Thursday, March 08, 2012

Does Size Matter?

Many thanks for your comments, it was good to find so many had appeared on my email 'inbox'.
We give a warm welcome (with usual group hugs) to two new 'commenteers'. One under the name of 'resentingmyresent' who agrees that Aldi is an excellent place to shop for quality and economy. Also to Juicy Juicer who lives in the south east USA (Florida?). She feels my blog has a 'British sound', and can only wonder how different my blog 'sounds'to others. Perhaps the American way of writing is more casual. We (older) Brits are still stuck in the ways we spoke in our youth, 'jolly hockey sticks' and all that, but as long as it can be understood....

Thanks Les for the timely warning about wearing sunglasses yesterday after my eye-drops. Unfortunately don't own any although both pairs of my specs have tinted lenses. Of course the sun shone brightly after the eye-check and I did need to keep my eyes closed on the way home, despite pulling down the sun 'protector' (forgotten its name) on the windscreen.
Strangely, the eye drops didn't sting THAT much (not as badly as when I slice strong onions), and even more oddly my eyesight didn't blur at all, perhaps because my eyes are naturally dilated due to me being very short-sighted, so when I wore my glasses again. It seemed I could see even more clearly.

Regarding the sous-vide using the oven. Quite honestly don't think I'd ever feel the need to cook in a water-bath (other than in a bain-marie with some recipes such as creme caramel etc). The slow-cooker is a very satisfactory way to cook meat. However am sure other readers WOULD be interested to know if they can very-slow-cook using their oven, so if you find it possible (and doesn't fuel-cost a lot) then let us know.
Yesterday, watching Masterchef saw one of the contestants sous-vide some vacuum-packed strawberries. Does it ever end to the 'experimenting'? Why not just serve them 'au naturel'?
Which brings me back to the problem that if we wish to sous-vide in any way, we then also have to purchase a vacuum sealer. However these ARE useful if we buy meat in bulk from the butcher and then wish to freeze it ourselves.

Am hoping one day to buy some gluten-free flour and have a go at baking with it Lisa, but not in the near future. However have just read that one of our chefs: Phil Vickary (or is it Vickery?)has written a new cook book about gluten-free cooking which is said to be excellent. This might be sold in the US?
Your mention of 'tornado shelters and sirens' took my mind back to war-time and our Anderson (outdoor) and Morrison (indoor) shelters as 'bomb protection', with the sirens giving warning when an attack was imminent (also going off at the end after the planes had flown away).
The churches were also banned from bell-ringing for any reason as if there was an invasion we would be warned by hearing church bells ring. Do remember how pre-war, every Sunday we could hear the church bells ringing across the fields calling people to come, and how we missed hearing them. Not sure if the country villages still ring bells for Sunday service, but in the suburbs and urban areas we hardly ever hear them. Maybe for a wedding (but this is expensive) or one bell tolling for a funeral (also costly no doubt).

Am sorry to hear you get so many migraines Lisa. I used to have them when younger - starting in my early teens and they were dreadful. I used to get geometric black and white shapes begin to move across my eyes and end up seeing nothing but these shapes. I used to kneel on the floor and stick my head in a chair with a cushion over my head to try and keep the shapes away (this sort of worked). As I grew older these headaches disappeared, so am not not plagued with them, although our son occasionally gets them when stressed.

One herbal remedy for migraine that is supposed to work well is Feverfew. This is a wild herb that grew as a 'weed' in our garden in Leeds. It may/may not grow in America. It is low-growing with white daisy-like flowers, the leaves have an odd scent and it is the leaves that are used to make a 'tisane'. Possibly can be bought in tablet form from a herbalist.

The mention of cupcakes has brought to mind something I saw on TV yesterday. Apparently, in the US there are now vending machines where one cupcake can be bought, and the query in the prog was 'how long before we see these in Britain?', for what America has it seems we then also have to have (to our obesity cost). So seems that cup-cakes will still be around for a long, long time. Not that there won't be other cakes that come into fashion. After all the slightly smaller cup-cakes (that we call 'fairy cakes') must have been continually made for at least a century and still being made. Suppose 'cup-cakes' are just their slightly big sisters (US muffins being an even bigger brother), so it all comes down to size. Make it bigger and give it a new name. Then it becomes 'fashionable' again.

Your mention of purchasing a shopping trolley Lisa to bring home your shopping again opened a memory door. When we had one of those large coach-built prams, often used to take that up to our local self-service (we didn't have supermarkets in those days), and put the shopping in the pram, then go on to the greengrocers, then the butchers etc. Could bring home loads more than if having to carry it all by hand. By then our smallest child was out of the pram or could at least sit on the pram seat at one end. How I remember those days taking the children out for their daily walk, a tiny baby in the pram, one sitting on a pram seat at the front, the third walking at my side wearing 'reins'. As they grew older, the middle of the support of the base of the pram could be removed making two seats, one for each child, the third still walking at the side. Or one child sitting at the hood end of the pram the remaining space taken up by the shopping.
Those were the days!

That 'unable to be used' coupon at the Co-op would have really annoyed me minimiser deb. I would have had 'words' with the manager about this, and if no other voucher was given in its place would have written to the head office. But that's just me being me. Probably in 'the old days' I'd have just kept my mouth shut and done nothing but mutter under my breath.

Lakeland sell a kitchen 'gadget' that is excellent for slicing bread Campfire. It is a sort of 'rest' where you place the bread, then it has guides you can put your bread knife through to keep the slices uniform, and will make them them as thick or thin as you wish. I did have one, so can guarantee it's worthiness. Gave it away to my friend was was at that time beginning to make her own bread and making a hash of cutting it. She too found it excellent.
It is said that first buttering the bread BEFORE slicing makes it easier to slice, and having tried this it seems also to work. Another way with home-made bread is to place it on its side and start slicing from the back edge (this was base), slicing down and towards the front, for often the top crust can be rather round and soft and then squidges down when cutting with a knife. The firmer 'backside' gives better control.

Yesterday was flicking through a cookery mag (now several years old) that had an article headed by 'A month's quick and cheap family food'. This then began with recipes for a week plus a list of all the fresh food needed to do the whole week's recipes - well seven main courses but only a few desserts.
In principle, this is a good idea for novice cooks who are not familiar with 'meal-planning', and - in a way - might be useful for those who wish to buy only what is needed and nothing else. Am sure - when younger - I would have followed these suggestions to the letter. Today I would not be able to afford to, as have since learned it is far less expensive if we shop to find the cheapest meats/fish, fresh and frozen produce, then find a recipe to make a meal from these.

Within the above article it gives four different sets of recipes, one for each week, and although we probably might already have some of the longer-storing fresh foods already in the fridge or veggie rack, to me they don't work out 'cheap' at all. By week 4 when most of us would probably have spent most of our monthly budget (in the old days remember this was the week that beans on toast were almost the daily diet), you would expect the ingredient list to be fairly thrifty. What do you think?
week 4:
Meat/Fish: 450g sausages; 1 pack smoked salmon; 4 salmon fillets; 670 haddock fillets;
4 rump steaks; 3 strips pancetta or streaky bacon.
200g tub soft cheese; 40g parmesan cheese; semi AND full cream milk; butter, 500ml double cream; ready-made (!) Dauphinoise potatoes; 7 eggs; 215g ready-rolled puff pastry; 400g gnocchi; 100g cheddar cheese.
800g new potatoes; watercress; 175g tenderstem broccoli; head of broccoli; 2 red onions;
1 green (bell) pepper; 2 red (bell) peppers; 1 bulb garlic; 225g strawberries; 800g potatoes; 1 red chilli pepper; 4 onions; 115g button mushrooms; 2 sweet potatoes; 3 celery sticks; 1 carrot; 2 radishes; 1 cucumber; coriander; sage; thyme; basil.

But the TOTAL cost of the week's main meals do not end with the above as reading through each recipe now see we have to include the ingredients below that the editors of the mag assume we already have in our larder. Even I don't have all of them.
green peppercorns, black pepper, brandy, beef stock, sugar, salt, cornflour, golden syrup, olive oil, smoked paprika, tinned chickpeas, vegetable oil, canned pumpkin puree, nutmeg, chilli powder, risotto rice, fish or chicken stock, canned chopped tomatoes, coconut milk, vegetable stock concentrate, cooked black eye beans, hot pepper sauce, fresh white breadcrumbs, pine nuts, jar tomato pasta sauce, horseradish sauce.

A few years ago I'd have sat down in front of the computer and priced up all the items on the first 'shopping list' just to see how much they would cost me to purchase. Assuming we work with only the quantities used (even if we do have to purchase a larger pack of (say) cheese/pastry et al), am sure the total would still be fairly high, but maybe not, so this time I'm going to make this a challenge for you to do (it saves me the trouble and why should I be always the one to do everything?). Let's see how many readers will help me out here and price up the above 'week's meals' as given, and then (optional) work out the cost of at least SOME of the 'larder food' as canned tomatoes, coconut milk, black eye beans, rice, pumpkin puree, pasta sauce etc would add more than a few pennies to the total. The rest can be ignored.

Even doing the above would be useful as many readers buy their foods in different stores, and it will also encourage others to know that a meal can work out less if we buy all the ingredients from Aldi, or maybe even shopping around.
Possibly by going onto this is the easiest way to find the cheapest prices (I've not yet tried this), but we'd still have to work out the cost per amount used, not how much paid for the whole pack.
Is this asking too much? If so, well I'll just have to do it myself and have a mega-sulk whilst doing so. One way or the other mean to find out if a planned menu DOES work out much more expensive than a 'see first what's on offer and then make up my mind what meals to make'.

Have just learned that we may have a visitor for lunch or supper (or maybe both) so will have to shortly depart to the kitchen to begin thinking up what to cook. Just time to leave you with one recipe that would make a good vegetarian starter when entertaining(or even a lunch or supper dish. Easy to make, this can be prepared in advance, wrapped in cling-film and stored in the fridge for up to 48 hours before baking.
Mushrooms en Croute: serves 4
1 x 37g pack puff pastry
4 large flat white field mushrooms
4 tblsp pesto sauce
8 sundried tomatoes in oil
5 oz (150g) mozzarella cheese, sliced
salt and pepper
milk to glaze
Roll out the pastry to 38 x 32cm (don't ask me what that is in inches). Cut into four rectangular pieces. Place one mushroom in the centre of each. Top each with pesto sauce, tomatoes, and cheese, adding seasoning to taste, then fold the pastry over to cover and press edges firmly together to seal. At this point they can be cling-wrapped and chilled (see above).
To cook, brush the parcels with milk and bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden. If well chilled they may take a couple or so minutes longer.
Serve hot with vegetables as a main course, or with a sweet tomato and pepper relish as a starter.

Some time ago mentioned how the phone rings or something happens to stop me doing what I intended. Forgot to mention that when at a very critical time making the profiteroles, the phone rang AND the front door bell rang within seconds of each other. Heard B talking, so assumed he had answered the door but he was speaking to his daughter on the phone (she lives in America), and at the front door was the Lakeland delivery of the Crouqembouche mould (and other things) that I'd ordered. B came to me to ask me to go and speak to my daughter (I was still in the middle of baking!!!) so I threw what profs I had piped into the oven and dashed to speak to her and whilst doing so saw the delivery man wandering past the side and then back of the house and so yelled to B and he managed to catch him before he left.

As I write, the front door bell has just rung and it is the 'birthday present' I'd ordered for B. This being a bulk amount of frozen Donald Russell meat, so as B is going out shortly must now go and unpack, let him have a drool over it, and then put it into the freezer before it begins to thaw.

So off I trot but do hope you return again tomorrow when I can carry on telling you more about the Goode life. See you then.