Saturday, March 03, 2012

Weekend Starts Here

Bit of a late start today for while I was making my morning coffee in the kitchen, B staggered in and said he was going to stay in bed as he felt so grotty. Well, even though he didn't feel well enough to go to the gym yesterday he was suddenly well enough to go to his social that evening and stay until nearly midnight, then he stayed up to watch a film (as did I). He said there were quite a few of the regular members not there (due to some of them having sore throats as well I suppose). If he would only ride out his 'throat' by staying at home am sure he would get better far more quickly (and certainly wouldn't be spreading his germs around). ha

So had to take a little time before coming in here to begin making B a big pot of 'special' chicken soup (aka 'Jewish Penicillin'), as this will do him good. It is said to have curative powers, even recognised by the medical profession. So by noon he can partake of a large bowlful.
Unfortunately I don't have a whole chicken to make this soup, but do have a large bagful of chicken wings that I have collected (and frozen) as I get them, so am hoping these will be as good. Chicken wings make wonderful chicken stock anyway. We don't always need a carcase, and there is a lot of cooked flesh that can be peeled from the wings once cooked, and this cane be used in pies/soups/pate/curries etc once cooked.

Am also thawing a pack of frozen pastry to make as much as I can from that. I discovered a small pack of home-made 'pork pie filling' in the freezer, so can make a small pork pie, also will make a cheese quiche and - as I found quite a few limes in the fridge that need using up - will also make a Key Lime Pie, the rest of the lime juice/zest being added to a Lemon Mamade (or the Lakeland equivalent) to make up some pots of Lemon and Lime Marmalade.
Need also to make more bread, this time may make both a white loaf and a brown loaf, freezing the surplus, AND intend making half a batch of choux pastry, this time piping it into 'fingers' (eclairs) as well as making some profiteroles, then fill all with cream to freeze and later top with chocolate.

Yesterday saw yet another recipe for choux pastry and again the weight of the ingredients was different to others, yet it said the important thing when making choux pastry is to keep the weights exact. All I can say that the weights and measures don't seem THAT important if my version works perfectly even though it is different to other recipes by several oz/g depending on the ingredient, and I like 'mine' best as it is so easy to remember (four oz/fl oz of everything: butter, water, milk, (strong) flour, plus four eggs).

As you say urbanfarmgirl, this time of the year can be both exciting and frustrating for a gardener who is eager to get everything planted and growing. With the advantage of a polytunnel and greenhouse you at least can make an earlier start than some. With me I find I usually decide to wait a week or two before sowing seeds then find I've left it almost too late, so am taking it slowly, sowing just a few each week, then a few different ones the next, and so on. After a month may make a second sowing of those already done so they then will not all be ready to eat at the same time.

Am very tempted to buy ready-rooted vegetable and salad plants to grow on, but know they will work out more expensive than if I bought the fully grown produce over the counter. So, as I still have a small basket holding umpteen packets of part used seeds, plus several packs that have not yet been opened, will try and curb my 'inclinations' and grow only from seed that I have within my small confines.

Looking out of the conservatory window at the Romanesco plant that has survived two winters without cropping, noticed a very small 'head' (or cluster of tiny 'florets') at the top of the stem, so have just left it to look at. Too small to harvest although suppose it might feed one as one veg. of 'meat and two veg'. At least it tried.
We are not too successful here in growing much other than fruits, but at least grateful we had some pears last year (from a young tree planted a couple of years ago), plenty of red currants, some rather scrawny rhubarb, quite a lot of apples from a very old tree, a good number of autumn raspberries, some strawberries, and this year am hoping our 3 blackberry plants will produce (it has taken them two years to start throwing off shoots).

My tomato crop last year was almost a failure, far too much leaf and not a lot of fruit. On the good side the pot-grown herbs did well (some have survived the winter), and will be growing more of these. The 'trials' of string beans and pea-shoots also was promising, so will be growing more of these outdoors, including some mange-tout seeds bought last year.
Mustn't forget the continuing supply of Mixed Salad Leaves that were grown in the conservatory throughout most of the year.

Regarding my blog recipes giving 'inspiration' (and hope some do), if any reader has a glut of something (this needn't be fresh produce, I would call 24 cans of chopped tomatoes a 'glut') then just ask for 'ideas for use' and I will try and come up with some interesting recipes.

Am pretty sure 'The Pampered Chef' products will be expensive (comment by minimiser deb), and almost certainly I will TRY to avoid buying anything I don't really need (and if truth be told I don't really NEED anything), but am sure I will buy SOMETHING as put me close to a collection of kitchen gadgets I get very tempted. However, B told me when he returned from his 'social' yesterday, they haven't yet decided on the date for the P.Chef, and maybe might not have this demo at all.

One thing I did treat myself to from Lakeland (other than those electronic scales) was a 'thermospatular' (or some such name). It is a long spatula for stirring jam etc, with a thermometer spike stuck through the middle, and at the top of the long handle the temperature is shown (in F or C). Much easier to use than those flat metal sugar thermometers that are hard to read once plunged into the pot. The temperature probe of the 'spatula' can be removed and used separately - for testing the internal temperature of meat for instance.
Yesterday I took it out of its packaging, removed the probe and stuck that into my mouth (don't let children try this) and took my temperature...98.4F as it should be. Then put the thermometer back into the spatula and left it on the table by my side. Later switched it back on and checked the room temperature (72F with the c.h.on), later still it read 65F (several hours after the heating had switched itself off. It will also be useful for checking the 'room temperature' of the conservatory/kitchen etc.
This 'thermospatular' would make a very good gift to give a cook, so worth thinking about before Lakeland run out.

The idea of using strips of turf to turn into compost is a good one. These could also be used between rows of veg to walk on and also protect the soil from the 'drought'. If we do have a dry summer (as forecast, but as they have said this no doubt it will probably rain. And rain and rain!), we do need to cover as much soil around plants with either plastic or old carpet or anything that will stop any moisture evaporating. Also water plants late in the evening once the sun has gone down. This also helps prevent moisture loss.

As I write I turn my head to look through the patio doors and see it is raining. AGAIN. Yesterday afternoon the clouds had rolled away and the sun shone in a deep blue cloudless sky. They say this weekend it will turn cold again, and did I hear a mention of snow in the north of Scotland? So we shouldn't rush with our planting (unless roses, fruit bushes, fruit trees etc). Time seems to move so fast these days that often seems the season of harvesting before we've even got all the seed-sowing done. With me anyway. But then I'm always one of those who 'puts off until tomorrow what should be done today'.

A few weeks ago I asked readers if they could tell me if there was any difference in a recipes (other ingredients or different weights etc) if gluten-free flour was used instead of the normal flour we use for baking. Had no response, so perhaps it is just a matter of using gluten-free flour and g.f. raising agent instead of the 'normal'. Easy as that?
This could be a possibility as yesterday read a g.f. recipe for what call 'cheese straws'. These are something I would normally make using the scraps of left-over short of puff pastry, but notice as this gluten-free recipe makes the pastry from scratch, virtually the same weights in flour/fat as though we were using a standard recipe. Maybe more water is used because of the g.f. flour, this is the sort of thing I need to know.
Hardly need to give the recipe as it is so simple, but will do anyway...
Gluten-free Savoury 'Straws': makes 24 - 30
6 oz (175g) gluten-free flour
3 oz (75g) butter
1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk
3 tblsp cold water
g.f. flour for dusting
2 tblsp finely grated hard cheese (pref Parmesan)
poppy or caraway seeds
black pepper, celery salt, paprika
Make the pastry by putting the flour and butter into a food processor. Whizz until it looks like breadcrumbs. Mix the egg yolk with the water and add this to the crumbs, and then pulse until the dough begins to come together. Don't overwork.
Tip onto a lightly g.f. dusted board and very gently knead the mixture until it forms a ball. You may need to add a little more water if it feels too dry.
Roll the pastry into an oblong and cut in half (and half again depending on how many 'flavours' you wish to use). Brush each piece with beaten whole egg and sprinkle one half with grated cheese, and the next with either poppy or caraway seeds (or mix of both), or you may prefer to top with ground black pepper, or celery salt, or paprika.
Lightly run the rolling pin over the pastry (this presses the 'toppings' into the pastry), then cut into 24 -30 strips. Leave as - is or you can twist the pastry to make them look more interesting.
Lay strips on a baking sheet and chill for 15 minutes, then bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 8 - 20 minutes until golden. Remove from oven but leave on the tin to cool for 15 minutes (this helps them crisp up) before lifting onto a cake airer to become quite cold. Will keep crisp if stored n an airtight tin.
Tip: to keep pastry crisp, pour some table salt over the base of a storage tin (I use an old sweet tin), cover with a sheet of kitchen paper, then lay pastry on top. The salt will absorb any moisture in the tin. Works well with empty vol-au-vent cases if you wish to cook these a day or two in advance. Fill the cases just before serving.

Also yesterday noticed a recipe for making Scotch Eggs that didn't use meat. This idea would be great for vegetarians who do allow themselves to eat eggs and fish. Basically the method was mash together equal amounts of cooked smoked haddock and mashed potatoes (exactly the same as when making fish-cakes) but mash the fish well in rather than leave it in chunky bits. Season to taste, then use this mixture to wrap around hard-boiled eggs as we would use sausage meat when making the traditional Scotch Eggs. Then fry.
Think today I might try covering hard-boiled eggs with sage and onion stuffing (made from a packet) and then try baking some in the oven whilst I bake other things, and also try frying some. It's just crossed my mind I could cover one or more eggs with that little bit of 'pork pie filling' mix in my freezer, and fry or bake this too.
Looks like my meals today could be not-quite-Scotch Eggs. If I do get around to making the above, will let you know if these work or not. If they do must then think up another name for them (Morecambe Eggs, or Lancashire Layers perhaps?

Just mentioning 'layer' has now reminded me of another recipe worth experimenting with. This again read yesterday and basically slightly more than half a batch of bread dough rolled out thinly to line a cake tin (a sandwich tin would be ideal), leaving some dough overlapping the edges, then filling the centre with cooked veg, cheese etc, then topping with a thin sheet of bread dough, folding the overlap over and pressing with a fork to secure. Chill for an hour then turn out onto a baking tray (so the bottom becomes the top), brush with beaten egg, scatter over grated cheese, then bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 20 - 25 minutes until the dough is cooked.
Depending upon the filling (tomatoes, chorizo, mozzarella) it could be similar to a Calzone, or given a British flavour (pickled onions or chutney, cooked meat etc,) be a 'Ploughman's in a Pack''. Certainly small ones could be made that would eat well cold for a picnic or packed lunch. Must give this more thought and do some experimenting. Maybe today.

So - as I now have to concentrate on caring for my poorly boy, and also roll up my sleeves and do as much baking as possible, will now love you and leave you for today. Enjoy your day and if you find time hope you can drop me a line. I always look forward to reading the comments. TTFN.