Monday, March 26, 2012

Up With The Lark!

Despite the clocks being moved forward an hour, this morning saw me up at 6.30 (which is really 5.30 if you know what I mean), and ready to blog (after the usual ablutions and cup of coffee - and take my pills). Even then had time to ruffle through a few recipes to choose which to suggest today and still is isn't yet 7.30 (last week this would have been 6.30!!).
With a low sun shining down one side of the house it looks like being another lovely day, so possibly we are getting our 'end of April summer' at the end of March this year.

Beloved was out all yesterday - I was intending to have a scoot on Norris during the afternoon after his return, but didn't realise that the sailing season had begun, so as time went on decided to stay at home - although went into the garden with a mug of coffee and had a long sit in the sun (which was lovely).
Then 'pottered'. Not really did much in the way of saving although did collect up empty plastic 2 ltr bottles of B's lemonade and cut each in half to make mini-green houses to cover the small plant pods in which I'd sown seeds a couple of days ago. The bottles even had a groove/indent around the bottles, halfway down, and this made it very easy for me to find the right place to cut.
As mini 'greenhouses' can be bought to place on windowsills (at a high price) being nothing much more than a plastic cover over a tray, then possibly my half-bottle 'minis' can count as a real saving. They certainly work well.

Towards the end of yesterday afternoon noticed that Jamie Oliver's '30 Minute Meals' was being repeat on one of the Freeview channels so watched a few of these. Have to say he really does inspire me. Loved the way he made his Cauliflower and Macaroni Cheese. Even cooking the pasta and cauli together in the same pot at the same time was an idea I'd not thought of before.
Beloved came in half-way through and sat down to watch (so he could try making some of the meals himself he said) but within a couple of minutes he had fallen asleep (as he does).

The previous day I'd come into this room to ask B something - he was playing games on the comp - and found him sitting in front of the screen, he head dropped down to his chest, fast asleep again. Nowadays he has only to sit down and he can't keep awake. He gets up in the morning, sits down with the morning paper, starts the crossword and then falls asleep over it, and barely an hour before he has risen from 10 hours in bed!
But then, even as a much younger man (in his twenties), he could easily fall asleep, all he need do was sit in his chair and he was having forty winks. "What an easy life he has " I would think as I slaved away in the kitchen washing our three tiny children's clothes in the sink (we did not then have a washing machine). Over half a century later he still nods off at the drop of a hat, and I still have the same feelings - but this time slaving over a hot stove making his meals. Then I have to go and wake him up to eat them!

For supper yesterday cooked B some lamb's liver, bacon, cabbage and new potatoes. The bacon cooked in one pan and then steamed the shredded white cabbage over the pan of spuds. The cooked cabbage was added to the bacon fat (once the bacon had been removed, and tossed to add a lovely bacon flavour to the 'greens'. The liver was cut into 'gougons' (strips), floured then fried in a little oil for a few minutes, the cooked bacon then put on top of the liver (which had been pushed to the side of the large pan, the cooked and drained spuds added to the pan so they also got a taste of the pan 'juices'. There was enough liver for me to have some, so I cooked extra veg and bacon and had a smaller version of B's supper. This I have to say was delicious.

Discovering four large and quite tasteless strawberries in the fridge, decided to cut them down the length and then into 'wedges', put them in a bowl with a little red wine and some sugar and let them macerate for an hour. Tried one and it really did taste like a strawberry with almost a 'gourmet' flavour to it. With these made a dessert using up the last of the 'strawberry and cream' EasyYo yogurt piled in a deep dish, laid a tower of strawberry wedges over the top, then poured the wine 'marinade' round the yogurt. The wine-soaked sugar left in the bowl I spooned over the straws. Suggest to B he ate it with some double cream poured over.
This certainly seems a good way to add flavour to imported strawberries as although they look very good, most seem to have no taste at all (so won't be buying them in future, will wait for the English ones to come in season).

Eating Yorkshire Puddings with ice-cream and stewed fruit sounds a wonderful idea Urbanfarmgirl. One of B's favourite 'snacks' is eating a leftover Yorkie with golden syrup. He says his mother used to serve this as 'pudding' when he was a lad. Memories of his childhood has brought me back to the memory of liver (probably ox liver in those days) for B has more than once told me how - when he was born - his umbilical cord was not properly tied and he lost quite a bit of blood, and the doctor told his mother to let the new-born baby (the baby being B) raw liver to suck, presumably the iron in the blood replacing what he had lost. Bet they wouldn't suggest doing that today!

Can't believe your good fortune Jane when you told me about your Approved Foods order, £200 worth of food for £20! Took a look at the site myself after I read your comment and have to say I could have filled a van-load with all the products I fancied, many not being 'necessary', but with plenty of assortment of 'stir-fry' sauces, other ethnic sauces, litres of wine vinegar, not to mention cut-price chocolates and other sweets, cake, biscuits, desserts I was SO tempted. But managed (so far) not to place an order but am sure soon I will be doing so.

Today am planning to 'potter' again, and because I'm up early will get the laundry done and on the line to dry in the sun, then hopefully grab half an hour to scoot down to the shops again (it is half-day closing today because many shops are open on Sunday to catch the seaside 'day trippers'. Some shops are closed all day today. Many on the sea-front open only at weekends, until Easter when the 'season' really begins, then they remain open every day (possibly half-day Monday).
Once I can get into the habit of 'having a scoot' (but only when the weather is warm enough) am hoping to get out and about a lot more. But early days yet. Certainly if there is a footie match on or a film B wishes to watch (and I don't) and there is still enough light, might even scoot out during an evening to watch one of our glorious sunsets (think we had one last night, but could only see the golden sky behind the houses at the back). The best sunsets are on certain (and rare) days when there is little cloud (but enough to give colour) and the sun can be seen almost on the horizon (sea-level) which can only be seen locally when on the prom.

Before I begin today recipe suggestions, would like to show you what I read in my 'stars' last week in our paper. Always I like to read what it says for Aries (that's me folks), but always take it with a pinch of salt. However this 'reading' was so true in that it really is the way I feel about modern life compared to the past. Thought you might be interested.

"People are often concerned about being behind the times. They don't want to appear out of touch. That's understandable if the adjustments they want to make involve clothes or music. It is a little sad when timeless values and eternal principles are compromised in the name of progress.
You have already nailed your colours to a particular mast. Those colours do not belong to last season! That mast means no less now than it ever did. Stick with what already means much to you."

Just wish I could say so much in such few words. I can spend days writing on my blog trying to prove that 'old ways' are often best, and although modern gadgets and appliances are very useful at times, we can still cook well without using any of them. Chefs in the past had none of these, and if they managed to cook great meals, then so can we (not that I suggest we down all modern tools and use only elbow grease from now on, but hope you get my drift).

Meals also seem to becoming more complicated (if those shown on TV cookery programmes are anything to go by). Possibly Jamie Oliver can keep things to a level of simplicity we can all understand, but when we think of the millions of 'new' recipes published every year in cookbooks and cookery mags these are all just a version (each becoming more complicated) of an original. There really is (almost) nothing new when it comes to making a meal (or baking a cake).

Possibly primitive man first got his taste of cooked (roasted) meat when he discovered a dead animal that had been caught in a fire caused by lightening hitting a dead tree or something. No doubt it smelt very good and a sample of the cooked flesh must have been wonderful. At least the 'tender' bits. Later when man had learned to 'make' fire this must have led to them discovering that the tougher bits of meat became tender when slow-cooked in simmering water, and then with a few refinements and 'inventions', roasting, braising and stewing of meats then became the way to cook. That really should be enough to cope with all we need to do, but some clever dick then 'invented' the pressure cooker to speed up the process (myself never find the meat has as much flavour as when cooked by the conventional method) and now we see the 'sous-vide' (and ditto to that), in fact am never going to mention this appliance again as I've had my fill of it.

There always seems to have to be something new when it comes to cooking. With Heston B. leading the way we can now buy 'kits' where we can make edible 'bubbles' to add to dishes. What's the point?
Some of Heston's 'way to go' is being shown on TV at lunchtimes. Although I try to watch most of them, still don't feel that I need to go that one step further that makes the 'improvements' that seem to matter to him. Perhaps if I was running a restaurant it might be worth while, but when it comes to family meals those who sit around the table don't wish to be impressed, they just want food with good flavour they enjoy eating. No-one has yet complained because they have discovered I'd left one lump in my mashed potatoes.

Now to the recipes. This first is very quick and easy to make. Chicken livers are used because they are very inexpensive (less than 50p a pack from Tesco's). Not sure of the weight of a pack, but do know that two packs would be enough for this recipe (might be more or less than the weight shown). If you have some cooked sausages these could be sliced and used instead of the livers, but oddly these may work out more expensive and not give the almost 'gourmet' touch to the meal that comes when serving chicken livers.
I use quick-cook pasta (often cheaper than the ordinary pasta) as this cooks to 'al dente' in a very short time (the dish then taking no more than 15 minutes from start to serving). If you have no creme fraiche, and you make your own yogurt, then blend a measure of yogurt with the same amount of double cream and leave overnight in the fridge, then it will have turned into 'creme fraiche' and can be used in the same way.
Chicken Livers with Mustard Pasta: serves 4
12 oz (350g) quick-cook pasta shapes (fusilli is best)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 red onion, finely sliced
approx 10 oz (275g) chicken livers, trimmed
4 tblsp white wine
2 tblsp creme fraiche (see above)
1 tblsp wholegrain mustard
salt and pepper
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions, meanwhile heating the oil in a frying pan and frying the onion over low heat until softened. Roughly chop the chicken livers and add them to the pan and fry for 5 minutes, turning so the livers are cooked on all sides. Pour in the wine and bring to the boil and allow to bubble for one minute to reduce slightly.
Remove from heat, stir in the creme fraiche and mustard plus 2 tblsp water from the pasta pan. Add seasoning to taste, then stir in the parsley.
Drain the pasta and either place back in its pan and add the sauce and stir lightly to mix together, or add the drained pasta to the sauce in the pan and mix. Either way the end result is the same. Serve hot with chunks of crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

Not sure why but I rarely cook pork chops (pref boneless when I do), perhaps this is because I tend to overcook (pork should never be served 'pink'), and often find it doesn't have as much flavour as lamb or beef. When I do cook pork it is usually belly pork as this can be slow-roasted to give tender meat with a covering of really crunchy 'crackling' (much loved by my Beloved).
However - this next recipe is very good and I'll probably be cooking this tonight for B's supper.

Although maple syrup is used in this recipe (and allegedly maple syrup is becoming very popular in the UK), golden syrup could be used instead. I suppose English or the milder Dijon mustard could be used in place of whole-grain, but use whole-grain if at all possible (I just love this type of mustard).
This sauce/glaze also works well with gammon steaks (or could be brushed over the fatty surface of home-cooked ham and finished off in the oven) also with bacon 'chops'. Gammon slices and the bacon take a little less time to cook than do the pork chops.
Syrupy Mustard Glazed Pork: serves 4
3 tblsp maple syrup
1 tblsp wholegrain mustard
salt and pepper
4 pork chops
Mix together the syrup and mustard with seasoning to taste, then spread this over both sides of the pork chops. Place on a baking tray, spooning over any remaining syrup mixture, then bake for 25 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until cooked through.
Serve hot with crispy chips or rosti, and a green veg or crispy green salad with tomatoes.

Those of us who make a litre of yogurt at any one time (such as EasyYo), often find they have more than they need within its shelf-life (up to three weeks in the fridge). A good idea is to turn half the made yogurt into a curd cheese, and this by draining it in cheesecloth/muslin over a bowl (they whey that drips out can be used in bakig). The longer it is allowed to drip the thicker and firmer the 'cheese' becomes. When thick but still slightly 'creamy' use this in place of ricotta in the following recipe - the other ingredients being from the storecupboard. Canned plum tomatoes are used as they have much more flavour than the ready chopped (and it doesn't take much effort to chop them ourselves, does it?)
This is another good dish to make for that 'al fresco' lunch that I hope many of us can partake of over the next few sunny days (Gill told me yesterday that it had been 20C in Leicester! Not sure what it was here but we've been able to turn off the central heating, this normally not done until the end of April at the earliest).
A variation to this dish is to omit the pasta and make only the tomato mixture. Serve this on slices of white bread/Ciabatta etc. the ricotta sprinkled on top OR spread the toast with cream cheese (could be home-made from yogurt) and cover with the hot tomato sauce.
Tomato and Cheese Pasta: serves 4
1 lb (450g) pasta shapes (penne or fusilli etc)
1 can plum tomatoes, chopped (see above)
few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 tblsp olive oil (pref extra virgin)
zest of 1 lemon
4 tblsp ricotta cheese
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions. Meanwhile put the tomatoes into a bowl with the thyme leaves, garlic, oil and lemon zest. Add seasoning to taste and mix well.
When the pasta is cooked, drain well, return to the pan and add the tomato mixture and stir together. When heated through serve in a warmed dish and scatter lumps of the ricotta on top.

An early start to my blog means an early finish, and this I say helps me a lot as I am much more inclined to 'do things' during the morning than in the afternoon, so will take advantage of our BST and make the most of the early start and extra hour in the evening of each day to hopefully accomplish more (than normal during the 'dark days', both indoors and out. But first must put the laundry into the washing machine - then stay close by as I have to now turn the dial manually through its cycle as it keeps sticking. Can do the washing up and tidy away what is cluttering up my kitchen table, until the washing gets done. Then when this is hung out can trot off with Norris to see what is happening in the outside world. All of a sudden I feel as though I've 'got a life' again.

Myself will continue with my daily 'savings' and if you can drag yourself away from the sun maybe you will find a few minutes to log on and see what I've attempted to do (or even whether I've even tried!), so hope to hear from you (all) a.s.a.p. so we can share our thoughts and discoveries. See you then.