Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Variations on a Theme

Before I even begin today's 'rambling', must give a mention to what was on my mind (a lot) yesterday. All to do with our 'five-a-day'. Possibly this is the most sensible and healthiest reminder to make sure we eat enough fruit and veg each day, nut have we ever done that EVERY day of the year? And for that matter was that was Nature intended for us?

As you know I'm a great believe in what Mother Nature provides for us - being the right things (aka foods) at the right time of year. In the winter it is the starch carbohydrates to keep us warm (spuds, some root veg etc) with just a few essential 'greens' (sprouts, kale...) and it is in the summer month that we can gorge on as many vitamin packed fruit and veggies as we can take in (salads, peas, beans, berry fruits etc) - all these building up our immune system to cope with the winter colds. Or so this is what I believe.

In my youth the only recommendation was to eat 'a balanced meal' - this being made up of protein (meat/fish, eggs or cheese), carbos (mainly potatoes, steamed puddings and pastry etc), and vitamins (veggies). The amount was not specified, and 'meat and two veg (one of these the potato that provided the carbos), seemed 'about right'. Puddings (according to season) will have contained fruit - if not then perhaps dried fruits in the winter months, but no always. So don't think in those days anyone ate the full 'five-a-day'.
Mind you - people had more colds in those days, possibly due to having to brave the extreme cold during the winter months (why we needed to eat so many carbos), and there wasn't the medication available that we have today to ease/cure certain illnesses.

As I've said (so many times) my feeling also is that all 'natural' food (even processed in some way (milk to butter, or milk to cheese etc) is not harmful. It is now proved that margarine is not as 'good' for us as butter, and we can now eat as many eggs as we. There have been more 'U turns' these last few years regarding what is good for us and what isn't, that I now take little notice and rely on Mother Nature''s bounty instead. She never gets it wrong.

Having said that, there are some people who cannot eat certain foods due to medical issues, so they do need to listen to their doctor, but even the medical profession understand that views differ. Quite a few health problems can be genetic, and not caused by the foods we eat, but also not wise to carry on eating those that can do us harm.

Nature does sometimes throw a spanner in the works when it comes to certain health problems, but they are few. For instance I've been told not to eat grapefruit as it affects some medication I take (for blood pressure), nothing wrong with grapefruit (it is a natural food) but it is the medication (presumably not 'natural') that clashes 'chemically'. Also now have to avoid sugar (you could call this a 'processed' product) as am diabetic. On the other hand drinking beetroot juice (natural) can help to lower blood pressure.

Maybe it is because I trust all 'natural' foods that I feel this way. Am quite prepared to make B a bowl of beef dripping, serve him home-cooked desserts with cream, and let him eat as much butter as he likes, for so far (he will be 80 in a few weeks) it appears to have done him no harm, his cholesterol is normal, also b.p. and his annual checks show him to have the health of a man twenty years his junior. He also seems to gain weight only when he eats 'bought' treats, such as tins of sweets, packets of crisps, manufactured ice-cream etc.

What am I trying to prove? Perhaps that we should stop buying as many 'manufactured' and processed as we can, and go back to making as much ourselves as possible. Also that perhaps, and it is a 'perhaps' we don't always need to eat five-a-day, but at least try to. We can always catch up during the summer months. Now I suppose I'll have all the nutritionists and dietitians on my back. But, as ever, it is just my opinion and not necessarily the right one.

Yesterday was feeling 'oh, so cold' again, so made myself a big mug of soup that was really, really tasty, so will HAVE to make it again. Basically it was a can of carrot and coriander soup (not my favourite but all I had left in the larder other than a Scotch Broth which I've left for B), to which I added the small amount of left-over beef casserole (meat chunks and onion in a bit of thick gravy). Heated together it made a lovely thick and very warming soup, and the beef chunks really added that 'extra something'. Luckily, found some more containers of ready-cooked diced stewing beef-in-gravy in the freezer, so can make up my own carrot soup to freeze, then eventually put the two together - with a few extra flavourings such as hot paprika, etc.

For supper cooked a Chicken Tikka Masala, adding diced carrots and frozen peas to stretch the meat a bit further. The curry sauce came from the larder. Beloved had his served with pilau rice (2 minute microwave rice), and I had mine with couscous which made it taste very similar to a tagine made with chicken but lacked something. As I ate my meal realised if chickpeas and no-soak apricots had been added, then it could have ended up (almost) a tagine in its own right. The Tikka curry sauce not a million miles away from the traditional Harissa sauce that spices up a tagine.

Purists would say we shouldn't mess around with food, just accept a traditional recipe as it is, but watching Dick Strawbridge and Son make Cornish Pasties with a fish filling instead of the normal meat/veg, saw no reason why we shouldn't ring the changes occasionally. After all, it is only the shape that makes a Cornish Pasty, put the trad. ingredients into a pie dish lined and covered with pastry and it becomes a normal 'meat and two veg' pie.

So here is a recipe that is both traditional and also 'different', and depending how it is put together could be another variation on the Pasty. As ever, this is made from (hopefully) what we already have, but you can use a different veg if you wish (not all of us keep artichokes or asparagus), or omit the veg and just add extra mushrooms/cheese/macaroni. Although intended to be the size and shape of a large pork pie (but without a pastry lid), this could also be cooked in a larger and shallower flan dish - more like a hot 'quiche'.
This recipe appears more complicated than it really is, but is very adaptable, so you could play around with it and maybe cut a few corners.
Remember that creme fraiche can be made by blending equal amounts of natural thick yogurt and double cream together, then let it stand overnight. I make the yogurt regularly, and still have several tubs of long-life cream in the fridge, so no excuse not to be able to make this dish.
Macaroni Cheese Pie: serves 4
3 oz (75g) macaroni, cooked
1 oz (25g) butter
1 lb (450g) puff or short-crust pastry
4 oz (1oog) mushrooms, sliced
1 x 200g (7oz) canned artichokes, asparagus etc.
2 heaped tblsp whipped cream
salt and pepper
cheese sauce:
knob of butter
1 tblsp plain flour
7 fl oz (200ml) milk
1 tsp ready-made English mustard
3 oz (75g) Cheddar cheese, grated
parmesan sauce:
10 fl oz (300ml) double cream
3 oz (75g) parmesan cheese, grated
2 tblsp creme fraiche
1 tblsp lemon juice (or sqeeze of)
salt and pepper
Roll pastry to half inch thick (enough to line an 8" (20cm) loose-based or spring-release deep cake tin Prepare the base to bake 'blind' (line with baking parchment then fill with beans) then place in the fridge to chill for half an hour. Bake for 10 -15 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6. Remove paper and beans, then bake for a further 10 minutes. Unmould and set to one side whilst preparing the filling.
For the first cheese sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan, stir in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes before slowly whisking in the milk. Bring to the simmer and cook/stir for 8 minutes until thick. Fold in the mustard, cheese and seasoning to taste, and keep over low heat until the cheese has melted.
For the parmesan sauce, put the cream in a pan and heat to the simmer, then - over low heat - whisk in the parmesan and creme fraiche. Add lemon juice and seasoning to taste. Stir in the cooked macaroni and keep over heat until the pasta has warmed through.
Meanwhile, fry the mushrooms in a little butter until soft, then add these (and the other veg if using) to the macaroni mixture, again with seasoning to taste. Pile into the pastry shell.
Warm the (first) cheese sauce and spoon into the pies, over the macaroni, then either return to the oven to cook until the top is golden and bubbling, or pop under a hot grill to get the same effect.

As our fresh foods are now being depleted, time to bring a few more foods from the 'hoard' in our larders. This time beans (almost any kind will do, but not baked beans), and chickpeas. All we need then is lemon juice (from the freezer?) garlic, spices, and yogurt. Don't make excuses that you have none of these. You should have.
The popular name for what I call 'squashed' foods is 'crushed'. This is 'squashed' but I'll be just that bit different and give it my name.
Mushed up Bean Dip: serves 4
1 x 400g can cannellin beans (or similar)
1 x 400g can chickpeas
zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp ground cumin
4 fl oz (100ml) Greek yogurt
salt and pepper
good pinch paprika
Drain and rinse both the beans and chickpeas, and put half of each into a food processor or blender, together with the lemon juice and zest, garlic, cumin and yogurt. Blitz until smooth, then add the remaining beans and chickpeas and pulse just enough to break them down to make a very chunk dip (you can blend the whole lot if you prefer only a smooth dip). Add seasoning to taste, then either pot up in one bowl, or four individual containers, cover and store in the fridge to chill and firm up slightly. Sprinkle the top with the paprika when ready to serve with carrot and celery sticks. bread sticks and/or tortilla chips.

Final recipe for today is that very traditional Yorkshire Curd Tart. Am including this as it is yet another way to show how we can use what we have, rather than go out and buy (curd cheese for example). Ideally we should be using Channel Island full-fat milk, but few of us use that these days (too expensive). Instead we can use ordinary full-cream meal, or use semi-skimmed, enriching it with some double (or even single) cream. To make the curd we have to start the night before - so read the recipe right through before you start.
We could use around 9 oz (250g) basic shortcrust pastry to make the case, but am giving the more traditional recipe for this tart, so we have a choice. Whichever we choose, this can also be made up to 2 days ahead and kept chilled before using.
If we use puff pastry and use small (individual) tins, the end result is not a million miles away from the tarts we call 'Richmond Maids of Honour' (a tart so-called because these were 'invented' and became very popular around the time of Henry VIII and his numerous wives - Anne Boleyn being the his Maid of Honour to his first wife Catherine.
Yorkshire Curd Tart: serves 6 - 8
5 oz (140g) plain flour
pinch baking powder
pinch salt
3 oz (75g) butter
1 tsp caster sugar
cold water
curd filling:
2 pints (1.2 ltr) full fat milk (see above)
juice 1 lemon
2 oz (50g) butter (pref unsalted)
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
1 large egg (or 1 duck egg) beaten
1 oz (25g) currants or raisins
Begin the night before by heating the rich milk in a pan until bubbles just begin to appear around the edges, the stir in the lemon juice. Keep over VERY low heat, and gently stir until the curds begin to form. Stirring too quickly breaks up the curds, and this you need to avoid doing. One the pan contents resemble watery liquid with creamy lumps floating in it, then remove from heat and leave to cool. When cold, pour into a sieve lined with muslin (or clean tea-towel) placed over a bowl and leave to drip overnight. You can use the whey for making scones, as you would buttermilk.
To make the pastry, put the flour, baking powder, butter, sugar and salt into a food processor and blitz until just combined. Leaving a few small lumps of butter will help to lighten the pastry. Alternatively rub the butter into the flour and b.p. with the fingers, then stir in the rest of the ingredients. Add just enough cold water to just come together to make a smooth dough, then knead very lightly before wrapping in cling-film and chilling for at least half an hour. Then roll out to line a greased 8" (20cm) shallow pie dish or tart/quiche tin.
Make the filling by beating together the butter and sugar until soft and creamy, then beat in the egg, a little at a time. Stir in the drained curds and lightly whisk to break up any large lumps (but don't break up too much). Finally, stir in the dried fruit.
Spoon the filling into the pastry case, levelling the surface, and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 35 - 40 minutes or until browned and the pastry cooked. If getting too brown on top, tent with foil (shiny side up).
Leave to cool before cutting into wedges. Can be eaten on its own or served with a drizzle of cream.

As ever, many thanks for the comments sent. Was wondering Lisa if you have ever eaten Buffalo (aka Bison) meat? Am sure I saw it on sale in an American supermarket. Or was it Beaver? Maybe saw both.
Over here venison is more expensive than beef. Lamb is becoming more expensive, and pork - once considered a lower cost meat, is also rising in price, although belly pork - a really good cut - is still relatively cheap. Chicken can vary in price - anything from £15 (or more) for an organic free-range bird, to as low as £2 (on offer) for a barn reared one. Don't think battery hens are now sold as food (reared mainly for eggs, then when too old end up as pet food).

Am sure I have read about some alternative vegetarian Christmas dinners pn sale minimiser deb, but probably the usual 'nut roast'. Both you and Ceridwen seem to like the vegetarian sausages, and I've also tried Quorn products (which are quite good) but still as expensive (if not more) than 'real' meat. As the 'Quorn' is made from mushrooms, can't see quite how they can charge so much, but perhaps the processing is costly. But as I said - have a captive audience and you can charge what you like. This is why motorway cafes etc are expensive. Either stop and eat there or don't eat at all until you reach civilisation again - which could be hours and hours away on a long trip.

As am not normally a big meat eater, would happily turn veggi (as long as I could still eat cheese, eggs, and use milk/butter), but having already had several goes, have found lack of meat makes me very anaemic (even though I do then take iron pills and eat plenty of vegetable protein with other complementary foods so my body absorbs all the nutrition), and it is only when I have some (usually) chicken or fish that I feel 'healthy' again and my weakness disappears. So perhaps I'm just one of those that Mother Nature has evolved to eat the full range of her provisions instead of confining myself to the 'herbage'.

Another thought has just come to mind. Why is it OK for (say) fish to eat other fish without anyone waving a banner in disgust, yet it is wrong for us (humans) to catch fish to eat? Or right for wild creatures to chase after other meat, tear it into shreds to eat whilst it is still alive, to satisfy hunger, but it's not right for us to rear animals then slaughter them in as swift a way as possible so that we can also eat the meat?
If we object to killing animals to satisfy our appetite, and as we are also animals in the true sense, then we should also object to other animals doing the same. Or is that just too easy an excuse? Perhaps we mistake 'being civilised' as 'being different from other animals'. Or is the excuse that we don't HAVE to eat meat because we are omnivores (able to live on both meat AND veg, not one or the other).
The way things are in the world at the moment, terrorists killing innocent people, people killed just because they get in the way at sales time - and none of it for food -then we are worse than animals for they only kill to eat, not for 'pleasure'. Bring on a national disaster, or world crisis and then let's see who can remain 'civilised'.

Apologies to all vegetarians, it's just me being me again, hoping to prove something or other, if only to myself. Like to think I keep an open mind on all things, but sometimes it doesn't sound like it, does it? If I refuse to eat something, it is purely because I don't like it or wish to, with no moral issue. Don't think I've got many morals anyway. Makes life easier if you have only a few!
One thing I won't do though is lie. I find this impossible. I can skirt around giving a true answer if it helps not to upset anyone (such as when someone asks me if I like their hat, and it lookds dreadful, will reply "it's a lovely colour that matches your eyes" or something like that). So perhaps that's a start on the road to moral recovery. I even have to admit to every food purchase made during this challenge, as by not giving it a mention it would be a 'hidden' lie, and would hate to think I'm not trustworthy. So add to the 'already bought' a fruit loaf (B likes it toasted) that I didn't ask to be bought yesterday, and he also bought in a white toasting loaf and a medium sliced. This must have brought the total spent now up to £7.50 since Dec. 19th and I'm very annoyed as none of the purchases were really 'needed', but it could be worse I suppose.

I can feel myself 'rambling' again, so had better call a halt and get on with making a fruit loaf myself (B having demolished ALL of the one bought yesterday - he will never lose weight if he keeps snacking. But if I don't make a loaf he will only go and buy another one and this will add to the expense).

Not sure what supper will be - probably fish as we haven't had that for a few days. Knowing me will change my mind which has suddenly decided I could make Cannelloni, or Mushroom Strogonoff. Or something else. It probably will be something else. Why can't I make my mind up. Life would be much simpler if I could plan a week's meals ahead (although possibly more boring for me).

Weather here is still cold although not quite as frosty. Said to warm up slightly over the next few days, then come the weekend cold again with possible snow. Hopefully we get snow, lots of it, for winter just isn't the same without watching snow fall and lying thickly on the ground. Says she who would sit safely tucked up indoors without needing to step outside. Alright for some!

Whatever the weather, enjoy your day and keep using up your stores and forget where you put the key to unpadlock your purse. But if you do feel there is a bargain to be had, then don't let me stop you. Bargains are bargains and if they can be stored (or save you using food you already have) then why not?
Please join me tomorrow, in the forlorn hope that for once I'll have provided 'a good read'. One day I might just do that. So watch this space.