Monday, March 19, 2012

More 'Deliberations'!

No photos today but should be several tomorrow as my 'candied peel' seems to have turned out a great success and, at the moment, it is in the conservatory on a wire rack drying out. I sampled a tiny piece and it was soft and sweet with no bitterness.
Am keeping the pieces large so that some can be cut at the end of the year into matchsticks, then dipped into melted chocolate to make 'chocolate orange twiglets'.

Also yesterday finished potting up those herb 'mats' and was thrilled to bits (doesn't take much to thrill me these days) when I discovered there were 11 'mats' in the packet instead of 10, so I got a 'freebie' mat of coriander seeds (personally wish it had been parsley, but then never look a gift horse in the mouth as they say). Once grown, that alone will be worth a couple of ££s compared to the price we pay for a pot of the growing herb (or even a pack of fresh cut). Not a deliberate saving, but a saving nonetheless.

After emptying the bright pink plastic container of 'Vanish' laundry powder, began the chore of trying to remove the labels, and - for once - found these did peel off easily. So the tub and its lid can now either be used 'to hold things' (once all the 'smell' has been washed away), with or without its lid, or it could be used to house a plant pot, the lid being used as a plant-pot stand to catch any water drips. Another saving!

Instead of wooden labels I use a marker pen to write the name of the contents on the side of my plastic plant pots. This is fairly 'permanent', but can easily be washed off with hot water. I've given up using labels, unless stuck on jams, marmalade etc to be used as gifts. Marker pens I use for all labelling these days. Great used on glass jars where you can see the contents but without a name might not be quite sure what it is (orzo pasto looks very similar to rice).

Urbanfarmgirl and I must be running on parallel lines (playing trains again?) as yesterday I too noticed our (conservatory) windows needed a good clean (indoors only, we have a window cleaner for outdoor windows. Even though we live 'downstairs' and a ladder is not needed, B is not into domestic things like cleaning windows, outdoors OR in. Women's work! So it is definitely 'cleaning the conservatory windows' day for me today.

The gazebo sounded lovely, what a great idea. Did anyone watch 'le scavenger' (or some such name) on 'Quest' recently? A 'biker-type' man (oldish, big, tattooed, pony tail etc) was making loads of things from scrap to furnish his run-down property in France (despite a strong English working class accent, he spoke very good French).
This man had built himself a greenhouse from discarded window frames, and he made a good job of it, only I couldn't understand why he built it under a tree and gave the roof a solid cover. This then didn't seem to let in much sun, and looked far more like a summer-house than anywhere to grow things.
Mind you, there is probably a lot of hot sun in that region for I've never seen (B also commented on this) such dry soil in my life. Wherever he dug the soil was like dust on his spade. Obviously not had a lot of rain in months.

A welcome and thanks to Tich who mentioned the Walkers' website for results of their new crisps competition. Minimiser deb saved me looking it up as she has given the results, and these I have to say surprise me. Probably the 'Lincolnshire sausage and brown sauce' was the one I thought was the lamb and mint - who knows?. Chicken balti was perhaps the spicy one that I thought was beef. Certainly did pick up the cheese flavoured one, but it certainly didn't come across as sour cream and chives. Wonder if anyone did managed to guess accurately. If we were able to continually keep sending in our guesses, then possibly someone will have sent in as many varieties as they could think up and surely one would hit one of the three 'jackpots'.

Quite honestly, although I really do favour Walker's crisps above all others (mainly because they are so 'light' and crisp (others being a bit too thick for me), the only 'flavours' that are really recognisable (to me) are the 'plain', 'salt and vinegar', and the prawn (cocktail?). On a good day possibly I can recognise the bacon flavour, and maybe the chicken (don't care for that one), but most of the others could be almost anything.

Looks like its going to be another wonderfully sunny day, and I really MUST get out into the garden to get those DR polystyrene containers filled with compost and sown with seeds. Trouble is I just can't seem to get motivated at the moment to do anything much more than potter around the kitchen, even that can be a slog at times. What has happened to me? At one time I could start early and keep working hard all day, but then this usually was when I was younger and had some sort of 'challenge' I'd set myself (even if it was something like growing our own veg in the back garden - this requiring some attention nearly every day). Has my great age anything to do with my (now) lack of interest in life? Are my days of 'usefulness' now over? The dreadful thing is that if we had a national disaster, natural or man-made, then I'd probably be jumping out of my chair with glee, sleeves rolled up, ready to battle against all the problems it would have thrown up.
Even during the last war, however difficult things were, people did seem to get some feeling of achievement (if not always pleasure) of being able to 'manage/cope' in extreme difficulties, and this is what kept us going. We flew the flag, did our bit, 'dug' for Victory, and managed to still create (some) good meals from our meagre war-time rations.

I remember my mother unravelling old knitwear and knitting my young aunt a 'jumper' that had a yellow front and a brown back (both identical in shape) so this could be worn under a 'suit' (skirt and jacket), one colour to the front one day, the other another day, to seem as though my aunt had two different coloured jumpers, not just the one.
Anyone lady lucky enough to be given a torn parachute (or part of one) was on cloud nine as this was able to be turned into 'silk' underwear. Possibly also made into blouses.
My dad had a shoe 'last' and I remember him putting 'new' soles and heels (that he had cut to shape from old rubber tyres) onto all our shoes as the old ones (leather) wore out. This worked very well.

There is nothing as much fun as 'having to' made do, because this really does give such a great feeling when it works. Perhaps this is the problem with me. I can still 'make do', but now don't really NEED to, and in a way having a guaranteed pension that is enough to cover all our 'running costs' has taken a lot of the joy out of my life. Suppose I could give at least some of it away, and in fact do (by DD to various charities) but am still left with enough. I keep sharing my 'spoils' with my children, but the balance seems never to run down. Perhaps it is the Jade tree that brings me this fortune.

Also, years ago I could plant a fruit tree and look forward to the future when I could then begin to gather a good crop each year, now there is no real 'future' to look forward to, I could be dead this time next year. Well, I will then be 80, ten years past my allotted life span of three score years and ten', so is anything worth planning for? All I can do is keep plodding on until I am too old to even bother to get out of bed. Sometimes I feel like that now.

Yet it was only yesterday when I was making the candied peel and B wondered why I bothered because in the past I'd bought it, I explained that "even though I can afford to buy the peel already candied, by doing it myself (and all the other small savings I make) these small amounts of money add up and then I can then afford to buy the quality meats/fish that you so enjoy". A very satisfactory explanation in B's eyes. It's just sad that he takes his 'good eating' so much for granted, but then what is a wife for if not to provide a good life for her lord and master? I'm only doing the job nature intended for me. At least B is now beginning to cook a stir-fry for himself once a week, so that's a start. Maybe one day he will cook one for me too!
However, should be grateful for being 'useful' even if only to cook my man's meals.

One good thing is that writing this blog at least gives me another 'reason to be'. I delight in searching out cost-cutting recipes, and all hints and tips that save both time and money, but only as long as I have someone to share them with. On my own I would probably not bother, but being able to 'chat' to you and 'talk over' what I've discovered is - I hope - 'useful'.

Now to the recipes. There are some ingredients that many of us keep as a matter of course in our larder. Pasta being one. Depending upon choice, we may also keep streaky bacon (or chorizo, salami, sausages, or ham), and some 'greens' (broccoli, peas, baby spinach leaves etc, but depending upon the choice, some may need to be pre-cooked before adding to the pan).

So today am giving three recipes that are fairly similar but different enough to make the same ingredients acceptable if served more than once a week. Each can be slightly adapted according to what we have in store (using one or other of the above suggestions). The pasta in the first recipe is supposed to be the 'long' ones (spaghetti, tagliatelle, linguine etc) but the shorter pasta (shapes or macaroni etc) could also be used.
Ideally use a soft cheese to make the 'sauce', and myself ALWAYS keep a few tubs of soft cream (Philly type) cheese in the fridge as this has so many uses. It can be spread on toast or bread, on cheese biscuits as a base for a 'canape/nibble', or used to make cheesecakes, tiramisu etc. And will melt to make a perfect sauce when added to hot pasta.
If you have no soft cheese, dare I suggest making up some cheese sauce using a packet mix or granules. This won't be as good, but 'better 'n nowt' (as they say in Yorkshire), on second thoughts perhaps better to pour some double cream (or creme fraiche) into the cooked pasta with some finely grated hard cheese to give a similar effect.

Bacon and Cream Cheese with Pasta: serves 4
9 oz (250g) 'long' pasta (or shapes will do)
12 (or less) smoked bacon rashers, chopped
2 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
2 onions (pref red), thinly sliced
4 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
7 oz (200g) ricotta or soft cheese
4 oz (100g) baby spinach leaves or other 'greens'
salt and pepper
fresh basil leaves (opt)
Cook pasta in boiling salted water as per packet instructions/
Meanwhile, put half the oil in a frying pan and add the bacon and onions. Fry over low-med heat until the onions is softened cooked and the bacon just beginning to crisp, then add the tomatoes, cheese and spinach leaves (or pre-cooked, roughly chopped broccoli etc), and seasoning to taste. Finally add the drained pasta, then toss everything together. Serve immediately with some torn basil leaves sprinkled on top (opt). Offer chunks of crusty bread to mop up any juices, and - if you wish - a side salad of crispy lettuce with sliced tomatoes goes well with this.

Keeping the same theme, this next recipe is not a million miles away from the above but omits the cream cheese. The veggie part is given as asparagus (a bit expensive, but then why not for a special occasion?), but of course we can use another 'green', such as string beans, broccoli florets etc.
Pork stock would be the sensible choice to use with bacon, but myself don't keep that in my fridge, so would possibly use chicken stock (or use a ham/pork stock cube).
Instead of bacon, chunks of home-cooked gammon (aka ham) could be used instead.

Bacon, Mushroom and Rocket Risotto: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
8 - 12 rashers lean back bacon (or cooked ham)
2 onions, chopped
9oz (250g) risotto (Arborio) rice
4 oz (100g) mixed mushrooms, sliced
2 pint (2 x 600ml) hot pork stock (see above)
ground black pepper
7 oz (200g) cooked asparagus or chosen 'greens'
Parmesan cheese
Put the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Chop the bacon into large chunks and begin frying this with the onion. When the onion has softened, stir in the rice to coat this with oil, then fry for a couple of minutes before adding the mushrooms and half of the stock. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer until most of the stock has been absorbed, then add most of the remaining stock and cook until the rice is tender (should take between 20 -30 minutes to reach this). Add pepper to taste and a little more stock if necessary. With a risotto, the rice should not be dry, but have a creamy consistency.
Add asparagus, broken into small pieces, or other (cooked) green veg, and heat through, then sprinkle over Parmesan cheese and serve.

Yet one more from the same stable, this being another version of the above recipes, yet can taste quite different. At least it is good to know that using the same main ingredients we do have a choice as to how we serve them. The best pasta to use with this recipe is the one that 'holds' a sauce, such as the fusilli (twisty one), or the 'shells'.

Chunky Pasta with Bacon and Veggies: serves 4
11 oz (300g) pasta 'twists' (see above)
4 rashers lean bacon
7 oz (200g) runner or string beans, sliced/cut
7 oz (200g) frozen peas, thawed
7 oz (200g) broccoli florets
3 tblsp red pesto sauce
2 tblsp water
1 tblsp double cream (opt)
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions until 'al dente'.
Meanwhile grill or fry the bacon until crisp, then break into small pieces. Steam the beans for 10 minutes, then add the broccoli and peas and steam for a further 5 minutes.
Drain the pasta and return it to its pan, then add the pesto sauce and the water and heat through, tossing the pasta so it is coated with the sauce (you can add double cream if you wish for a more creamy sauce), then add the steamed veggies and the bacon, toss again so everything is combined, add seasoning to taste, then serve.

That's it for today. Seeing the sun shining so brightly has given me the lift I seem to have needed, so am now ready to take on what today will throw at me. Hopefully enough done to be of interest, and if so you will hear about it tomorrow. Hope to see you then.