Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Everything Has a Second Use

When we were first married it seemed the market was flooded with 'factory equipment' that was now no longer in use. Mainly dealing with the cloth trade. New machinery had made the large wooden bobbins and shuttles now obsolete and they could be bought for pennies.
Beloved once brought home a number of wooden bobbins, and fixed them together - one on top of each other - then threaded electrical wiring up the hole in he centre, fixed a bulb socket on top and with an added lampshade made a standard lamp.

When me moved to Leeds (closer to the weaving/cloth region) there were many items made from bobbins and various other weaving equipment. Below I show one that I bought and it has been in constant use ever since. You can see it in the picture below - this a short 'stumpy' bobbin that had holes drilled into the top and bottom 'ring'. The raised bit in the centre is an egg timer (shown in the next photo). I have removed some eggs so you can see it more clearly.
This is the egg timer that lifts out from the centre hole of the above, although have to say I rarely (if ever) find I need to use an egg timer. The time it takes to boil an egg is dependent upon its size and also its freshness. So I usually boil an egg for three minutes, then lift it from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and start counting. If the surface water dries off in 7 seconds then the egg is soft-boiled to my liking. If it takes longer the egg is put back into the simmering water for another minute (or two accordingly).

This next photo shows my 'egg rack' now filled. As I buy the cheapest eggs (15 in the box - working out at 8p each), always have more than enough to fill the rack, any surplus are kept in a bowl and used first. These eggs are sold as 'mixed sizes' and although I've never done this before decided yesterday to weigh each egg, and wrote the weight in gs and oz on each. As I hpe you can see.
In cooking, when no size of egg is given, this should always be taken as a 'medium' size. Catering establishments tend to use a liquid egg measurement and this is 1 egg = 2 fl.oz.

At least half of the eggs in the mixed-size box were over medium weight, some classed as 'large', only one was small - this one seen perched on top of the egg timer in the middle.

Now although it usually doesn't matter what size egg is used in many dishes, with some - such as when making meringue or certain cake-baking - we should always use medium eggs unless otherwise stated or the balance of ingredients can be thrown out of kilter.

Larger eggs I tend to use for making quiches, omelettes, hard-boiled eggs etc where the egg is used as a protein substitute for meat. Medium eggs used in baking and other dishes, the smallest eggs used for glazing or coating. As the latest (and now favourite) way to make Yorkshire Puddings is to use the same measure of eggs, milk and flour (beaten together), when we wish to make less (maybe three individual 'Yorkies' instead of four) then using a small egg (even a bantam's egg) makes sense.

At one time we could go and buy eggs that had been sized into (I think) at least 5 or 6 different 'grades' and it was possible to buy quite small hens eggs. Not today, we are lucky to find anything below a medium (unless occasionally in a box of 'mixed') and now that the new ruling is for larger size cages for laying hens, and more room for the barn hens, we have been told to expect egg prices to rise considerably. Perhaps it might be a good idea to keep bantams so we can always have small eggs to use, and just use more (by weight) as necessary.

Something else I did yesterday was re-assess my storage. Most of the time I keep all my baking tins together on a shelf in the larder, but decided it made more sense to keep my loaf tins at the side of the bread-machine so that they were instantly to hand when I needed them (I make the bread dough in the machine and then bake the loaf in a tin in the oven as it makes a better shape loaf with slices that fit into our toaster). On the shelf at the side of the bread machine is a wooden 'bread-bin' (made by our son when he was at school some 40 years ago), and in this I keep all my bread 'mixes' and a jar of yeast sachets.

Cleaned tins that are usually used in the oven (roasting tins etc) were placed in our smaller (lower) oven as a sensible storage place, and the flat baking sheets placed on top of the little set of drawers that fits under one end of the kitchen table - with a few inches gap at the top). The rest of the baking tins are still in the larder on the shelf under the 'baking' ingredients (flour, raising agents, ground almonds, flavourings, caster sugar etc...).

Think I mentioned recently that all jam-making 'needs' (thermometer, labels, funnel for filling jars, waxed circles, etc are now all kept in my 'jam-pan', this sitting on another shelf. Empty jars with their lids are kept together in a large cool-box for want of anywhere else to keep them (but if necessary they could go into a box and kept in the garage I suppose, but that would mean me walking further to fetch them. How lazy am I?

It is not laziness but the need to cut down 'preparation' time that matters to me for - like most people - even though we may love cooking, there are times when time is short or we know we should make something but don't feel inclined to take the time UNLESS half the job has already been done. Even finding the necessary equipment can often take more time than the actual 'making', especially when we have forgotten where we put things in the first place. So now everything is finding its rightful place (the most convenient for me) and so I hope they remain there (unless B gets his hands on one or t'other, then it is 'hunt the thimble' time again).

Another warm and sunny day tempted me outside again yesterday. Part of the day was spent tidying up the garden. Found a use for a low oblong bench that B made to hold a TV once. It has a loose, slatted top and we never use it now (we put it in the front lobby where I found piles of junk mail on top (why doesn't B throw that away - he throws away all other papers, even the ones I wish to keep, I need to keep the important ones in 'my' drawer of the filing cabinet).

Anyway, took the bench outside, put it under the conservatory window by the back door, placed the recent (and deeper than usual) D.R. polystyrene box on top (it was EXACTLY the right length) and began filling it with compost from one of last year's vegetable 'sacks'. Will add some of the 'processed' farmyard manure bought recently, and then top with some potting compost. Then in a few weeks it will be ready for planting. Being north-facing need to protect from frost if necessary, but easily done for I still have the polystyrene lid, and when necessary this can be propped against the front of the box against supporting sticks in the corners to protect from the cold.

Made myself a grated cheese and sliced tomato sandwich for lunch and took that outside to eat. As I sat on the bench in full sun found again that tomato sarnies ALWAYS taste better when eaten outdoors. Don't know why this should be, maybe the sun slightly warms up the sarnies, and maybe the pepper and little pinch of salt over the toms helps to bring out the flavour, but having eaten another tomato from the same 'vine' - this time eaten indoors - it had then no real flavour at all. Outside it seemed (to me) bursting with flavour. From now on all sandwiches containing tomatoes will be eaten outdoors when ever possible.

As I have only two tomatoes left, today will be another 'al fresco' lunch of tomato sarnies, maybe another tomorrow and that may be the last of the outdoor lunching as the weather is due to change to cloudy later on Thursday with possible light showers. So must make the most of what sun we have left. We have been very lucky this past week and do hope that the good weather will return again soon.

Thanks for the comments. Not sure if I remembered to thank gillibob for sending in a website reference for free seeds (you will find this comment in the day before yesterday's blog), and no other comment sent in that requires a reply, so will now get on with today's recipe suggestions as today is Norma the Hair day and need to publish this in good time (as still have the conservatory table to clear for her to dump her bag).

Before I begin perhaps worth a mention of B's supper yesterday for it is almost a recipe in itself, but with no need for 'proper' list of ingredients and recipe. As mentioned had already decided to make B a Prawn Cocktail for his supper, but as he left for the gym he said he wanted chicken. So in the end thawed out a small pack of chicken 'fillets' (cut from the back of the chicken breast after recently jointing 3 birds). Cut the fillets into chunks, then lightly fried these with some finely chopped onion. In a Pyrex jar had put the contents of a small packet of coconut cream in with some boiling water to soften.

Fetched a new jar of Thai red chilli sauce/paste from the larder and spooned some of this into the chicken/onions, then carefully wiped the top of the jar with kitchen paper and covered the surface of the paste with a little sunflower oil (this prevents it getting mould or 'going off' too quickly, then it will keep for some weeks in the fridge). The blended coconut cream and water was also added to the pan and everything stirred together to make a sauce. With a few more minutes cooking the sauce had thickened and the chicken was cooked. So I turned off the heat, placed a plate over the top of the pan and left it for B to reheat on his return, leaving a saucer of thawed small prawns at the side for him to add to the curry when it had returned to the boil. Also placed a pack of 2-minute microwave Lemon and Rosemary rice for B to reheat at the same time in the microwave oven. He is just about able to 'multi-task' as long as it no more than having to remember two things to do (almost) at the same time.

This is such a quick and easy 'curry' to make that I urge everyone to have a go. Incidentally Thai green curry paste could be used instead of the red.

Here is another curry, this a vegetarian one and - for speed - uses a 'stewpack' of frozen veg (these being part-cooked), but we can also part-cooked our own raw veg, or use left-over cooked vegetables if we wish.

This takes a little longer than the Thai curry of course, due mainly to the lentils, and if pre-cooked vegetables are use these could cut 5 minutes off the cooking time - which is less than half an hour from start to finish anyway.

Although hot weather means we often crave cool dishes (cold meat with salads etc), curry is one meal that is much enjoyed in high summer. Many countries that have hot climates have traditional dishes that are very spicy-hot, and this is probably because these make us perspire and this in itself cools our body down. I always know a curry is hot when B 'eats out' for the top of his bald head starts to show beads of sweat and he usually ends up with a napkin placed on top of his head to 'catch the drips'.

Simple Lentil Curry: serves 4

2 tblsp sunflower oil

2 onions, cut into wedges

4 tblsp curry paste (you choose the strength)

1.25 pints (850ml) vegetable stock

1 x 750g (1lb 10 oz) stewpack frozen veg (see above)

4 oz (100g) red lentils

7 oz (200g) long-grain rice (pref basmati)

half tsp turmeric

handful raisins or sultanas

chopped fresh parsley (opt)

Put the oil in a large pan and fry the onions over high heat until golden brown (takes about 6 - 8 minutes). Stir in the curry paste and fry for a further minute. Add a tablespoon of the stock to help gather up any bits stuck to the pan, then add the resit of the stock, stir in the frozen vegetables and simmer for 5 minutes before adding the lentils (if using pre-cooked or lightly cooked veg, add them at the same time as the lentils). Reduce heat and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes or until everything is cooked.

While the above is cooking, cook the rice as per pack instructions, stirring the turmeric into the water. When the rice is tender, drain well.

To serve the curry, fold in the raisins and pile in a dish, garnish with chopped parsley (opt), and serve with the rice.

Despite an early start, time has caught up with me so really HAVE to love you and leave you for today. Make the most of our good weather - you might even manage to fit in a barbecue before the chillier and cloudier days set in again.

Must end with a mention of The Little French Kitchen, as was able to watch the repeat of the second episode last night on BBC iPlayer due to an unexpected footie match on TV that B insisted on watching. This is a lovely programme, the dishes look so simple to make (especially in such a wee kitchen). Will have to catch up with the Hairy Bikers 'Bakeation' (who thinks up these names?) another day, it is being repeated but can also be seen on iPlayer.

Have no time for further 'chat' (more like 'rambling' again), so TTFN.