Friday, February 17, 2012

Make a Start(er)

Thanks minimiser deb for the suggestions for profiterole filling and sauce. Will definitely be trying that in the future.

Also thanks to Sairy for the timely advice re seed sowing. We are lucky in our (double-glazed) conservatory as its gets lots of light, with one end (where the seeds are started) facing due south, the long side due west, only the far end is due north (where the plants that need to be slightly cooler are placed). This seems to help the seedlings grow sturdily when double protected (first by the conservatory glass and then by a 'mini-cloche' (half a lemonade bottle etc).
Here is a genuine gardening tip that really works if you plant seeds early indoors. Outdoors they have to be strong enough to battle with winds so the constant movement of their stems forces them to 'thicken up'. Indoors, if daily we gently brush our hands across the top of the plantlets from left to right etc, or even blow on them, this also helps them to become stronger.

It's always best to be guided by the sowing date suggestions given on the seed packets, although much depends on the weather we are having at that time. Earlier this week it was all go to sow those first seeds (indoors), now it has turned much colder with more snow forecast! Probably no snow in Morecambe of course, but it is the temperature rather than anything else that determins whether the seeds start shooting, and why my lemon pip sprouted within a very few days of being planted just because I stood them over the c.h.radiator. Moved to the conservatory they look sturdy enough and will soon need to pot each seedling on.

Whether jam turns mouldy after opening usually depends on the sugar content Lisa. The less sugar used (per lb of fruit), the less chance of it keeping. Home-made jam is normally 1 lb sugar to each 1 lb fruit (and I usually used mixed fruit, so there is plenty of pectin to aid the set), although some fruits need more. We should also put discs of waxed paper (waxed side down) on the top of the jam before screwing on the lid, as this keeps away any mould spores floating in the air, although as I pot up in small jars, usually don't bother with the waxed paper. Have never had any home-made jam go mouldy after opening, but certainly the few jars of bought jam have grown mould on the top if not eaten in a short time. Keeping opened jam in the fridge also helps to keep mould away.
Incidentally, 'mould topped' jam is still safe to eat once all the mould has been removed. But more mould will grow if it is not soon eaten.

Your Missouri weather sounds very much like our British climate, although we don't get that many thunderstorms. Maybe one or two a year, and over very quickly.
Think you mentioned your mother was from England Lisa? But it sounds as though the dates she gave for planting are more US than British. Here it is variable according to region. We can sow/plant a month later in the north than in the south even though there can be less than five hundred miles between the two. The inland norther counties are usually higher above sea-level than the southern ones and previously noticed (when travelling from the Midlands) that once we reached Sheffield, the temperature always dropped several degrees as we drove further north.

Traditionally, in Britain, potatoes are planted on Good Friday, which seems a bit odd as this is a very variable date that could be mid-March to mid-April according to the religious calender of each year. But then as Easter is based on the time of the full moon, then perhaps the old way of sowing/planting according to the phases of the moon was more important that the date. It has been proved (by trial) that plants do grow better when planted when the moon is either full or waxing or waning (but as some do better at one moon phase than another, can't now remember which but am sure this can be found on the Internet).

Over here we could never be given dates of the last frost, for after all British weather is never easy to forecast and it is not unknown to have frosts in June (and more than once snow has fallen in summer but not in my lifetime). We get a good idea when the frosts are (hopefully) over, but always watch the weather forecast in case there is a warning (sometimes this can be 'air-frost', or 'ground frost', or just 'frost pockets' in some areas), then we can go and protect any young plants with horti. fleece, or just tents of newspaper. There is no wind when we have frost, so the protection won't blow away.
At this present time - as long as there is no snow and the ground isn't frozen - this is when we should be planting new shrubs, rose-bushes, fruit trees and bushes.

The weight of Morrison's cheapo pack I'm not sure of, but did see that the potatoes were 1.5kg (approx 3 lb) for 50p. This makes them a little cheaper than the US price you gave for the 10lb bag, although normally potatoes are dearer than the US price. We have several varieties (many grown in Britain esp. Scotland), and none are the same price. Believe in America there is a 'potato state' (is it Idaho?) that is said to produce wonderful 'spuds'.
Originally all our weights and measures were 'imperial' (lbs and ounces, pints and gallons, yards, feet, inches etc), but now 'officially' everything has to be metric although retailers are still allowed to show both weights at point of sale, usually this only applies to 'fresh product', all packs of dry or 'processed' products, ready meals etc show only the metric weight.
Even recipes now give only 'the metrics' when it comes to the weight of ingredients. All old recipe books (I do mean 'old') have only lbs/oz, then when we changed to metric it was showing both lbs first then metrics (kg or part of) in brackets, then came the metrics first with the imperials in brackets, and now it is only metrics.
Me being so very old still work in lbs and ounces, but do show the metrics as well for those younger folk who have always been taught these. Luckily I have a conversion 'gadget' (with three 'wheels' that turn to show comparative weights) also gives the comparative temperatures of C, F, and Gas.

Not much of interest happened yesterday. Served roasted veg with B's lamb shank, but disappointed that there were no red bellpeppers in my Market Value mixed pack. Had to make do with a green one, the butternut squash and red onion added more colour, the parsnips, celery and white onion did nothing to tempt the appetite, so really missed the bright red that gives the veggies such an appealing look. Thought about adding some red Peppadew but then decided their 'heat' would not suit the lamb. Did not wish to use any of my precious cherry tomatoes either. Too late thought of including some cooked beetroot, but still not the bright red I wanted. However, the rest of the veggies gave plenty of flavour and suppose that's all that matters.

Dishes that accompany the 'mains' are called 'side dishes', and treated thoughtfully they themselves can either be a 'starter' to a dinner party, as an accompanying dish to the meats as part of the main course (the above mentioned 'sides'), or without much more treatment be a light lunch or supper dish in their own right.
We should always remember that these dishes are not just for visible attraction but supply a lot of nutritional value to the main course. Also, if we are counting pennies, they can also stretch the more expensive ingredients (meat, fish etc) even further.
So today my recipes are not just ' a little something on the side', but can be served in any of the suggestions mentioned above.

First recipe is a different way to serve Brussel sprouts. Have tried something similar (by shredding the veg before cooking) and served this to an avid sprout hater who didn't know what he was eating, so it was pleasing to see him scoff the lot and say he enjoyed it. You should have seen his face when I told him what the veg was.
Bacon and almonds go well with sprouts, and if making for a lunch or supper dish by all means add extra if you wish. Caraway seeds are not a spice we all tend to keep, although worth having as they go well with any 'brassica' (esp cabbage). Add a teaspoonful to cake batter when making Madeira cake to make the traditonal Seed Cake.
Stir-fried Sprouts with Bacon: serves 4
1 lb (450g) Brussel sprouts, finely shredded
2 tblsp sunflower oil
salt and pepper
2 rashers streaky bacon rashers, finely chopped
2 tsp caraway seeds, lightly crushed
Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan and stir-fry the shredded sprouts, turning them quickly over high heat until just tender, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove form the pan and set aside.
To the same pan add the chopped bacon and stir-fry for a couple of minutes until golden and turning crisp (a tip when cooking normal rashers: once bacon rashers have got past the 'soft stage' and beginning to turn golden, then remove from the pan to drain on kitchen paper where it will crisp up even more. Cooked in the pan until crisp, by the time the rashers are to be eaten they will have become too crisp and a bit 'dry').
Return the sprouts to the pan that contains the bacon and stir in the caraway seeds. Cook for a further 1 - 2 minutes then serve immeiately.

Next recipe is the perfect one to use any crunchy green veg, or a mixture of several. Use kale, broccoli florets, white or green cabbage, Brussel sprout tops, Chinese leaves etc. Crispy bacon or fried chorizo - although not included - could also be added to this dish, as could a poached or fried egg served on top, or even grated cheese to be flash-finished under the grill. This way you get added protein as well. Good ways to add that little extra something when serving as a starter, or making more of a meal of it for that lunch/supper dish.
Tip re the chillis. It is not just the seeds that provide most of the 'heat', a lot is in the internal membrane that protects the flesh from the seeds, so scrape that away also if you want to reduce the spicy-heat. If you have no chillis add paprika pepper or chilli powder (or dash of Tasbasco) to taste.
Spiced Greens: serves 4
1 medium cabbage or equivalent in quantity of 'greens'
1 tblsp sunflower or olive oil
1 tsp grated fresh ginger root
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 - 2 red chillis, seeded and finely diced
salt and pepper
Remove the outer leaves and core from the cabbage (or other greens) then shred the remainder finely.
Pour the oil into a large frying pan and as it heats up, stir in the ginger and garlic (also paprika/chilli powder if used). When the oil is hot stir in the shallots and diced chillis. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes then add the shredded 'greens', tossing to mix thoroughly. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. This will allow steam from the contents to cook the cabbage. Keep giving the pan a shake so the greens don't stick to the bottom and burn, and cook for about 3 minutes, then remove lid and cook a further 3 minutes so any liquid/steam therein can evaporate. Add seasoning to taste then serve immediately.

Next dish can be either starter, lunch or supper dish, especially with the addition of feta cheese and crusty fresh bread. A very simple dish but full of flavour, especially if you use a good brand of plum tomatoes (these have more flavour and sweeter than the canned 'chopped', but as they end up chopped you could use either). Tip: if using a cheaper brand of tomatoes (these can lack flavour and be very 'acidic', add a tsp of caster sugar).
This meal is perfect for those who grow their own beans and plum tomatoes. The recipe says 'fresh green beans', but the photo shows these as being 'string' beans. See no reason why runner beans could not also be used. Instead of fresh use frozen green 'string' beans, but they can be added to the dish later as they take less time to cook.
Green Beans in Tomato Sauce: serves 4
1 3/4 lb (800g) green beans, trimmed
5 fl oz (150ml) olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 - 2 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed
2 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 x 400g (14 oz) can plum tomatoes, chopped
5 fl oz (150ml) hot water
salt and pepper
3 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
If the green beans are long, cut in half (or to what length you wish), then drop into a bowl of cold water and keep submerged. Leave for a few minutes so they can absorb some water (if using frozen beans, just thaw).
Heat the oil in a large pan, then add the onion and fry gently for a few minutes until softened but not browned. Stir in the garlic, cook for a further minute, then add the potatoes. Continue frying for a few more minutes before adding the tomatoes and water. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain the beans, rinse and drain again, then add to the pan with seasoning to taste. Cover and simmer for half an hour.
Remove lid, adding a very little water only if the mixture seems too dry, then stir in the parsley and (if using fresh beans) cook for a further 10 minutes or until the beans are very tender. Serve hot with chunks of feta cheese and crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

Having started the butternut squash for yesterday's roasted veg, wish to use up some of what is left a.s.a.p so will be making this next dish for tonight's supper served with sausages. This dish goes well with other roast meats or chops/steak, or can be served on its own with (say) watercress as a light lunch/supper dish. Could use pumpkin instead of b.squash.
Spicy Roast Butternut Squash: serves 3 - 4
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp dried thyme
pinch chilli powder (opt)
salt and pepper
1 butternut squash (approx 3 lb/1.5kg)
3 oz (75g) mature (strong) Cheddar cheese, grated
Put the oil in a large bowl and stir in the fennel, garlic, ginger, thyme and chilli (if using). Add seaoning to taste and mix well together.
Remove the skin from the squash and discard the seeds, then cut the flesh into approx 1"/2.5cm chunks, tossing them in the spiced oil until coated. Spread the squash evenly in a single layer on a baking sheet, then roast for 40 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until tender and the edges are golden brown.
Sprinkle the cheese on the top and return to oven to cook for a further 5 minutes then serve straight from the pan, scraping up all the bits of melted cheese to add to the dish.

The above are just a few of the very many 'choose your meal' easy dishes to prepare from (hopefully) food we already have in our kitchen or garden. Discovered these yesterday whilst clearing up papers in the 'working end' of what is our formal 'dining room' and where I am sitting at this moment. All due to two football matches on yesterday evening, one immediately following the other (although different channels) that B HAD to watch, so made use of my 'free' time clearing up in here. If you enjoy the recipes, let me know as there are plenty more worth knowing about.
Due to the 'footie' decided to go to bed at 'normal time', and did not stay up until the wee small hours to see the repeat of the 'child poverty' programme as intended. May be able to pick it up later on iPlayer.

Looks like being a pleasant day, sun shining through high clouds, so maybe we will still be catching the edge of the milder air whilst the rest of the country shivers. Am not beginning to feel that it wasn't such a bad idea moving to the western side of the country after all (my love has always been the east coast - with such bracing air).

As I look through the window can see signs of spring in the garden, both birds and flowers, and have to say since seeing the programme about 'grow your own planet' now am looking with far greater appreciation and almost awe to both.
After watching a recent programme about black holes - this suggesting the beginning of our universe (The Big Bang) was all 'loose' matter (and solid planets for all I know) that had been dragged into a black hole then thrown out with an explosive bang (and this I've said all along -since I first heard about black holes -was what must have happened as it seems so obvious), am now seeing the whole of creation as a never-ending occurance, universes falling into holes then forming new ones. Where did it all come from and when did it all start, and will it ever end and where does space end - if it ever does? And although it is not difficult to understand that all the universe is made up of the same components in various amounts, this also including our bodies, still am wondering where does the 'life force' come from? Leading now to almost the 'god like' intelligence that we are now gaining in our need to create 'something new' all the time.

Often I feel I must stop thinking about such things, just get on with the simple life. We are here for some purpose, that I do believe, and perhaps doing what our instincts tell is the right way to live, not messing about with things we don't understand. Or perhaps we are here to learn, Earth being our classroom and nature our 'tutor' so we can create new generations that will end up so clever they will end up as 'gods' in their own right to sow their seeds in other universes on other planets to start the Adam and Eve 'tree of life' all over again.
Why, why, why are we not allowed to know our 'reason to be'? If we don't find out soon the danger is we can make a fatal error and blow our world up (or at least make it uninhabitable).

On the other hand, Mother nature being cleverer than we give her credit for, is more likely to cause major disruption (floods, earthquakes, volcanoes etc) to give us a long hard shock and reduce the population if she feels it necessary (and for the safety of the planet). But we are then but a grain of sand in the massive ocean of our universe, doubt we really count in the great scheme of things. It could be the whole universe is one master plan, played like a game where time is not as we know it now, and the past and future already known and - like a game of chess - one planet (or galaxy) after another is obliterated (down a black hole or by a massive meteor) to start the game again.
One thing for sure, we are always part of this universe, whether as a 'life force' or dead as dust. Nothing is 'wasted'. It just turns into something else. Nice to know I'll always be around in some form or another. Wonder what I was several millions of years ago.

Just wish I'd never seen the black hole programme, life would be much simpler if all I had to think about was "what cake shall I make next?". Perhaps if I went out and 'socialised' a bit more my mind would be on more mundane things. Between you and me I prefer to 'have a good think' even though I will never find answers to all my questions.

But you and I are still here, chores to do, food to cook, shopping (or not) to consider. Why waste time worrying about what 'might be'. Live for the moment don't they say? Today will have a go at doing just that. If I'm still here tomorrow, hope to meet up with you again. TTFN.