Thursday, February 09, 2012

Every Picture Tells a Story

Some weeks ago read an article about new packaging for children's 'treats'. These probably being some sort of confectionery or crisps, can't now remember. The bags were to have pictures of cartoon characters from some computer game in fashion at the moment. Seems that this game is incredibly popular (to do with shooting birds into smithereens and squashing frogs or something. Certainly cartoon wildlife being killed 'for fun'). So using these characters for advertising on packages intended for children would presumably increase sales, As the cartoon characters on the 'treats' bags look alarming, can't myself see the attraction. Why are these 'killing' games so popular? Is it a way we can vent our spleen on the virtual rather than reality. Or is it more likely one can lead to the other.
And when it comes to advertising, is this the sort of message we should be giving our children?

Remember some many years ago now, after suggesting in a newspaper that a birthday cake for a boy could be made to look like an American-style western fort (using chocolate fingers for the upright wooden poles around the sides), very soon after a letter was published saying how ashamed I should be to use a 'military theme' for my cake as it was disgusting that anyone should encourage young boys to think about fighting. I was quite surprised by this reaction, it was only a cake, with no dead 'chocolate soldiers' littering the compound. Yet, maybe the man who wrote this (and yes it was a man) was quite right. We should guide children into behaving well, being honest, and to consider others, but eventually they will fly the nest and grow up as they wish to be, not forced into a mould of our making.
Having said that, the seeds of sense and wisdom that my mother sowed eventually began to sprout in my brain. Took a long time, but they flourished, so if we can give children a good grounding in their formative years, despite the pressures of today from their peers, there is hope for their future.

Discovered yesterday a little packet containing a Fortune Cookie that I'd not eaten. So decided to eat it. Guess what! The 'fortune' read "think carefully before giving advice next Thursday".
Oops, today is Thursday, so dare I even say more? So best take what I say with a pinch of salt. Or perhaps not, salt being bad for our blood pressure. Whatever I say today is now bound to be wrong. Will it be 'do as I do, not as I say'? Or 'do as I say, not as I do'? Or just ignore what I say and do what you please. Perhaps today that will be best.

Still have not been able to bring myself to even start writing up a grocery order. Nothing is desperately needed until the end of next week, so will probably leave the delivery until then. For some reason (and this is quite unlike me), now seem to find no pleasure in writing up an order. Perhaps I've been so long on my diet (this means just eating less of lots of things), that I'm losing interest in food and cooking. Something speedy and simple seems the name of the game at the moment. Nothing wrong with 'quick-fix' dishes other than many ingredients (such as lean meat, fish, poultry...) are more expensive than the much cheaper cuts that take longer to cook.

If I had more people to cook for then I would be really happy. But cooking what I consider to be a good meal (like a roast chicken with all the trimmings) isn't really possible when cooking for one, unless (I suppose) things like bread sauce, stuffing balls, pigs in blankets can be made in small amounts (which it is almost impossible). Freezing isn't always an option.
Even making a Yorkshire Pudding for one would be very difficult as it takes only one egg to make four good-sized individual ones. Suppose the surplus could be frozen, but then I'd be ending up with a freezer full of bits and bobs, and this I'm trying to avoid.

Watching a programme the other night about a failing bakery made me wish (so much) that I could run a very small 'business' from my own kitchen. Love making a variety of bread, cakes, scones, biscuits etc, but again can only do this in very small amounts as I rarely eat these, and B is trying to 'cut down'. Mainly now it is only bread baked regularly.
With all the rules and regs today, it is impossible for a domestic cook to have a small 'side-line' business selling 'home-mades' (although I do have a food hygiene certificate). Unless perhaps non-profit making and the proceeds go to charity? Even that would satisfy me. But where would I find the customers?

With the mention of 'quick-fix dishes' above (or 'fast food' as I like to call it), today am offering a few suggestions for meals that can be cooked in 15 minutes, as ever choosing those that keep within my limited budget and make use of oddments we might have in store.

For economy have chosen recipes that either use canned fish, cooked chicken (use scraps picked from the carcase), and chicken 'fillets' - these are the finger-thick strip of flesh that lies at one side of the back of each raw chicken breast. Sometimes these have been removed before the breasts are packed to sell, then sold separately. If we buy a breast with the 'fillet' intact, then I count these as 'free'.
Ideally, we should buy raw chicken breasts from the butcher's counter (checking the fillets are still there), even better, buy a whole chicken and portion it up ourselves. This way we have the advantage of a carcase to make stock and once the bones are cooked there will be plenty of 'scraps' of meat to be picked from the bones. These can also be used in many recipes that call for 'cooked chicken'.

In the past I would aim to buy at least 3 raw chickens (but only when on offer), and after portioning, together these would give me 6 wings, 6 drumsticks, 6 thighs, 6 breasts, and 6 'fillets', plus 3 carcases to make stock, and then, after cooking, the bones would provide plenty of cooked 'scraps' of lean meat. In the past I've managed to get up to a 1 lb of cooked meat from 3 carcases.
Unless the wings are particularly 'meaty', tend to bag these up together to use to make another batch of stock. Surprisingly the wings alone make a very good 'jellied' stock, we don't always need to use a carcase, and there is still plenty of meat we can pick off the bones once cooked.

Three carcases are often to large for the normal 'large' domestic saucepans, but if the carcases are broken up and squashed down into a pan, they usually can be made to fit, or use one and a half carcases and make a pan of stock, then strain and add the other carcases the next day, or freeze the surplus bones to make stock later.

There are ways of portioning the birds to give 8 portions instead of 6, but this means leaving the breasts on the bone and we lose the fillets.
Having compared the home-portion price against the supermarkets packed weight (per 100g) can say that the savings can (again) be massive.

15 minute meals:
Lemon and Caper Chicken: serves 3
oil and butter for frying
1 lb (500g) mini-chicken fillets
2 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
2 tblsp capers
juice of 1 lemon
mixed salad leaves
Put a small knob of butter and 1 tblsp oil in a frying pan and heat until beginning to sizzle. Drop in the chicken fillets, scattering the bacon round them, then cook for a few minutes until the bacon is crispy and the chicken golden and cooked through. Stir in the capers and lemon juice and heat through then serve on a bed of salad leaves, drizzling over any juices that remain in the pan.

Chicken and Walnuts: serves 2
8 oz (225g) cooked chicken, cut into strips/chunks
2 oz (50g) walnuts, chopped
4 cherry tomatoes quartered
1 spring onion, chopped
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tblsp sour cream or yogurt
1 tsp chopped fresh mint leaves
Put the chicken, walnuts, tomatoes, and onion into a bowl, then toss together.
Make the dressing by whisking together the oil and vinegar, then whisk in the mustard and sour cream. Pour this over the salad, folding lightly in with a fork, then scatter the chopped mint on top.

Fish Cakes with Lemon Mayo: serves 4
1 lb (400g) mashed potato
1 x 200g cans tuna, or salmon (or 1 of each) drained
4 spring onions, finely sliced OR
1 shallot, finely sliced/grated
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
2 slices bread, crumbed
oil for frying
3 tblsp mayonnaise
1 tblsp Greek yogurt
1 tblsp lemon juice
salad leaves for serving
Put the mashed potato into a bowl and stir in the flaked (chosen) fish, adding the spring onions (or shallot), the parsley and half of the beaten eggs. Add seasoning to taste.
Gather the mixture together with floured hands then form into 8 small cakes. Dust each with flour then dip into the remaining beaten egg, then into the breadcrumbs. Chill for five or so minutes - this helps them firm up slightly with less chance of them breaking when fried. You can make them earlier in the day, keep chilled to cook later.
Make the lemon mayo by blending together the mayonnaise, yogurt and the lemon juice. Add seasoning if you wish.
To cook the fish cakes, fry in shallow oil for 3 - 4 minutes then serve with the lemon mayo and salad.

Curry in a Hurry: serves 4
oil for frying
1 large onion, chopped
2 - 3 tblsp curry paste (as mild or hot as you like)
1 lb (450g) mini-chicken fillets, cut into chunks
5 fl oz (150ml) chopped tomatoes
4 oz (100g) baby spinach leaves
4 tblsp Greek yogurt
salt and pepper
cooked rice or naan bread for serving
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onion and curry paste. Fry for 2 minutes, then add the chunks of chicken with the tomatoes. Cover and cook for 12 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
Stir in the spinach (this wilts down almost immediately), then stir in the yogurt. Add seasoning to taste, then serve with rice or naan bread.

As ever, thanks for comments. To Mabel for letting us know the name of one of the poems mentioned yesterday. To Les for informing us about the 'prepay card' instead of using a credit card.
Campfire's mention of Miso soup reminded me I bought a pack of miso sachets not so long ago from Tesco and they were very cheap indeed. As yet have not used them. Now have been reminded will give them a go.
I must have been we had a low dew-point that gave the signs of no frost (as mentioned by Susan G), considering the temperature we had was so low. Not sure what is happening today, it is very wet outside, so probably been (or still is) raining. Whether this turns to ice will have to wait and see.
Your sour plum jam sounded good Lisa, perhaps ending up similar to marmalade.

Did see Dick Strawbridge's series about his property in Cornwall minimiser deb where everything had to be 'green'. Am sure he has enough money to live with all 'mod-cons', but his aim was to make almost everything from scratch (well he is an inventor) and use what nature has to offer. Remember him making a water wheel, not sure if that was to make electricity or to grind corn. Do admire him for this approach to his life, and he certainly seems to find ways of using up bits of metal, old wood, stones, bricks etc that others would normally take to the tip.

Myself also like to include fruit when making a salad. By this I mean the 'sweet' fruits, grapes, apples, pears, red-currants, blackcurrants, blueberries, strawberries and especially slices of banana, and pomegranate seeds (but not all at the same time). We rarely think of tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, aubergines, courgettes, as being 'fruit', usually as 'salad veg'. But 'fruits' they still are. Perhaps mange-tout peas also can be classed as a fruit. For aren't fruits the part of the plant that carries the seeds, pips or stones? Not that it matters. I'm just thinking aloud.

My mind has dried up, so enough for today. What will I cook for supper? Haven't the slightest idea. Probably suggest to B that he heats up one of those microwave Pukkas he brought in for himself, and with that eat the last of the watercress before it goes 'off'. Might manage to throw together a fruit crumble for his 'afters'.

Once this has been published I'm going to try and force myself to sort out all the papers piled high on various tables in this room. Not something I want to do, but needs must as they say, and while the heating is on - perhaps the best time is today. On the other hand.....
Will say my farewells before my inner self gets the better of me. Enjoy your day.