Monday, April 30, 2012

Busy Time of Year

It's odd really, all of a sudden I have too much to do and can't seem to get my head around doing much of it. It was different with the 'curryfest', hard work but at least there was a target with a time limit. At the moment am having to decide whether to give the kitchen a good 'sort-out', and also fit in repotting plants. Then venture into the garden to sort some of that out, AND also finish the spring-cleaning (which in truth has never really got started). Whatever I feel I should do, then one of the others jumps up at me and I feel that should have been started. So I end up doing nothing!! Other than cooking of course.

If only I could get motivated over the more boring 'chores' above, like I was with the recent 'social meal'. At least I've been asked to provide two desserts for another meal (this time for about 30) n a couple or so weeks (the 'mains' having been already prepared by others some weeks ago, and in their freezers I understand). So will enjoy doing that. Just wish I could enjoy the rest of the above. I quite enjoy sowing seeds (whilst sitting at the table in the conservatory), and watering them as and when needed, but then I just wish they'd get on growing all on their own without any more attention and all I had to do is wait for the harvest. Told you I was lazy.

Seems the photos of my eclairs tempted some readers. Choux pastry is really simple to do, and so CHEAP considering how much one batch makes. It is only the cream (plus a little choc) that are the expensive ingredients, and I wait until the cream is reduced in price anyway. Filled eclairs/profiteroles etc freeze beautifully, so quite a large amount can be made in one baking session and then frozen to eat later.

Regarding sending photos to me Campfire, was hoping that you might be able to put them up on your own site. I looked at this early this morning, but although - when I clicked on your name, there was only your profile, and 'no postings' on either of your 'blog' sites. Have you given up writing?

As I said above Jane, making choux is easy, so do have a try. You certainly got a bargain with that other type of 'shoe' that you were able to buy (new) at that car-boot sale.

Thanks to Eden Valley M (a new name to this site so welcome), for telling us where we can buy the giant couscous. Even if I find it, am not sure whether I will be tempted as it is probably something I wouldn't really NEED. On the other hand, maybe worth it if am more likely to use it than the smaller grain. With me it all boils down (no pun intended) to the price of a product.

Loved the sound of your lunch box salads Sarina, and do hope you enjoyed your Polish meal. Quite a few small 'eateries' are now being opened, even 'pop up restaurants' in people's own homes. Not sure how these get around all the rules and regs regarding the cooking and serving of food, but 'Come Dine With Me' seems happy to have food served from kitchens where cats and dogs are still slobbering waiting for the crumbs to fall (the cats sometimes jump onto the worktops and start nibbling), then perhaps it (again) is all to do with whether the cook is 'selling' the food, or just providing it 'for free' (we will ignore the £1,000 that the best meal would win).

I'd LOVE to run a 'pop-up' restaurant here, and just give my profits to charity. We can serve up to eight round our dining table in this rather grand panelled room (that has its own patio doors to the garden, with a terrace outside and access to the drive), so feel that even strangers would feel it is more like a restaurant than a private home. Maybe one day the opportunity might arise.

It's a pity there are few readers of this site who live in or around Morecambe, for we could then occasionally get together to have a meal here and sample some of my latest 'creations'. So if anyone lives in our area, do let me know and maybe we can meet up at a local cafe as a start.

Sorry to hear your OH has had a diabetic set-back Catriona. I've been improving so far, but then the results of the recent check will be known tomorrow, and as I've been very lax when it comes to eating the right things, s0 probably will go back to square one, get my hand slapped and have to cut out the (occasional) sweets and cream cakes! We will have to wait and see.

As expected, there was no sailing yesterday due to high winds. It was also raining, although rain is never a problem as sailors are used to getting wet. Threw together a 'sort of ' supper for B, gently frying a chicken breast with some onions, then adding a little water to 'poach', meanwhile boiling some small 'new' potatoes, and frying some bacon rashers in another pan, removing these when they were just beginning to crisp up (they get even crisper as they cool) Added a packet of chicken 'cuppa soup' to the 'poaching water', which was then reduced down to make a 'sauce' as the chicken finished cooking. Removed the spuds from the pan, added them to the bacon fat in the pan with some sliced mushrooms, put some frozen peas in the still boiling water the spuds were cooked in, and then when all was ready plated it up for B. Had one chicken breast myself, a few potatoes (that I hadn't fried) and a few peas, plus a spoon of the 'sauce' and it was really tasty (albeit a bit boring). Well, I just wasn't in the mood to cook something more adventurous.

Having come across a curry recipe that uses Quorn 'fajita strips' (presumably 'chicken' type), and feel that this could be a useful recipe for both vegetarians and 'meat-eaters' alike as Quorn in a curry will appear to 'taste' very similar to chicken. Not sure about the taste, but then a spices can disguise the flavour of a lot of things (useful to know if cooking for picky eaters). If Quorn was less expensive am sure I would serve this instead of meat most of the time, but unfortunately there is not a lot of difference in price.
Instead of the sweet potato, use ordinary potato and/or butternut squash, Much depends upon the size of your largest frying pan, if big enough then use this (cover with foil if it has no lid), otherwise cook in a saucepan.
Vegetarian Pilaf: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large aubergine, cubed
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 tblsp Balti curry paste (or other of your choice)
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed (see above)
8 oz (225g) carrots, grated
9 oz (225g) frozen string beans
12 oz (350g) basmati rice
1 pint (600)ml water
half pint (300ml) coconut milk
1 pint measure baby spinach leaves
2 x 140g packs Quorn 'fajita' strips
Heat the oil in a large frying pan (or saucepan) and fry the onion for 5 minutes until softened. Add the aubergine and cook for a further four minutes, then add the garlic and curry paste and cook on for one more minute before stirring in the sweet potato, carrots, beans, rice, water, and the coconut milk. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, then add the Quorn strips and spinach, stir everything together, cover the pan and turn off the heat and leave to stand for five minutes, then fluff up the rice with a fork and serve.

Anyone who enjoys the 'full English' breakfast, but prefers a 'lighter' version without losing any of the flavours, will find this next recipe worth trying. Other than omitting black pudding, baked beans and fried bread, it has just about everything else, and there is no reason why it could not be served with a helping of beans as a 'side dish', with a triangle (or two) of fried bread if you can't do without it.
Use either canned chipolata sausages, or use some cold cooked sausage that might be left over from a previous day. Use 5 or 6 medium eggs if you haven't large ones.
English Breakfast Frittata: serves 4
4 good quality cooked sausages (see above)
4 rashes smoked streaky bacon
4 oz (100g) button mushrooms, sliced
sunflower oil (opt)
4 large eggs, beaten (see above)
salt and pepper
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
handful grated cheese (opt)
chopped chives (opt)
Heat a non-stick omelette pan. Slice the sausages and place in the pan and cook for a couple of minutes to heat through, then add the bacon and cook until turning crisp on both sides. Then add the mushrooms (if the bacon is not very 'fatty' then you may need to add a teaspoon or so of sunflower oil). Cook until the mushrooms are tender, then drain off any excess fat.
Spread the contents of the pan evenly so that eventually each serving has a helping of everything.
Add seasoning to the beaten eggs, the pour these over the contents of the pan, giving the pan a shake so the eggs settle down into any gaps, and then move the contents gently within the egg until it begins to set. Spread the tomatoes evenly over the top, and sprinkle with the cheese and chives (if using). Take over to a preheated grill to finish cooking the top. This will take about 2 minutes until the egg is properly 'set'. Then serve hot in wedges. With or without a spoonful of hot baked beans.

There are few really 'new' recipes, just variations on old and traditional ones, but this doesn't mean that we can't present them in a different way. Above is a variation of the 'full English', and below you will see a recipe for Welsh Rarebit in a different guise. Am never sure whether any variation is better than the 'original', but trying out something 'different' does make cooking a little less boring. I suppose.

Most people these days buy their mustard ready-made in jars, so if you haven't the mustard powder (but always worth keeping a tin of this in the larder) you could mix the 'made mustard' in with the liquid ingredients.
Unlike many muffins, these will keep quite well for a few days after baking, so either make to eat and eat whilst still warm, or keep some back to eat as a lunch-time snack (or include in those lunchboxes).
Welsh Rarebit Muffins: makes 12
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
2 oz (50g) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
half level tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
half level tsp mustard powder (see above)
2 oz (50g) mature Cheddar, grated
2 oz (50g) mature Cheddar, cut into small cubes
6 tblsp sunflower oil
5 fl oz (150g) Greek yogurt
4 fl oz (100ml) milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
Sift together the flours and raising agents with the salt and mustard powder. In another bowl mix the grated and cubed cheese, the oil, yogurt, milk, egg, and W. sauce.
Tip the 'wet' into the 'dry' and and fold together to combine (but don't overwork). Divide mixture between a 12-hole muffin tin (lined with 12 paper cases).
Bake for 20 - 25 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until golden. Remove muffins from tin and leave to cool slightly on a cake airer before eating. Or they can be left to get cool and will keep in an airtight container for a few days.

Final recipe today is yet another variation on a theme. This time almost 'fusion' food as we start by making bread dough, then form this into containers to hold a variation of 'Chinese sticky pork'. However strange this sounds, the end result makes a great 'starter', or a buffet 'nibble'.
Barbecue Bacon Buns: makes 12
3 oz (75g) sugar
1 x 500g pack white bread mix
water to mix
1 tblsp sunflower oil
10 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
1" (2.5cm) piece fresh root ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tblsp soy sauce
3 tblsp runny honey
3 tblsp tomato puree (or ketchup)
1 egg, beaten (for glazing)
Put the sugar and bread mix into a bowl, adding water according to packet instructions. Form into a dough, and knead until smooth(this can be done either by hand, using a mixer with a dough hook, or in a bread machine), then place in a large bowl, cover and leave to stand in a warm place until doubled in size.
Meanwhile make the filling by heating the oil in a frying pan, then adding the bacon and frying until crisp. Stir in the ginger and garlic and cook for a further minute, then add the soy sauce, honey, and tomato puree. Simmer for a couple of minutes then set aside.
When the dough is ready, knock back, then divide evenly into 12. Form each into a ball, then flatten with a rolling pin to make a circle (about the size of the palm of your hand). Put a teaspoon of the filling in the middle of each circle, then draw the dough up and gather together to form a 'purse', pinching the edges together to make a seal. Turn the 'bag' over so the join is underneath, and place on a large baking sheet, leaving room between as they will rise/spread. Cover loosely with oiled cling-film and leave to rise for a good 20 minutes (maybe longer if the kitchen is cool), Brush with beaten egg and cook at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 20 minutes until golden. Best served freshly baked (hot or warm).

Sun is shining today although still windy and cool. A few fluffy white clouds that normally don't fall as rain. At least it is very warm in the afternoons in the conservatory when the sun shines (double glazing keeps out the cold wind but lets the warmth of the sun in), so now try and grab half an hour to sit in there (a good time to repot plants I suppose). In Morecambe, whatever the weather in the first part of the day, usually the sun does shine in the afternoon.

Next door has a strange 'pine' tree, each branch covered with 'spiky leaves' the tip of each branch having what appears to be a 'cone' standing upright, looking exactly like candles fixed to a Christmas tree. A few yards the other (our) side of the fence I see our apple tree is now in full bloom, so let us hope most of the apples stay on the tree to be gathered in the autumn. There is not too much blossom and in Leeds this must be about the time the apple tree in our garden (when we lived there) was absolutely covered in blossom (used to gather over 100lbs of apples from that tree most years), and so pretty to look at. Luckily I took photos of it, so can look at these when I wish (although always feel sad when I do as I so much miss living there). But at least here we still have a garden (there are many apartments here for 'pensioners' that have no garden at all), and it's also lovely that I still have the feel of living in a house as we have bought the ground floor of what was called 'a gentleman's residence', and rather grand it is too (compared to a 'normal' bungalow). In a way this came about because we couldn't sell our own house in time to buy the bungalow we had first chosen, and when the estate agent sent us details of the property we now live in, we couldn't believe how cheap it was (far cheaper than a bungalow), and we even got that reduced in price for the property developer desperately needed money. We had to reduce our own property in price (many times) to get it sold in time to buy, but B still gained enough enough profit to keep him happy). For once, good fortune smiled on us.

Must really get on and do at least SOME of the things that are on my list of 'things to do', or this time next year they will still not have been done (yes, this can happen, a Christmas decoration from two years back is still where it was left!!). But definitely 'could do better' as my teacher would write on my school report. But in the 'great scheme of things', does a little dust lying around REALLY matter? Myself feel it is far more important to feed the family well (this now is mainly my Beloved plus any other that happens to drop in), while still saving money for a rainy day. Or is that just my excuse?

Whatever you choose to do today, make sure you enjoy doing it. Otherwise my inclination would be to say don't bother. But if we all took that approach, then a whole lot would not be done that should be done. Now I'm making myself feel guilty, so perhaps time for me to make a move and actually do something worthwhile. Tomorrow you will find out if I was able to make this possible. See you then.