Monday, March 05, 2012

Do We Need It?

Thanks for comments. Regarding Kit-Kat Catriona, this 'biscuit' was originally launched in the UK in 1935 and probably by 'Terry's' (who had a factory in York) where Kit-Kat is probably still made. However the nation that now owns the product is shown as having a flag with a red background and an upright thick white cross in the centre - is that Switzerland?
Many of the now-foreign owned once-British products are still made in the UK according to the list, but was surprised to see that Quakers (oats) are not. Neither are Rowntree's (shown with the same flag as Kit-Kat (and also Nescafe). Cadbury 'Twirl' also has a cross against it, and Goodfella's (even though this is British owned).

Thanks for asking Susan G. My Beloved is still improving although still has a very stubborn and dry cough. He had a huge bowl of that chicken soup (with the carrots, celery and onions included) for his lunch. For supper he felt like eating a 'proper meal' again (first time for a few days) so made him a beef casseroled using some pre-cooked sliced brisket I had frozen, this with more onions and carrots plus potatoes and a lovely thick gravy (courtesy of half a packet of beef casserole mix). He downed that and said it was really lovely, the meat so tender it melted in his mouth.

This brings me nicely to last comment sent. It was good to hear about your trials with your sous-vide Les, and look forward to hearing more. I've no doubt that anything cooked at this low temperature for long enough will end up very tender. Myself feel that the cost of the sous-vide (around £300) plus over £50 for the necessary vacuum bag sealer (necessary to vacuum pack meats when cooking in a sous-vide), make this appliance way beyond the means of many readers. But then didn't you once say you had made your own version of a sous-vide by using a transformer or something to reduce the heat to a lower level in your normal slow-cooker? If so, couldn't we do the same and thus save ourselves the unnecessary expense of buying something much more expensive to do the same job?

However tempting having a sous-vide would be, to me it would raise my culinary game to nearly the levels of Heston B who delights in experimenting with new ways to cook foods, and we need to be able to afford to splash our cash to enable us to do a lot of what he does. Lakeland (and other firms) are now advertising kits where we can make our own edible 'bubbles' and other things. These kits are are perfect to 'play with' if we entertain a lot, but unfortunately not for the likes of those who cut our costs down to the bare minimum (like me most of the time). Myself feel that these might come under 'boy's toys' and would expect them to be bought by more men than women (although some women might buy them for their OH to play with).

With this new 'fashion' to start home-cooking (again - all fashions keep returning after 50 or even less years) and nearly everyone is having a go at making things from scratch, it does seem that now producers of our basic ingredients (flours, sugars.... and anything else to do with baking/cooking) are now tryhing to 'inspire' us to buy something 'new' in every one of their ranges, it are those who produce kitchen gadgets and appliances who are also coming up with different ideas for things we might already have, but are more 21st century. Yes, I have bought two micro-graters, perfect for finely grating parmesan and citrus zest, and it never occured to me that my mother's metal hand grater (that I still use) also has a very fine grater on one side of it that could be used for the same purpose. And my food processor has a blade that will also very finely grate hard cheese. So I am as weak as the next person when it comes to a 'gadget'.

Am quite sure it won't be long before some enterprising manufacturer of a slow cooker will bring a 'new improved' model on the market that can reach an even lower temperature than the ones it already has - so we can then choose to High slow-cook or Low slow-cook and then Slower than slow-cook (at sous-vide temperatures) in the same cooker.
Have mentioned this to Lakeland person and he person I spoke to thought it was a good suggestion. Also asked her if Lakeland could include a conical sieve in later catalogues as this is something I used regularly until I lent it to someone and it was never returned. Now all cooks are seen to use these on TV, so am hoping my suggestion will make these 'cones' available again. No doubt they can be bought through some on-line site, but Lakeland is well-known for having all the 'necessary' for domestic cooks, and myself feel that a conical sieve is VERY necessary.

Returning to slow-cooking of meat. Whatever a sous-vide will do, do feel that a slow-cooker will do just as well but faster, at the same time making its own stock/gravy whilst doing so. Cooking overnight in my slow-cooker (set on Low) some of the toughest (but best flavoured) stewing meat becomes very tender, and if left too long will fall into tiny bits. Mind you, as I've never tasted sous-vide cooked meats then cannot comment on the flavour. Maybe to a gourmand (or is it epicure or gourmet?) the finer details such as flavour/texture are probably more important than to me. Do know that one problem of the very slow cooked meat is the lack of colour (normal and ordinary slow-cooking can darken the flesh) with this then having to be added later by either searing it off in a frying pan, or covering it with a dense and dark sauce.

Despite my seemingly 'no need to bother' words regarding the purchase of any expensive appliance, am always up for trying to get the same effect myself if I can discovering a much less expensive way to get the end result.
Now for those who are concerned as to running (fuel) costs, how long would it take (in years) to cover the cost of a sous-vide/vacuum sealer, if the same meats were cooked in a slow-cooker?

Am I a hypocrite? If I know bread dough can be made by hand, or in a food processor using a dough hook (and often is), why do I then buy a bread-maker? Firstly mine was second-hand, and secondly this is used at least twice a week, which is more often than my slow-cooker. It also seems to make better bread than any I make by hand (but then I'm not good at making pastry either). In any case the slow-cooker was a 'free gift' given (by my request) instead of payment for a feature in Good Housekeeping mag. This must have been over 30 years ago now and it still works!!! Had I been paid cash the money would have been long spent on probably something that would have either been eaten or worn into rags.

I like things that have a good useful 'shelf life', so for me to pay (for new or second-hand) an 'appliance/gadget' MUST be able to pay its way and eventually pay for itself in money saved. The bread-maker saves me money on bought bread, the electric slicer saves me LOADS of money when slicing home-cooked beef, turkey, ham, tongue... The slow-cooker saves me a lot of money as the meat cooked therein are the cheaper cuts (so able to afford top quality/flavour thanks to the DR 'offers'). Several of these are often cooked together in my slow-cooker (aka 'crock-pot') and then frozen separately with some of the 'gravy/stock' it has made at the same time, to thaw later to make a speedy casserole (as for yesterday's supper).

Yes, I have been tempted in the past to buy 'kitchen gear' that is very rarely used, my ice-cream maker for one, my deep fat fryer for another. Now that I have two and a half empty freezer drawers (until my DR meat delivery on Thursday) will take the opportunity to freeze both ice-cream machine liners so that I can make at least two batches of ice-cream to store in the half empty freezer drawer, and then the machine will have to go back on the shelf until I can gain more freezer space. As toasted sandwhich machines are now back in fashion again, almost wishing I'd kept mine and not given it away. But then those reusable 'toasting bags' sold by Lakeland do the job almost as well. Tip. When you want a toasted cheese sarnie, first microwave the sarnie before toasting under grill (or in toasting bag, or toasted sarnie machine) as this will give a nice melted cheese centre.

One of my Christmas presents (bought by myself for me) was a subscription to a cookery mag, and one arrived yesterday. Would you believe it showed two recipes, one for profiteroles covered with a chocolate sauce, the other was a Croqembouche!! The latter wasn't held together by dipping the profs into caramel then stacking around a bought cone, this time a home-made cone was to be made using an A4 size piece of card and the profiteroles were then dipped into white chocolate and placed INSIDE the cone, one at the tip (round end towards the tip) and the rest placed round the cone and also filling the centre. This made a smaller cone (by height) that the one I made, but still used almost as many profs. The suggestion was to make some caramel and then 'spin' strands of this to drape over the Croqembouche.
Let's face it - cookery has as much to do with fashion as has furnishings and clothes, and with cup-cakes now almost old hat, we now see macaroons everywhere in every pastel shade/flavour we can think of (am just about to have a go at making some myself). Bet your bottom dollar, eclairs and profiteroles will be this year's fashion-to-come with the Croqembouche the icing on the cake so to speak, and no pun intended.

Tradition and fashion. One can lead to the other I suppose and here is an example. At one time Scottish shortbread was made with butter, ground rice, flour and sugar (and still is made this way). Nowadays chefs seem to include an egg yolk and this still makes good shortbread, so you could call it the new 'fashionable' way to make this biscuit. If you haven't come across this 'added egg' recipe, here is one version that is especially speedy to make if you have a food processor, but of course can be made by hand in the normal way. Certainly makes good biscuits.
Shortbread: makes 16 biscuits
12 oz (350g) plain flour
8 oz (225g) butter, chilled and diced
5 oz (150g) caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
Put the flour and butter into a food processor and whizz until like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, vanilla and egg yolks and whizz until it forms a dough. If you haven't a processor, rub the butter into the flour until crumbs, then add the sugar and yolks and stir together with a knife, then forming into a dough with your fingers.
Put the dough onto a lightly floured board and form into a long sausage (about 9" - 10" long approx 23 -25cm and 2 "/5cm dia). Wrap in cling-film/foil or parchment and chill for at least 1 hour (you can freeze it if you wish).
Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 16 slices and place on 2 lightly greased baking sheets, leaving room for them to spread. Bake for 20 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until the shortbread is just turning pale gold at the edges, then transfer to a cake airer to cool. Store in an airtight tin or jar.

Although I sometimes buy a bulk pack of free-range chicken breasts (mainly because they are huge, have the added 'fillets' I can cut away and pack separately, and also a good price), normally I prefer to buy several fresh chickens (when on offer) so that I can joint them myself, thus gaining all the joints at far lower price than supermarket joint 'packs'. Plus the carcases, and we know what good stock these can make!

Normally I wrap each joint (drumstick, thigh, and breast) separately so that once frozen they don't stick together (almost impossible to break apart any frozen meat when it is frozen without harming its shape, and often we only need one thing, not always two - for the same reason I also freeze sausages separately or in pairs).
The winglets I don't bag individually, usually in half a dozen at a time, although may add more to a bag if am only jointing one chicken at a time. These are often kept to make stock when I have run out of carcases (or pre-made stock) - in the same way as the winglets were used this week when making soup for Beloved.

However, even the humble chicken wings can make a meal in their own right, and here is a recipe for one such - although more as a buffet or teenage meal than a proper 'mains'. But - as ever - serving this between a starter and a dessert will keep that £3 meal to feed four within the set boundary of that particular budget, and certainly 'make a meal of it'.
Buffalo Wings with Cheese Dip: serves 4
2 oz (50g) butter
1 - 2 tblsp hot sauce (Tabasco)
2 tsp white vinegar
8 fl oz (225g) natural yogurt
2 oz (50g) blue cheese (Stilton) crumbled
1 clove garlic, crushed
good pinch sweet paprika
pinch of salt
1 lb (600g) chicken wings
flour for dusting
salt and pepper
4 tblsp oil for frying
First make the sauce by heating together the butter, Tabasco and vinegar, when the butter has melted and all combined, pour into a large bowl and set aside.
Meanwhile mix together the yogurt, crumbled cheese, garlic, paprika, and pinch of salt, then cover and chill.
Cut each chicken wing in half through its joint, then put into a bowl with a little seasoning and enough flour to coat when tossed together. Shake off surplus flour.
Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and fry the wings in batches for about 10 minutes (turning once) until cooked through and golden all over. As soon as cooked lift with a slotted spoon and place in the bowl of 'butter sauce', stirring well to coat.
When all wings are cooked and dipped in the sauce, serve on a plate with any extra butter sauce poured over, place the bowl of cheese dip at the side and serve as 'finger food' (with some kitchen paper or paper serviettes to wipe sticky fingers).

Yesterday as well as B's lunch and supper, made a further loaf of bread. This time a one x 2lb white loaf as still had a few brown mini-loaves and the flat brown loaf waiting to be eaten. Have to say there is nothing as good as home-made bread when you compare it to the white 'pap' they call bread that is on sale in supermarkets.
The other day, B having brought in a toasting loaf for himself (my request as I couldn't be bothered to bake a loaf that day due to me taking a day off cooking after the party), suddenly felt like making myself a sarnie, yet the slices were too thick for my personal sarnie-taste (although most men seem to like their sarnies made with thick bread). So I very carefully got my bread knife and sliced - as evenly as possible - one toasting slice into two very thin slices. Although it worked, it was a mistake for - when made into the sarnie' the bread - seemed even more 'pappy' and tried to glue itself to the top of my mouth (well, if you want the truth, denture plate), and I had to prise it off. It was absolutely disgusting the texture, I NEVER have that happen with home-made bread. The more I eat home-made the worse the bought seems to be. From now now it's going to be home-made or nothing for me, B can eat what he likes, although he does prefer the home-made, only he goes through it far more rapidly than a bought loaf, so the savings are not quite as good as they could be. Making the dough into mini-loaves tends to help it last a bit longer.

Have I already mentioned the fuel bills that arrived last week? Certainly chatted to Gill about them, possibly you also. But am still so shocked by the increase that need to sob on shoulders about it again. The gas bill was almost twice as much more than the previous quarter, and the electricity bill that normally is the same whatever the season had also dramatically risen. The increased pension is not enough to cover this, so from now on will have to use less heat (and as soon as I decided this the weather has turned cold again), and certainly spend less in other ways. The only other way is either not having my hair done each week, and also spend less on food. The last being almost as difficult as food prices continue to rise.
Definitely have a deja vu feeling here, so probably have already said all this over the weekend. Apologies if I have, but doubt I'm the not the only one who finds their money is going out faster than it comes in and I cannot see any improvement in the near future. Things could even get worse.

At least, when it comes to cooking there is much we can do to save money and STILL put good meals on the table. All it needs is for us to do that little bit more and then we find we can spend a lot less. Do we really NEED all the food we buy? Couldn't instead we buy less and make it go that much further?

In this country we really have been living 'the good life' (by this I mean almost luxury level when it comes to eating) compared to those in the third word countries. Yet, when it comes to tightening our belts all we hear are people in the UK whimpering about being deprived.
Recently read an article about there being a lot of media attention given in the UK to the food and drink's responsibility to tackle obesity in the UK (and rightly so), but not a lot is written about those who don't have enough to eat.

An article was written by a man who recently visited Zamba where he met families who neither had the money to buy enough food nor the land and means of production to grow any themselves. Many were trying to survive on one poor quality a meal a day.
At least some charities are offering aid and some funds to help help, and (I find this inspiring) one grandmother - who was supporting eight grandchildren singlehandedly - showed the reporter how she had used the small funding she had been loaned to buy materials and stock for her market stall. In among the dried fruits, beans, grapefruit sized tomatoes, and cooking oil, she was selling charcoal, knitted seat covers, and pretty much everything else besides.
Food parcels from a charity relieved some of her immediate pressure and this allowed her to invest the loan in a business that then became profitable enough to give her the chance to pay more of the loan back than the minimum required. She was motivated to do this knowing her repayments could be given as a new loan to another family.

Although this was a different situation that normally happens in the UK, there is still a moral there somewhere. To me this shows that if we are prepared to pull out all our stops and work that little bit harder using the small pittance we may have at the moment, then things can only get better, if not financially an individual or (even better) a family will benefit with more love, care and attention given by way of home-making and home-baking than ever when giving the bought (and more expensive).

Even those who are at the moment without work (and there are many) can put their 'spare time' to good use. Spending more hours with their children (rather than leaving them stuck in front of a computer to amuse themselves), preferably in outdoor activities. If any have a garden, then they could rope all the family in to start growing produce rather then flowers (many 'edibles' have lovely flowers and scents). Maybe even keep a chicken or two. I would suggest rabbits kept for food (as many urban families did in wartime), but today think this wouldn't be acceptable. Snails possibly?
Mothers could spend time teaching their children how to cook, and as all children are likely to eat everything they cook themselves, yet another way to get them to eat their greens, or at least be not quite so 'picky' and a good way to steer them away from eating bought chicken 'nuggets' and burgers as when theystart making (then eating) their own, their 'edibles' can only get better.

The more time we have to spare the more money we can save by 'making do and mending'. You might laugh at me now as I save every inner 'gold paper' wrappings from bars of cooking chocolate, and many empty crisp packets with their shiny silver linings, but come next December, when these are made into free sparkling decorations (by then none of us will be able to afford to buy them), who'll have the last laugh then?
Every bit of shiny card, old Christmas and birthday cards, anything that has a possible 'other use' is being saved and put into an empty suitcase to save until towards the end of the year. Even this early on the lemon and orange pips are being sown to grow into house plants, and the rare avodcado when I feel the 'need' (ha, ha) to buy one. Even the seeds from bought butternut squash and red bell peppers can be sown later. As can the dried peas (bought for soaking and eating). Each will grow into plants that will provide either a houseplant in its own right, or grow on to produce more peppers/butternuts/peas each giving even more seeds. By doing this it makes it almost seem affordable to purchase that avocado et al.
Do we always need to buy seeds etc. when we are surrounded by 'the makings' for virtually free?

Time perhaps to leave you with that thought. After a very cold night with clear skies and what looked like a full moon, today is blue sky and sunshine. Sun always gives a good feeling, so today am more likely to do more than yesterday. But having said that.....!
At least B is out from noon until later evening. He is taking our daughter to Preston for a hospital appointment, then they share a meal (probably eating out), after which he is taking our daughter to an evening appointment somewhere else, so will see him when I see him. At least don't have to make him any supper, so will take the time to use up that pastry that is patiently waiting for me to make into something.

We have heard that the mid-west and other areas of the US have had tremendous tornadoes, so am hoping that none came close to Lisa and our other American readers. Fortunately if we get a tornado here is is a very small one, possibly lifting a few slates from roofs as it passes by. They are very rare and nothing to be really feared. Seems that the US ones are ferocious and that many families are resorting to huddling in specially built shelters to save them from the onslaught. Reminds me of wartime shelters in the hope of avoiding the bombing. Not that they were any use if in the line of a direct hit.

Must keep thinking positive nice thoughts then maybe my day will end up more productive. Hope yours will too. Keep those comments coming - I really enjoy hearing about your lives (as do all other readers), many are very inspiring and together am sure we can survive this recession and keep a smile on our faces whilst doing so. As B always says, there are many more far worse off than we. TTFN.