Thursday, April 05, 2012

Which Came First, Chicken or the Egg?

A couple of evenings ago watched 'Horizon' (a programme about robots being able to 'learn'). This was fascinating. Apparently two computers (child-sized and human shaped) had a computer-brain and from his they were able to learn 'from experience' exactly as a young child would. So far they had managed to form their own language, 'speaking' in words that each understood but was not able to be translated by humans (so far). They would 'ask' each other to do small tasks (such as raising one arm, both arms, etc) and the other would do this.
From this it seems we could get robots that would eventually be almost 'human' in their capacity of what to do. The only thing missing in their 'brain' seems to be emotion.

At the end of the programme had a very strong feeling this was 'chicken and egg' situation. Let us assume some great intelligence from another planet wished to take over another planet, but first it needed the place to be ready (like having a new house and grounds built and furnished before you move in. Intelligent robots could do this, but however clever a robot it, it needs fuel to run on and the occasional MOT.
The simplest way is to land on a planet that has 'possibilities', and then add the 'robotic intelligence' to any animal that has the slightest resemblance to whatever is intending to take over our planet. Animals 'fuel' themselves, and generally heal themselves, and if they can't do that, the added intelligence (once it has learned the nutritional and healing power of all herbage and animal protein around them), soon 'shows' them how to. Slow progression to come to perfection of course, but 'time-travel' can mean 'something' from 'out there' can visit us once (or twice) to get things in motion, and zoom off at a speed faster than light to it's own planet, then - in several thousand years of 'our time' (and probably only 20 in theirs) return again to make more 'improvements'.
It just could be that the robots on the programme are nothing new at all. It is us who are the robots, but have developed enough to believe we have a choice in what we do. So which came first? And is there always a choice? Much depends on how each of us has been 'programmed'.
Well, this does give some food for thought don't you think?

Oh Les, you must have been a teacher, for you do seem to approach cooking with quite a clinical approach. I have a vision of you wearing a white coat (maybe also goggles and rubber gloves) and handling food with tweezers to make sure the exact amount (and no more) is put into a bag or bowl each time you cook. I measure small amounts of ingredients into small bags, then squeeze out surplus air with my hands before twisting the tops and either fold over or secure. Vacuum packing is a more sophisticated way of removing air and not needed for 'dry goods'. I do wear an apron when I cook (mainly because the huge front pocket is very useful to hold things, even though at times I look a bit like a kangaroo), and more often than not measure by the spoonful instead of weighing, and other times just 'throw things in'.
But all of us should cook in the way that is the most interesting and gives us the most pleasure, so whom am I to say otherwise?

Have a feeling you enjoy shopping Jane, as you brought home a few more things from your recent trip to the supermarket. This is the reason why I buy on-line and have the food delivered as I am always tempted by 'offers' and bring home what I didn't really NEED (but wanted at that time). Again - if shopping is what we enjoy doing - we don't need to stop 'buying out', just try and keep to that shopping list. Even having said that, a list only works if what we intend buying is at 'the right price'. Do know I wait to see what is on offer the week I am writing up my order, and work around these foods, just adding the necessary basics on top.

Regarding jelly moulds. I used to have over 20 old (Victorian/Edwardian) ceramic jelly moulds and they formed incredible and intricate patterns. At that time paid no more than 50p for each, but some can still be found in charity shops and at car-boots for very low price. Worth looking out for if you make a lot of jelly.
Those who have no moulds can still make 'something different' by making up a couple (or more) packs (or part packs) of different coloured jellies. Use slightly less water to give a firmer set, then pour one into a deepish square container. Once set turn out and cut out a good size cube of jelly. In another container (round or square, pour in a paler coloured jelly to an inch or so deep, then leave to set. On this place the already set 'cube', then pour more pale jelly round and over the top, aiming for the same depth of jelly at the bottom, sides and surface. Once set the cube with the appear to be trapped in the centre like a jewel.

Another way of making a multi-coloured jelly is to start with a bowl and tip it slightly on its side. Pour in some jelly and leave to set. Then turn the bowl over to another direction and pour in another colour of jelly, Then as the jelly sets, keep turning and adding more colours, ending up with a zig-zag almost Art Deco style patterned jelly. Makes for an interesting jelly for a child's (or even adults) party.

Certainly US breakfasts do differ from ours Lisa. I cannot imagine eating soda biscuits (not quite sure what these are - possibly what we call scones?) with gravy AND hash browns for 'brekkies'. We can buy frozen 'hash browns' to bake (these being a wedge-shaped version of the UK's trad. potato cakes), but again these mainly served with a main meal (although now sometimes offered at breakfast in some B & Bs).
Am sure, when you visit our shores, you will find a lot of difference in the US and British diets, especially if you can avoid 'eating out' at the burger bars and KFC etc. If you wish to eat 'our' fish and chips, then buy them from a 'chippy', with salt and vinegar splashed over (and nothing else), but do eat them immediately (eating them when walking down the street is traditional) or the chips will go very soggy if kept too long.
What part of our country do you hope to visit? Many regions have their own traditional 'fare' that are all worth trying, but not always available all over the country. Supermarket 'copies' are normally not nearly as good as the 'real thing'. And when you visit, remember to bring a 'brolly' (aka umbrella). If you do, chances are the sun will shine. If you don't, it will pour with rain every day! True.

Today has begun with no wind and wall to wall blue sky. Still chilly, but looks like the snow that fell in some parts of the UK has now disappeared, and the weather forecast tells us that the weather will be slightly warmer and dryer for the Easter weekend. Cannot believe I was sitting in the sun eating lunch and tanning myself in the heat only a week ago. Can't wait for it to get warm enough for me to do this again.

For some reason this morning (whilst waiting for the kettle to boil to make myself a cup of coffee) decided to weigh the 10 'large' eggs that had recently been bought. Although each one was over the 'medium' weight (this being 2 oz) most were only just over by a fraction of an ounce. A couple were 'large' (over 2.5oz), and only three were the same weight.
Not that this really matters, but it does seem that 'large' eggs are not the 'large' that I used to know. Seems to get these we have to look for 'jumbo' eggs (or whatever they are called).
As I need extra eggs (as intending to do more cooking over the weekend), am getting B to bring me in half a dozen 'large' eggs, and half a dozen 'medium' from our local butcher, and then will weigh and compare prices. It could be we are paying more for the 'large' (by weight) from any stores, just because this is what they are called, when medium eggs could would out cheaper (again by weight). There maybe only a few pence in it, but as always - every penny counts.

The above sounds as though I am getting a mite too 'picky' about comparison sizes/weights etc, but unless we keep an eye on things we can be sold foods that do not give us the best value for our money. So I keep on weighing.
(Am pleased to say that have now lost ANOTHER 1lb overnight, so if I continue a slow weight loss over the next two weeks, hopefully will lose enough to weigh slightly less than I did six months ago at my last surgery 'weigh-in'. Just as long as I don't weigh MORE!!).

Still continuing my 'make it for less' recipes, am today offering a few more suggestions. The first recipe is a pasta dish, traditionally made with ham. The version below is based on one made using smoked salmon 'trimming's (the given cost of this dish is 98p a portion). Using ham or chicken 'trimmings', or even fried mushrooms instead of the fish, we can reduce the cost.
Worth mentioning that some stores sell ham at their deli-counter that is carved from the bone as you wait. When all the available meat has been carved, these bones are often given away or sold for very low cost. These usually still hold quite a lot of ham stuck in crevices that can be picked off with the fingers, and quite enough to make a dish such as the one below . These bones also good for making stock/flavouring soup etc. Any flesh found on the bones is then almost 'free'.

Other ways I would save with this dish is to use a couple of ounces (25g) less pasta (esp if the 'shapes' are large (bows etc). Use 4 fl oz (100ml) cream, and small to medium eggs (although the larger the egg the more protein. On the other hand, if we cut down on the amount of salmon (or ham) used, and use larger eggs, we still keep up the protein content of this dish.
Your Choice Pasta Carbonara: serves 4
12 oz (350g) spaghetti, or penne (or other shapes)
5 fl oz (150ml) double cream
2 eggs, beaten (see above)
2 - 4 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
4 oz (100g) smoked salmon trimmings (see above)
2 tblsp chopped chives
Cook the pasta according to packet instructions. Meanwhile, lightly beat the cream into the eggs and fold in half the Parmesan and all the smoked salmon.
Drain the pasta, return to the pan and add the salmon mixture. Toss everything together - the heat from the pasta will 'cook' the eggs and make a thickish 'sauce'.
Serve immediately with a sprinkle of chopped chives on top with the remaining Parmesan.

Next recipe could either be called 'A Poor Man's Beef Wellington' or a 'Posh Nosh Meat Loaf'. Either way it is a different way to serve minced beef (and no reason why minced lamb or pork couldn't be used instead of beef - but to keep to the 'Wellington' tradition, beef is used today). You will have to excuse the name I have given this dish - am in a silly mood today!
The usual suggestions for cutting costs: use less meat and use more of the cheaper onions and mushrooms. Could also include a few breadcrumbs as well to 'stretch' the meat still further. Also use a little less ketchup and water.
As ever the recipe suggests serving with potatoes and veg. Nothing wrong with the 'veg', but as the pastry provided our 'carbos', then no need to include more. So omit the spuds. Another saving!

The recipe says 'suitable for freezing' but doesn't say whether cooked or uncooked. Certainly the meat mixture could be cooked then frozen to thaw and make up and cook into the final dish later. Whether frozen when cooked in pastry is a matter of seeing if it works.
Golly-Galosh, 'wot a lot I got': serves 8
2 lb (1 kg) minced beef
4 oz (100g) tomato ketchup
4 fl oz (100ml) water
4 eggs
salt and pepper
3 onions, finely chopped
1 - 3 cloves garlic (to taste) crushed
small handful fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
8 sage leaves, finely chopped
7 oz (200g) mushrooms, finely chopped
1 oz (25g) butter
1 x 500g pack puff pastry
Put the beef into a bowl with three of the eggs, all the ketchup and water, plus seasoning to taste. Mix well together with your (clean) fingers, until well combined, then mix in the onions herbs, and half the garlic. Form into a thick sausage shape and place on a baking tray. Cook for 20 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 4, then remove and leave to cool.
To assemble the 'pie', fry the mushrooms in the butter for a few minutes until softened, then stir in the remaining garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. Drain through a sieve to remove all surplus liquid.
Roll the pastry into a rectangle large enough to wrap completely round the beef. Beat the remaining egg and brush some over the pastry, then spread the mushrooms in a wide strip along the middle. Sit the beef 'sausage' on top of the mushrooms then either fold the sides of the pastry over to wrap up the 'parcel' (including folding up the ends) OR cut the sides of the pastry into strips (from close to the meat/mushrooms through to the outer edge), then fold up and over the meat, criss-crossing/overlapping the strips to enclose the meat, tucking the ends under.
If folding uncut pastry into a parcel, turn over so the join is beneath before cooking. If using the 'strip' method, the strips remain on top.
Brush the pastry with remaining egg, then bake for 40 mins at 200C, covering with tented foil after the first 25 mins to prevent it browning too fast.
Serve with chosen vegetables (suggest peas, carrots...).

One of my favourite fish is smoked haddock, and when my eye caught the following recipe, knew it was one you might like to try as it makes a superb light lunch or supper dish. As ever have reduced some amounts to keep it within my budget, and the beer (I suppose) is not absolutely necessary (although trad. when making a 'rarebit'), instead we could use water with a dash of Worcestershire or soy sauce. For some reason I have a feeling that poached egg would also be good with this 'dish', in which case use less fish. Cover this with a lightly poached egg, then the sauce and cheese before grilling.
Smoked Rarebit: serves 4
12 oz (350g) smoked haddock
8 fl oz (225 ml) milk
2 oz (50 g) butter
2 oz (50 g) flour
5 fl oz (150 ml) beer or ale (see above)
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
4 oz (100g) mature (strong) Cheddar, grated
pepper to taste
4 slices thick toasting bread (pref granary)
Put the fish in a pan with the milk, bring to the boil, cover and reduce heat to as low as possible, and poach the fish for 3 minutes or until just cooked. Using a slotted spoon, remove the fish, peel off the skin (and discard) and flake the fish. Keep the cooking liquid.
Melt the butter in another pan and stir in the flour. Keep stirring for one minute until the flour leaves the side of the pan, then slowly whisk in the reserved milk, followed by the beer/ale. Keep whisking until the sauce is smooth and thick. Fold in the mustard and approx 2/3rds of the cheese, adding pepper to taste.
Very lightly toast the bread on both sides under a hot grill, then top each with flaked fish, spooning over the cheese sauce. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and grill until golden and bubbling.

My Beloved is very partial to watercress (now listed as yet another 'superfood'), and although I've tried growing this myself have never been very successful, so at the moment still buy this in packs. It doesn't have a long shelf-life so try to find different ways to serve this. Here is one suggestion offered mainly because I do have oranges in the fruit bowl, vacuum beetroot in the fridge, and watercress. If you haven't watercress than mixed salad leaves could be used instead. Together these make a well flavoured salad that eats well with cold cooked meats, either sliced, or cut into shreds and added with to the salad at the final tossing. Always add beetroot at the end as otherwise its juices turn everything red
Watercress and Orange Salad: serves 4
1 - 2 oranges
2 tblsp Dijon mustard
1 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
4 oz (100g) watercress
3 - 4 cooked beetroot, cut into wedges
Grate the zest from half an orange and mix with the mustard, oil and a generous amount of seasoning to make the salad dressing.
Peel the oranges (over a plate to catch the juice) and remove the segments from the membrane. Stir the juice into the dressing.
Put the watercress into a shallow bowl, with some of the dressing and toss to coat, then add the oranges with the remaining dressing and toss again. Tuck in the wedges of beetroot and serve.

Time is - as ever - moving relentlessly along, so must now go and think up something for tonight's supper. Yesterday - being cold - made B a beef casserole for his meal - easy enough as I used pre-(slow)cooked beef rib trim in its gravy (so only needed thawing/reheating), put into a pan with some cooked sliced carrot, parsnips and potatoes (plus a spoonful of 'beef casserole mix' to thicken the gravy. Made in minutes then left over a very low heat (pan sitting on two diffuser mats) to keep hot until B felt like eating it.
My B was supposed to be going to the gym yesterday after 'five minutes on the comp playing patience'. Discovered him sitting in front of the comp later, head dropped down to his chest, asleep AGAIN (he seems to 'cat-nap' for 10 minutes or so at the drop of a hat). He was there all afternoon and strolled into the living room to tell me he 'just couldn't get the patience out'. He had been in front of the comp nearly six hours!! Although must have been asleep part of that time. He did enjoy his meal though as he told me so.

Have a wish to make a fish dish today, maybe a chowder, or maybe a risotto. As ever will make my mind up mid-afternoon. At least can thaw the fish out while I'm making up my mind.

Hope you are all blessed with the lovely weather that we are having today in Morecambe. Tomorro will be Good Friday (the day of my 21st birthday which was good as I didn't then have to go to work that day). Easter is 'my time' of year, being born on Easter Sunday, yet my birthday has only fallen twice on that day since then (or is it 3 times - at my age you would think it would have been more. Just shows what a 'movable' feast Easter is.

No doubt you will all be very busy over this holiday weekend, but do hope you have time to 'drop in' for our morning chat, and maybe find a few minutes to send me a comment. Do hope so. TTFN.