Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Taking the Time

Slightly later start than intended due to my anti-virus needing 'topping up'. This took several minutes, then the comp had to be switched off and restarted. Even starting can take several minutes (this is a very slow comp but it works and that's all that matters, what's a few minutes here and there when I have most of the day to play with?).

Perhaps I should give more thought to 'time and motion'. Indeed have made a start for while the comp is warming up or doing what it has to do, then I take the time to pick up a cookery reference book close to hand and see what else I can find that I already don't know about (and there is a LOT I don't know).
Even the other day worked out that if I took my glass across the room to fill it from B's lemonade bottle, instead of fetching the bottle to pour the drink into the glass on the table at the side of my chair I would only need to take two journeys (glass to bottle, glass back to table) instead of making four trips (over to fetch bottle, take bottle back to fill glass, return bottle to original spot, the back to chair...). Mind you, as I need all the exercise I can get if I want to lose more weight, then perhaps a 'scenic trip' to fetch water from the kitchen, via the dining room and a walk round the table, and into the bedroom to plump up my duvet, and then into the kitchen might make more sense.

But am very into 'time and motion' these days, look how I've managed to save oodles of preparation time buy pre-weighing and packing up bags of flour, sugar, dried fruits, and wrapping marg/butter in the right amounts so all are ready and waiting for me every time I wish to make a cake. Same can be done with home-made bread 'mixes', bag up the flour, dried milk, salt, sugar etc, even put a knob of chosen fat (butter/lard) into the bag, then all ready to tip into the bread machine. All that needs adding is the water and yeast.

Yesterday did use some of my time doing 'useful things', and some of my time just enjoying the sunshine. Began by doing the washing and hanging it out to dry, and instead of my scoot out on Norris decided to spend some working time in the garden. First made myself some vegetable soup (carrot, onion, celery) cooked in chicken stock - with plenty of pepper and a pinch of rock salt to bring out the flavours. While it was cooking, took the newspaper and crossword outdoors and sat in the sun to complete the puzzles. Took a look around the garden to sort out what should be done, then went indoors to plan supper: this ending up as a cheese quiche, cooked sausages, baked beans and salad (B's choice). Chilled pastry was taken from the fridge to warm up enough to roll out, then the quiche tin lined and blind-baked, the remaining pastry made into an oblong 'pasty' type apple pie flavoured with sugar and cinnamon, baked under the pastry shell, later the cooked pastry shell was filled with eggs and cream, then baked, and at the same time the sausages were oven cooked.

In between times took a big mug of the vegetable soup outdoors to eat with a spoon (it was how I like it - very chunky), it was so good that I went back and got myself another mugful - using up all the soup so hard luck, none left for B! (not that he requested any).

Wielding the secateurs got rid of a lot of surplus growth around the garden, and B cut down a huge white buddliea that had self-sown last year (how rapidly they grow). The only buddlieas I like are the lilac ones. They grow in our garden like weeds, we even have had several growing in the cracks between the brickwork of our house (it needs repointing).
The D.R. polystyene boxes (I've saved every once since I began ordering many years ago) were refilled with compost and now ready to plant vegetables, some will be made into 'window boxes' standing under our conservatory window right next to the kitchen door, these will hold herbs and flowers.

Even spent some time in the 'conservatory sun' sorting out the rest of the pot plants there, the biggest pot (too heavy for me to lift so B did this for me) has now been put back outside by the kitchen door, it is in full bloom with many red flowers and looks lovely. When put into the conservatory to last the winter they keep flowering. Probably should let them 'rest', but they seem to be OK and certainly look pretty.

As my mixed salad leaves (if you remember these were sown only a few days ago) are now beginning to appear above the soil, still a few more to sprout but took a photo yesterday so you can see the container (held supermarket mushrooms), and the little 'drip-tray' it stands in (held D.R. meatballs or something). Will try to remember to take a photo every couple of weeks so that you see how the salad leaves are progressing.

Next photo I took mainly for you to see my 'mini-greenhouses' made from halved lemonade bottles. As you can see the ones with the 'neck' (top of bottles) are clear because I didn't replace the lids (although this can be done if more moisture needs to be kept in), the bottom half has nowhere for the moisture to evaporate, so is misted up. Some plants do need a very humid atmosphere to begin growing, others don't, so advisable to use the right 'half' as needed.
Now growth yet to be seen in the pots as they were only sown a couple of days ago.

Last pic of the day is sadly out of focus, but took it anyway before it ended up going to the tip with the rest of the garden rubbish. It is the Romanesco that was planted a couple of years ago. The first year it didn't throw off any of the 'vegetable', this year it suddenly threw up loads of branches, each having a 'spray' of individual little 'minarets' at the top of each (these are as perfect in appearance as in a bought Romanesco 'floret' but exceedingly small - unfortunately you can't see how beautiful they are (isn't nature wonderful), and this is only one 'spray' of many. The 'florets' were far too small to cook, in fact didn't really fancy eating them.

Being given my first Romanesco (bought from a supermarket last winter) have to say I was a bit disappointed. Although it was attractive to look at, didn't have much more flavour than a cauli, an as I love cauliflower am quite happy to eat these and let someone else grow (if they can) the Romanesco. Have seen plants of this veg in seed/plant catalogues, so possibly - given the right conditions - they will grow properly. Our garden doesn't seem to want to grow anything 'properly' other than soft fruits.

Thanks for your comments. I too like to watch Hugh F.W. Jane, but the repeats (after Jamie O) were on at the same time as something else we wished to watch, but do try and see as many as I can.

However much we find J.O's 30 minute meals a bit daunting, he does give some excellent tips. Liked the one he showed twice recently, this was crushing up a square of greaseproof under running water, wringing it out and then opening flat to hold flat-breads (think he did chapatis one day, and naan bread another) folding the paper back over the breads and putting them in the oven to warm through. This helped to steam the breads and prevent them crisping up too much.

I've still got a pack of ox liver in the freezer (several packs sent as a 'freebie' with a D.R. order some many months ago). My Beloved likes his liver always fried (in gougons) and feel the ox liver might be a bit too strong in flavour for his preference (he prefers lambs liver), so it will probably end up as liver pate.

Even though your Approved Foods order was £40 (not £20) Jane, you still made a MASSIVE saving against the supermarket prices.

One thing I've noticed is that many products sold by A.Foods have manufacturers names I don't recognise, and am a bit 'iffy' about buying these. Do trust the known brands (such as Bisto, McDougalls, Swartz, Pataks....) and perhaps the other brands are more for the 'catering trade' and perfectly good. Has anyone tried a product made by an 'unheard of before' brand? If so let us know what you think.

To save on delivery charges, and also be able to share products sold by the 'case' (normally a multi-pack of individual sachets etc), it is a good idea to gather a few members of the family, and include friends and neighbours if you wish, then send one good order to suit everyone. Even individual packs of dry ingredients (if large enough) can be split and shared if we are unlikely to use it up within a few weeks/months. We all know the b.b.dates allow for many months of use after the date has passed.

Do hope this year you managed to get a good crop from those seeds you are sowing Crissie. Was so sorry to hear of your illness last year, but very thankful (of course!) that you managed to pull through, and this year hope the weather is perfect for all your growing needs.

Pleased that you found my eclairs inspired you to have a go Urbanfarmgirl. Piping bags ARE useful (although have to say I don't use mine as often as I should), and certainly when entertaining many sweet and savoury dishes can look even more appetising if cream or mashed potato (or whatever) has been piped instead of just 'dolloped' on.

Although I did 'shape' the choux pastry into 'eclairs' by just spooning the mix onto the paper lined baking sheet, then pushing it into shape with a wetted knife, they would certainly have looked more professional if I'd piped the mix on with a bag 'n nozzle. Even so, did decide to pipe the cream into the cooked eclairs using a big 'star' nozzle (although could have spooned in the cream) and this really did improve their appearance.

A piping bag is necessary when wishing to make macaroons, so once you have the equipment then a whole new world of making gorgeous desserts (et al) will now be within your reach (or should that be capability?).

Am returning to the storecupboard (and veggie rack/fridge) again for today's selection of dishes. The first being a soup - and virtually any kind of canned beans (other than baked beans) could be substituted for the black beans, but the visual affect won't be quite as good (although red beans is a good alternative.

Vegetable protein is not like animal protein. With veggies we need to eat two different types of at the same time so they work together, otherwise our bodies can't extract the protein. With beans we need to eat grains (why beans on toast makes a good 'full protein' meal). So serve this soup with some crusty bread and your body will then be able to extract ALL the vegetable protein held by the beans.

A good tip is - if eating only one veggie that contains protein, then by eating it with animal protein (egg, milk, cheese etc - it doesn't have to be meat, and these need not necessarily be in the same dish, but in a different course of the full meal) the 'animal' protein also acts as a catalyst and we still gain all the protein. So when having to economise on meat because of cost (as we all seem to have to do these days), we don't have to deprive ourselves of necessary nutrition.

This soup begins in the normal way with the 'Holy Trinity' (onions, carrots, celery) and it is the addition of a few other ingredients that change this from bog-standard vegetable soup to something a lot more exciting.

Black Bean and Chilli Spiced Soup: serves 2

1 onion, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 tblsp olive oil

pinch dried chilli flakes (or dash Tabasco to taste)

half teaspoon dried cumin

1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes

14 fl oz (400ml) vegetable stock

1 x 400g can black beans, drained and rinsed

yogurt and crusty bread for serving

Fry the onion, celery, and carrot in the oil until softened. Stir in the chilli flakes and cumin, fry for one minute then add the tomatoes, stock and beans. Simmer for about 30 minutes until the veggies are tender.

Spoon into individual bowls, top with a dollop of natural yogurt and serve with chunks of crusty (pref granary) bread.

Next is more a snack or 'light lunch/supper' that could be eaten in front of the TV (or even better outside in the sun). Use baguettes if you have some, otherwise use thick toasting bread. The can of tuna used is one I've not come across before - being canned tuna with mayo and sweetcorn, so have suggested making our own version by adding mayo and sweetcorn to basic canned tuna.

Please note: these eat well whether hot or cold, so don't be concerned if they have cooled down as you walk between grill to the end of a long garden to sit and eat, because it doesn't matter what temperature they are.

Tuna and Sweetcorn Melts: makes 2

1 baguette, halved lengthwise

1 tblsp pesto

1 x 80g can tuna, drained and flaked (see above)

1 tblsp mayonnaise (see above)

1 - 2 tblsp cooked sweetcorn kernels (see above)

2 oz (50g) grated Cheddar cheese

freshly ground black pepper

2 black olives, pitted and sliced (opt)

Put the halved baguette, cut sides up under the grill (medium heat) and 'toast' for about 30 seconds to dry out the crumb slightly (but not actually toast it) - this prevents the topping making the bread go soggy. Mix together the tuna, mayo and sweetcorn.

Spread the pesto over the cut surface of the bread, and cover with the tuna mix. Scatter the cheese on top with black pepper (to taste) and slices of olive (if using). Pop back under the grill and cook until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Eat and enjoy.

One more storecupboard meal that can be eaten 'al fresco'. This is made with flatbread (tortillas in this instance) and a plateful of these with bowls of tomato salsa and soured cream (for dipping) makes a really lovely summer lunch whether eaten indoors or out.

If you wish to serve only two then you can freeze the remaining beans to use in a chilli con carne or the soup mentioned above, or add to other beans to make a 'mixed bean salad'.

Refried Bean Quesadillas: serves 4

1 tblsp sunflower oil

1 onion, finely chopped or grated

1 clove garlic, crushed

half tsp ground cumin

1 x 400g red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 tblsp cold water

2 tsp smoked paprika

salt and pepper

8 flour tortillas

4 oz (100g) grated Cheddar cheese

4 tblsp tomato ketchup (or tomato salsa)

soured cream and tomato salsa for serving

Put the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion for 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cumin and fry for a further minute. Add the beans, the paprika and water and then squash the beans to a coarse 'mash' as they warm through, using a potato masher is the best implement for this purpose. Aiming to make the beans into a coarse 'puree'. Sample the flavour then add salt and pepper to taste.

To make the quesadillas, spread four of the tortillas with the 'refried beans', and then cover with the grated cheese. Spoon ketchup (or salsa) on top, then cover with the remaining tortillas (making four round 'sandwiches').

Wipe the frying pan clean with kitchen paper and return to the heat. Place one sandwich in the pan and cook for 1 - 2 minutes on each side until the flat-bread is golden and crisp and the cheese is melting. Remove and place on a plate and keep warm whilst the other tortillas are cooked, then serve cut into wedges. Best eaten warm with salsa and soured cream in bowls for dipping (or these can be spooned onto the wedges in small amounts to be eaten - but if so wear a bib!).

Well, I don't know what the temperature is like in other parts of the country, but here our thermometer read 22C yesterday in the shady part of our (fairly) cool kitchen, so outdoors away from direct sunlight it must have been higher. Said to be averaging about 23C and today could be even warmer once any mists have rolled away. A threat of rain towards the end of the week but so far only in the north of Scotland. So we really MUST make the most of the weather we have at the moment. Have that picnic, eat breakfast, lunch, supper outdoors if you can (or at least sit by a sunny open window), and enjoy this unexpected summer-in-spring.

Reading that we are having warmer weather than many of the 'hot' middle eastern countries, does make me feel a little less envious of those with normally 'better climates'. Who knows, we may soon be the 'Benidorm' for the rest of the world and everyone comes here for their 'overseas' holiday. Which would be good for our economy, but not for the water board as they don't have enough for us let alone any more visitors - and help! We will be getting a lot more this year due to the Olympics and the Jubilee. Let us hope those burst pipes are mended sooner than later.

But knowing our climate, what's the betting most of the outdoor Olympic events happen on the days when our rain is at its heaviest?

Do remember a very few times in my lengthy lifetime when the sunny weather starts early (but normally April) and then has lasted many weeks without a break - sometimes until almost August, so this could be one of those years. It has always been said that we get a 'good year' every 11 years or so when sunspot activity is at it highest, and this year the sun has been even more active, so who knows - we could have sun until Christmas. Good for the Olympics and Jubilee. But not for our crops and those who wish to take showers. Perhaps we need to stock up with bottled water before that runs out!

Am now off outside again, possibly in the company of Norris for half an hour or so before the rest of my day is taken up with more gardening/cooking. At least this weather B is satisfied with 'salads and something' rather than having a hot meal, so maybe Prawn Cocktail for supper with a Fresh Fruit Salad for 'afters' (with cream of course), as he still has cheese quiche and apple pie to finish up (as 'snacks'). Might change my mind (as I do), but plenty of time to decide.

Hoping to meet up with you again tomorrow (and very happy to have discovered today a strange sign at the top of my blog that - when the cursor is held over it - says "this site has a good rating (based on many votes)". So I must be doing something right. Please join me again tomorrow when we can have another 'chat'. See you then.