually bite people, but this is only for about one early summer month. There are two good 'protections' against these creatures, one is to rub elder leaves over our skin (it is the juice the insects hate), and the other is to rub Avon Skin So Soft bath oil over our skin - this being a known deterrent and used often in many countries.
Couldn't quite understand what you meant about the 'texture' of meat. Surely this is the same whether cooked on or off the bone? Also venison is very similar to beef in texture, although slightly more 'gamey' in flavour (but not always - depends on which deer it is). Possibly, if enough rich stock could be saved after cooking deer, then diced beef cooked slowly cooked in this, the beef would then taste of venison. This is just an economical suggestion as here in Britain venison is very expensive compared to beef, maybe not so in the US.

Susan and Ann have both managed to get reduced prices from Aldi. Tesco sells a value 'net' (70p) of lemons, but not sure how many in the 'net', the photo on the website shows four, but I've previously had them with five lemons, but they are waxed - the unwaxed always being dearer. So looks like Aldi is a very good place for bargains (yes, I know readers have already told me this, so perhaps I should try and walk round our local branch one day).

Regarding eating our 'five-a-day', which should be seven (Urbanfarm girl's comment). Believe that in Italy they usually eat at least 12! Thinking back, yesterday's serving of fruit and veg over lunch was: onions, tomato (juice), broccoli, sprouts, carrots, apples and cherries (the potatoes served don't count). So better than average, AND I had an orange later. It's not that difficult to keep to the five-a-day I suppose.
We often forget that things like baked beans, canned tomatoes, canned fruit, fruit juices also count, so with a little forethought, we should be able to make sure out families eat the correct amount, although unfortunately many children are so picky they they refuse to eat some - if not all - veggies, other than chips (which don't count). On the other hand they often wolf down pasta dishes with a tomato sauce, and we can easily make this 'pasta sauce' by including other veggies, then whizzing them all together. As long as the sauce is red and sweet enough, it will be eaten.

Yesterday forgot to mention that I did go out for a scoot with Norris. The frost was still sparkling on the footpath as I went along, and facing to the west my face was almost frozen solid! It was very cold indeed. A bit warmer when sheltered from the breeze, especially in the sun, and as was well wrapped up with two scarves, and a blanket wrapped round my knees and feet, wool gloves on my hands, was fine - except from my face. Even though I had take my purse with me and really, really wanted to go into the butcher to buy something (by now I am getting withdrawal symptom from not shopping), I couldn't face unwrapping the blanket and getting up from my scooter to cross the pavement to enter the shop. So went home, contents of my purse still intact, then immediately made myself a hot drink and cocooned myself in three blankets and one scarf to sit in front of the TV, and even with the central heating on, couldn't get warm again for ages.
We still have frost on the lawn today, so the cold weather is staying with us. Yet next-door's magnolia, my geraniums (now brought inside), and outside crocuses are blooming, and even my pot of mint is now full of new green leaves - unheard of before March! And still a couple of weeks to go before February! The birds had been more active and it did seem our country was almost ready to start reproducing as nature intends, but this year far too early. Let us hope this cold spell will hold things back to where they should be. If things get earlier and earlier (as they have been doing) we will soon be getting our summer heatwave at the end of March (instead of most of April as last year).

How I'd love a summer of drought. This happens about once every 11 years - due to sunspots or something. This year we are supposed to be getting major solar flares, so maybe this could lead to us having a very hot and dry summer. It would be nice to have at least one more before I pop my clogs! But then with drought already in many parts of this country, a dry summer could cause all sorts of problems. Perhaps we should tow a few icebergs over here to thaw out and use for spraying onto crops.

What terrible news about that huge cruise ship that toppled over onto rocks. It was only the other day that I said to B what a disaster it would be if one of these 'floating hotels' capsized like the Titanic, and he said that could never happen, they were too well built to turn over, even in very rough seas. Never crossed our minds this could happen if one hit a rock. Thankfully, only part of the cruise ship ended up under water, but what a dreadful experience for all the passengers, let alone the crew. And there was me fancying going on a cruise. Am now giving it second thoughts (couldn't afford one anyway).

First recipe today is vegetarian, and can be made in less time than it takes for take-away to be delivered, and - of course - far cheaper. Although courgettes are one of the ingredients (not seasonal at the moment), alternative veggies could be used such as butternut squash, onions, baby turnips, potatoes... or use courgettes that you may have grown-to-freeze last year.
The curry paste used is vindaloo, and this may be far too hot for some palates, so choose the curry paste you prefer, but pref. not korma as this is too mild. Omit the spinach if you wish, and instead us another 'green' such as frozen peas, or chopped string beans towards the end of the cooking time.
Spicy Hot Vegetable Curry: serves 6
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, sliced
3 tblsp vindaloo curry paste (see above)
1 tblsp soft brown sugar
juice of 1 lemon
2 courgettes, thickly sliced (see above)
11 oz (300g) cauliflower florets
14 fl oz (400ml) passata
4 fl oz (100ml) water
1 x 4oog can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 x 250g bag baby spinach leaves, washed
Put the oil in a large pan and fry the onion for a few minutes until softened, then stir in the curry paste. Fry for a further minute then add the lemon juice and sugar. Simmer for a couple of minutes before tipping in the courgettes and cauliflower. Cook for 2 minutes then stir in the passata, water and chickpeas. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Just before serving add the spinach (or other chosen 'green veg' - see above) and as soon as the leaves have wilted, remove from the heat. Serve with rice, chapatis, or naan bread.

Next recipe uses mainly storecupboard ingredients, and perfect for what I (at least) have already in the kitchen although leeks are not my favourite veg, would substitute onions. There is a variation to this recipe that uses pastry instead of pasta, and this is given below the main one.
If you haven't macaroni, use pasta penne or another small pasta, you could use a mixture of pasta shapes.
Bacon Macaroni: serves 4
14 oz (400g) macaroni
6 rashers streaky bacon, pref smoked, chopped
2 leeks, finely sliced into rings
1 tblsp sunflower oil
4 oz (100g) frozen peas, thawed
1 x 200g pack soft (Philly type) cream cheese
3 oz (75g) mature English cheddar cheese, grated
1 tsp English mustard
Start by boiling the pasta as per packet instructions (you will need to reserve 5 fl oz/150ml of the cooking water, once it is ready).
Meanwhile, fry the bacon in the oil in a large frying pan for one minute, then add the leeks and continue frying for about 10 minutes or until the leeks are soft and the bacon golden and slightly crisp, then tip in the peas and heat through.
Drain the pasta and put the reserved liquid (amount given above) in a bowl with the soft cheese, half the Cheddar, and the mustard then blend together to make a soft creamy sauce. Stir the drained pasta into the bacon mixture, then add the cheese sauce and fold together. Scatter the remaining cheese on top then place under a preheated hot grill and cook until the cheese topping is bubbling and turning brown. Serve with alone or with a crisp salad.
Cook the bacon, leeks and peas as before. Take a 375g pack of ready-rolled puff pastry and lay out flat on a pastry board, scoring an inch border (2.5cm) around the edge.
Mix the soft cheese with the mustard and spread this over the centre part of the pastry, then top evenly with the veg and bacon and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 20 minutes, then sprinkle over the Cheddar and bake for a further 5 minutes.

A query re alternative breakfasts has prompted me to include this recipe (an adaptation of the 'grab and go breakfast sandwich') although have to say my version of breakfast would be something that is almost 'instant' - which this is not (but then neither is the 'full English'). However, this meal would also make a good lunch or light supper dish, so no need to confine it to breakfast.
Eat-on-the-Hoof Breakfast: serves 2
4 oz (100g) chorizo sausage, diced
4 oz (100g) cherry tomatoes, halved
2 spring onions, sliced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
salt and pepper
2 bread rolls
Put the chorizo into a hot frying pan (over medium heat) and fry until the oil is running and the chorizo lightly browned, then add the tomatoes, cut side up, and spring onions and fry for a few minutes longer until both are softened. Pour the eggs over the top, add seasoning to taste, and once the eggs have begun to set around the edge, gently stir and turn with a wooden spoon until the eggs are just set (similar to scrambled).
Split the bread rolls and divide the chorizo/egg mixture over the lower half, cover with the top of the rolls and then eat at the wander (or cover both halves of each split roll, and sit at the table to eat).

Time has caught up with me again, looks like being another sunny day but will not venture outside until it warms up again. Even then feel I'll be feeling cold as today will be defrosting our smaller freezer (the American style fridge-freezer we have is frost-free). Could have bought one that never needs defrosting, but it would have been over £100 more for the same size, and this is a lot to pay for just the convenience, although today am wishing I had. How lazy can I get?

Please join me again tomorrow, and keep those purses tightly closed!