Saturday, March 24, 2012

There's Always a Use For It!

Shortly after writing my blog yesterday decided to at least 'do something', and whether or not 'necessary' decided to have a go at making some chocolate eclairs using a quarter of the ingredients (given previously). Also using all water instead of including some milk.
Now this was interesting in that although only a small amount was made from the 1 oz flour, the now 2 oz water, 1 oz butter and one egg, this was able to be made and beaten (with a wooden spoon) in one small non-stick saucepan - saving washing up of bowls, electric beaters etc.

When the choux 'dough' was made it did end up rather too soft (probably due to the egg being more large than medium) but a teaspoon of flour added then beaten in made it just right. To save messing about with a piping bag, decided to spoon the choux pastry onto a parchment lined baking tin and it was just enough to form two long thick 'fingers' (if it had been profiteroles I'd been making the pastry would have made at least 10 in total.

Baked at 180C for 25 minutes I then split the 'fingers' (they had risen enormously) and opened them out like a book (still hinged on one side) then returned them to the oven, door slightly ajar, for a few minutes to dry out the insides. They were then put onto a cake airer to cool whilst I got the left-over, previously whipped, cream from the fridge. This was put into a piping bag using a large star nozzle, and I piped the cream thickly over the base part of the opened eclair.

Then melted 15g of chocolate in a bowl over hot water (this melted rapidly as a small amount) and added a very small amount of butter (about the size of a quarter of a grape) to 'soften' the chocolate (I had used dark 70% choc which is rather hard). The top of the eclairs were folded back over the cream (the cream too thick to close completely) and spooned the chocolate over the top.
Now, it has to be said this was just a trial (more to work out the cost than anything else) so I didn't pipe the choux pastry, just spooned it onto the baking sheet, so the tops were very 'rocky' and so the end result does not look very 'professional', but no matter, still looked 'good enough to eat' as you can see from the photo below. These were both 8" (20cm) in length, and about 2" (5cm) in height when filled, so you can get an idea of how big they were.

I absolutely LOVE chocolate eclairs and it took all my will power not to eat one - for if I had done, almost certainly would have then eaten the other, so put them in the fridge and when B came home after an afternoon at the gym, I told him I'd made a couple of eclairs and he could have one for his pud (his main course being poached fresh salmon with watercress). Thought then I could treat myself to the second, later that evening after B had gone out to his 'social'.

My Beloved came into the living room after eating his supper and said "those eclairs were absolutely lovely". "Did you eat both?" I asked him. "Oh, yes," he replied "they were gorgeous, please make them again". Although a bit disappointed that I hadn't had the chance of a nibble, at least this was not a bad thing because I am still trying to lose weight, and eclairs wouldn't help.

Then I asked B if he knew how much a chocolate eclair would cost to buy and he said at somewhere like Barton Grange, at least £2.50, but at the local bakery here in Bare they are £1 each, but smaller than the ones I made (now how does he know that? He must have sneaked in one day - or more than once - and bought one and eaten it before he returned home. Like me, B does love eclairs).
As I'd already worked out how much it cost me to make the two eclairs am pleased to report that using ordinary cheap plain flour, an 8p egg, Lurpack butter and cream both bought at reduced price, the total cost (including the chocolate) for the two came to 52p! I could have used less chocolate and used half butter and half the cheap hard 'block' marg, to lower the cost even more. Even so, making it as given, one almost-giant eclair still cost only 26p to make.
Myself feel that 10 eclairs filled with cream and topped with chocolate might look more for the (same) money, but B said he'd rather have eaten an eclair (well two eclairs) rather than 5 profiteroes. Think he likes the way the cream squidges out of an eclair when he bites into them.

After making the above then went into the garden to have a wee sit in the sun, this too lightened my spirits as I could see the yellow forsythia in flower and also the rosemary bush with purple flowers at its side (these are against the house wall so not easily seen from indoors). Went and checked my blackberry bushes but they don't seem to have taken well despite being planted a couple of years ago. The pear tree has loads of buds, so am hoping we don't get a late frost. Discovered a tray containing a dozen (or more) small empty plastic plant pots, so brought those indoors and filled each with soil/J.I no 1, then transplanted the lemon seedlings as I'd noticed some roots growing through the holes at the bottom of their pot - always a sign the contents need repotting.

Not sure whether this is normal, but a couple of the lemon pips had each thrown up two shoots, both well rooted, so easily divided and re-potted separately, another had one low stem that had branched into two, so left that as it was. Now have six baby lemon 'trees' growing from the four pips sown earlier this year. No sign yet of the orange pips shooting, but hope they do.

Today am collecting a few of B's empty lemonade bottles (he takes them to the tip), so I can cut them in half and use as mini-greenhouses over the remaining pots (yet to be sown - this will be done today as really must sow some tomato seeds as should have done this earlier). Then, maybe grab an hour and go off with Norris down to the shops and buy some lamb's liver.

Am so very grateful for your comments after pouring out my sorrows yesterday. With Sue15cat saying she has - at the moment - much sadness in her life, this made me realise that really I have nothing really to depress me at all (other than our daughter's health), so feel I need a good slap on the wrist to make me grateful for what I have, rather than moan about what is missing.
But as I said - after sobbing on all your shoulders, this did lift my spirits and felt a great deal better once I'd had success with the eclairs and had a bit of a sit in the sun. Must give a special thanks to Eileen who phoned me shortly after publication to see if I was OK, this really helped o cheer me up.

There is a local bridge club here Susan G, but of quite a high standard and it is only worth joining one if I already had a bridge partner who I'd been playing with (successfully) for years for to be able to play well there has to be quite an understanding between partners as to what certain 'calls' and card-play mean. David, my previous partner, and I had played together for must be nearly 20 years, so got very good at the game, and we knew each others 'play'. We were nearly always the winning pair at the club, and a new partner and I would need to learn each other's play before even contemplating joining a club.
True there is what is called 'kitchen bridge', where bridge players have a game at one or other of their homes. Perhaps this is something I could do. Just finding someone who plays bridge would be the first thing to do. Have tried, but those who do play, already have partners and play at the local Golf Club (high standard), so not really in my league these days.
Beloved can play bridge, but refuses to be my partner because he says I am better than he is at the game (he won't play anything with me unless he always wins, and you wouldn't believe the time I've deliberately let him win so that I can at least get a card game of something).

Hope you won't find this coming month too difficult financially Jane. What a bummer to know that a bonus is being held back when needed for a planned holiday. At least with us having good and warm weather at the moment, we can often get away with eating more veggies than the more expensive protein, and if protein has to be in our diet we could make this eggs and milk (the cheapest ones). Today am giving a few recipes that might be useful for you.

Yes Cheesepare, do know that Aldi is opposite the Midland Hotel, and Morrison's just behind Aldi, so could call in both if I felt inclined enough to scoot up that far. Think I'd probably find more pleasure in scooting round the Festival Market (very slightly closer to home), but with any store it is the knowledge I'd probably spend money that I didn't need to that is holding me back. I can be very weak-willed at times when faced with 'wants' not 'needs'.

Now then Lisa, what are 'walking onions'. I have visions of you planting some and then finding they have 'walked' across the garden during the night to settle down elsewhere, then maybe trotting off again until they have found the most comfortable place to root. A bit like tumbleweed? (we don't get that weed in the UK). Am envious of your trip out and eating 'sushi' as I just love these, but only made with cooked fish (prawns, smoked salmon et al), not the raw. We can buy packs of assorted sushi from he supermarkets, and in the past have made my own - very successfully - but gave my then daughter-in-law the equipment, sushi rice etc for her to make her own because she too loved it, and now wish I hadn't.

Am wondering Catriona, perhaps it is my 'collection' of medications - taken daily - that cause me to feel (now almost always) not really 'full of beans'. Five months ago when I last saw the diabetic nurse, because everything was improving so much, asked if I could reduce my pills and she said possibly, but wait until the next check (this will be end of April).
Thanks also to Urbanfarmgirl, Linda, and Alison for their comments.

With an hour between programmes I wished to watch, 'surfed' the channels and discovered 'Rationbook Britain' on 'Yesterday'. Had seen some episodes before, but this one was Valentine Warner showing how we managed to still have some Christmas Cheer during the war years.
Much of what was done then, do remember doing years later with my children, making Christmas crackers, paper chains, dissolving Epsom salts to paint (I did it on windows) to make 'frost'. My mother certainly would have made her Christmas cake and puddings using the war-time recipes, and I do remember that chicken - in those days - was ordinarily only served for special occasions because all hens were kept for laying eggs. Only the old 'boilers' could be bought and we had to make do with one of those instead of a turkey.

But as was said in the programme by the older folk who remembered those days, there was always a great sense of achievement when they'd managed to make something, and everyone pulled together and helped each other out. If only this 'British spirit' could have remained, things would be so much better today.

At the moment it seems we are to have a good week of unseasonably high temperatures with very little rain. This causing even more problems in the areas of drought. Yet I remember long hot summers when I was younger and there never seemed need for a hose-pipe ban. Yet this was probably due more to our life-style than anything else. Only the rich had a shower, the rest of us had a daily wash in a basin/sink or took a once-a-week bath. Those who were lucky enough to own a car (and very few did), washed their cars with a bucket of water and sponge . Usually one of the chores given to the 'Bob a Job' Boy Scouts that called once a year. The drive-in car-wash had not yet been 'invented'.

Since those days (less than 50 years) our population has exploded, so with everyone now feeling the need to take a shower every day, and most families owning not one but two or more cars that need a weekly wash, plus the various water boards being mega-slow with repairing burst pipes, the seeming need to wash clothes even if only worn once, no wonder our precious water is literally being 'flushed away'.
I don't care what anyone says, our island is becoming too overcrowded. And still people keep pouring in to take advantage of our 'good life'. It has to stop. There must be other countries with room to spare (Australia, Canada, North America?), why does everyone have to stop here?
Suppose the best idea would be for us 'true Brits' to be the ones to emigrate to pastures new, and leave what used to be a great nation to those who now seem determined to drag it down. Or is there the slightest chance we can bring it back to what it used to be? Any thoughts on that?

But enough of my 'rambling', back to what is more important - suggesting ideas for interesting and good meals, for it is known that people who eat healthily are the ones least likely to cause trouble. Good home-cooking can make for a happy family, and there isn't a lot happiness about at the moment.

First recipe is a way to make a leafy salad a bit more interesting. Normally I might toss salad leaves with an oil/vinegar dressing, and then sprinkle over some grated cheese - the dressing then makes the cheese stick to the leaves, each mouthful then has plenty of flavour (a lettuce leaf on its own is pretty boring). Here is another way to include cheese in a salad, but this time with a bit of 'crunch'.

This is a good way to use up the last of a stale loaf, and if you have 'air-dried' a hard cheese such as Cheddar or Red Leicester it will then grate as finely as Parmesan (I also think it has more flavour). One made - the croutons can be stored in an airtight container for some time. A suggestion of salad veg is given, but we can change these and also include some flaked canned tuna, or shreds of cooked chicken (from a carcase) if we wish.
Salad with Cheese Croutons: serves 6
3 thick slices stale bread, cut into small chunks
1 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1 oz (25g) Parmesan cheese, grated
2 oz (75g) Parmesan cheese, in shavings
1 lb (450g) new potatoes, cooked and sliced
7 oz (200g) green (string) beans, cooked
3 Baby Gem lettuce (or same amount of iceberg)
salad dressing of your choice
Put the bread chunks in a bowl with the olive oil and seasoning to taste and toss together, then sprinkle over the grated Parmesan and toss again so the cheese sticks to the bread. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes at 220C, 425F, gas 7 or until golden and crisp. Leave on the tray until cool.
Separate the lettuce leaves and assemble the salad in layers a bowl, starting with the chosen salad dressing (in the bowl not mixed with the other ingredients), then add the potatoes, followed by green beans, salad leaves, Parmesan shavings, and finally the croutons. This way everything stays crisp. Chill until ready to serve, then toss everything together and serve immediately.

Next recipe is a vegetarian Thai-type curry. Again feel free to change the veggies if you wish (broccoli instead of cauliflower, include peas, butternut squash....), but always include the potatoes for it is these that 'make' the dish.
Massaman Vegetable Curry: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 -3 tblsp Thai green curry paste
1 x 400g can coconut milk
7 oz (200g) new potatoes, cooked and sliced
half a small cauliflower, florets only, lightly cooked
7 oz (200g) green beans, cooked
half a 400g can chickpeas
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion until softened then stir in the curry paste and cook for 1 minute. Add the coconut milk and bring to the boil, then add the potatoes, chickpeas, cauliflower and beans, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Depending upon how thick you want the sauce to be, you may need to add more water, or remove lid to reduce down slightly.
Serve with boiled rice and (opt) a spoon or two of salsa, with a drizzle of lime juice poured over.
half cucumber, seeds removed, flesh finely chopped
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 tomato, seeds removed, flesh finely chopped
handful coriander leaves, chopped
juice of 1 - 2 limes
Mix all ingredients together using half the lime juice. Serve with the above curry, sprinkling the remaining lime juice over the top of the curry.

Having used half a can of chickpeas in the above recipe, this 'meatless' burger is a way to use up the remainder. If you haven't coriander leaves, then use another herb (parsley, mint, basil, lemon balm...).
Herby Chickpea Burgers: makes 2
7 oz (200g) canned or cooked chickpeas
zest and juice of half a lemon
half tsp ground cumin
small handful coriander leaves
1 egg yolk
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) fresh breadcrumbs
1 small red onion (half diced, half sliced)
1 tblsp olive oil
4 small baps (pref wholemeal)
1 tomato sliced
few slices cucumber
Put the chickpeas, lemon zest and juice, the coriander, egg yolk, and seasoning to taste and whizz until blended (but not down to a puree). Scrape into a bowl, add most of the breadcrumbs (save some for coating the burgers), and the diced onion. Mix well together then form into two burgers, pressing the remaining breadcrumbs onto each side, then place in the fridge o chill for half an hour (or longer).
Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat, and when the oil is hot place in the burgers. Fry for 4 minutes on each side, then halve each bap, placing a slice of tomato on the bottom half, top this with few slices of cucumber, then a burger, add a few onion slices, another slice of tomato and cover with the top 'lid' of bap.

On a lovely sunny day there is nothing nicer than taking our lunch out into the garden to eat and enjoy. Everything seems to taste so much nicer when eaten in the fresh air. Why this should be I don't know, but it is so (probably why barbecues are so popular).

So instead of making the normal prawn cocktail, or hummous dip eaten with carrot sticks, or even a cheese and ham 'sarnie', why not 'modernise' them by serving in a 'wrap', to eat in the hand whilst sunning yourself in a deck chair?
Most people use a soft white flour tortilla to use as a 'wrap', but we could use wholemeal tortillas, or even chapatis or other soft 'flatbreads'. As ever, it is your choice.

Here are some suggestions for fillings that can be spread on a chosen 'wrap' and then rolled up, If you are generous with the fillings and as some wraps can be smaller than others, then the 'roll' can be secured with a cocktail stick to hold everything together before serving. If the 'wrap' is then held in the hand with a paper napkin wrapped round the base , the stick can then be removed and it should then be able to be eaten without it collapsing.
Prawn Wrap:
2 tblsp mayo
1 tblsp tomato ketchup
few drops Tabasco sauce (to taste)
cooked baby prawns
shredded iceberg or Baby Gem lettuce leaves
plain or wholemeal tortilla (or other) wraps
Blend the mayo with the ketchup and Tabasco, fold in the prawns and lettuce, then spread this over a tortilla. Roll up and serve.

Hummous Wrap:
1 x 200g tub hummous
4 tortilla (or other) wraps
2 carrots, grated
few leaves rocket or watercress
salt and pepper
Spread all or some of the hummous over each wrap, top with grated carrot, seasoning to taste, and sprinkle over chosen salad leaves. Roll up an serve.
Spread the wrap with hummous as before, then top with slices of halloumi (or similar) cheese, salad leaves and some sliced pickled gherkins. Hold together best if the roll is wrapped in parchment then in foil).

Egg and Cress Wrap:
3 - 4 hardboiled eggs, finely chopped
1 tblsp finely chopped red onion
3 tblsp mayonnaise
salt and pepper
1 punnet mustard and cress (or use watercress)
4 wholemeal wraps
Blend the chopped eggs, onion and mayo together, add seasoning to taste. Spread over each wrap and top with mustard and cress (or watercress). Roll up and serve.

Meal in a Wrap:
4 white tortilla wraps
2 tblsp mayonnaise
2 hardboiled eggs, sliced
6 rashers streaky bacon, fried until crisp
shreds of cooked chicken (from the carcase)
approx 4 oz (100g) crumbled blue cheese
shredded lettuce leaves (iceberg or Baby Gem)
salt and pepper
Spread each wrap with half a tblsp mayo, then spread the other ingredients over - in any order you like. Add seasoning to taste, then roll up and serve.

Final recipe today is yet another salad based, this time with canned salmon (but you could used canned tuna if you prefer). You may wish to remove the bones from the salmon (many people do), but then can be crushed and I always eat them (as with sardines) as they contain loads of necessary calcium. The ingredients being mainly 'store-cupboard (and I hope most readers now grow their own herbs), we should be able to make this any time, and once made, and stored in an airtight container, this will keep chilled in the fridge for up to 3 days, so useful for packed lunches, as well as taking advantage of a sunny day to eat outdoors.
Although any pasta shape could be used, aim for those with ridges or grooves as these will hold the mayo and herb 'dressing that binds the lot together.
Salmon and Pasta Salad: serves 6
11 oz (300g) fusilli pasta (or other pasta shape)
1 x 213 can red salmon
half cucumber, chopped
2 tblsp fresh dill or parsley, chopped
2 - 3 spring onions, chopped (or one shallot)
4 - 5 tblsp mayonnaise
ground black pepper to taste (be generous with this)
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions, drain and rinse under cold water, then leave to drain again (give a good shake as the 'groovy' pasta can trap water in the ridges).
Put the pasta into a bowl with the rest of the ingredients and toss well until well combined. Cover and chill. Serve with salad leaves and tomato wedges.

Another glorious day and, being a Saturday no doubt there will be footie on TV that B wishes to watch, so a good chance for me to either bake or have a scoot out with Norris. Will see how the day works out. Am sure most of you who have gardens will be very busy outdoors this weekend, so don't feel you need to take a break to send a comment (or even read this blog), but hope you will return sooner rather than later and look forward to hearing from you then.

Tonight the clocks go forward to British Summer Time, so we lose an hour. This means I may rise later than intended and as Gill phones me at nine it could be after 10am before I even start my blog, and nearly noon before it is published. If I'm late you will know the reason why. TTFN.