Friday, May 11, 2012

The Good Life

Yesterday was one of my best when it came to cooking. For once everything went right. Firstly the choux pastry this time really ballooned up (not quite sure why this was more than usual), with the small blobs piped onto the baking sheet ending up almost like puff balls with hollow insides and all held their shape, not a collapse in sight. I'd made 30 from one batch (four of everything: water, milk, butter, flour, eggs) and when filled with cream (it took a pint of whipped double to fill them) they looked huge, so decided that three each would be ample instead of the five much smaller ones intended. There is more in volume with three as would have been with six normal sized). These are now in the freezer (taking up the whole of one chest freezer drawer in a single layer), then each will be dipped in chocolate when removed - while still frozen - so the chocolate will set almost immediately. By the time of serving they will have thawed out and (hopefully) be just perfect.

Also yesterday made the chocolate 'slab' of sponge ready for the Rigo Jansci. This too cooked very well and evenly with a perfectly flat top (unusual with my sponges that tend to rise and split in the centre). Couldn't believe how lucky I was. Perhaps this was due to the fact I baked it in a 'double tin' that Lakeland had in one of their 'sales' some many months ago. This is a tin where one sits inside the other, fitting very snugly, and this twin-layer gives some protection at the base of the upper tin, so cakes don't burn or cook too fast. When the tins are separated one can be upturned and fitted on top of the other to make a closed tin that can be used for cooking all sorts of things. There is even a little catch on each side to hold the two together. Very good for baking bread rolls that are wanted to bake 'soft' rather than crusty.
This tin wasn't cheap, even in the sale, but certainly the best tin for baking I've ever bought, I use it all the time.

Another thing - being a large and fairly deepish sponge, cooked it at 160C instead of my normal 180C, allowing more than 30 minutes cooking time instead of the usual 25, and this lower heat seemed to suit the mixture.
I even made the ganache yesterday (whipping cream brought to not-quite boiling, adding grated dark and white chocolate folded in until melted). This is now in the fridge as needs to be set before being beaten. Today it will be whipped and become light and fluffyish then piled onto the choc. sponge and left to firm up a bit in the fridge. This will then have a final chocolate topping/icing before being delivered. If I can remember will take a photo of it.

Today will make the Tropical Fruit cheesecake and leave it in the fridge to become really firm, then tomorrow will garnish the top, finish the Rigo Jansci 'topping' and dip the profs in chocolate, then they will all be ready to be taken to the 'do' (in one of my DR polystyrene boxes, this time with ice 'block's in to keep the desserts chilled. Again hope to remember to photograph them all.
But first must clear two fridge shelves to hold the final two desserts before work commences today.

After watching Great British Chef yesterday (or whatever it is called) and yesterday they were making desserts with the usual OTT cooking that seems to be necessary. Didn't care for any of them, but then I'm not a gourmet judge.
B and I then watched the following programme: Two Greedy Italians. The dishes made in this episode were mainly 'foraged' foods, showing how - in the old days - people made the most of what grew regionally, and certainly what we would call 'peasant' food.
Chestnuts were collected and taken to a small 'mill' and ground to make flour, this then made into gnocchi with the help of the yolk of a goose egg they'd also 'filched'. Mushrooms of course gathered, and milk was churned into butter (with the solids in the buttermilk used as 'ricotta').

The chestnuts were crushed down in a tiny shed by a very old man in the manner of centuries ago, and I said to B "if only life could be like that now, so simple and making the most of what was available". He agreed.
One of the Italian cooks began to make a meal of 'local produce', this being kale, Savoy cabbage, some black cabbage, shredded and cooked with some buckwheat tagliatelle, plus some diced potatoes (why pasta AND potatoes I wondered), and myself felt it didn't look that appetising, but once cooked the drained veg/pasta was layered in a dish with crumbled local cheese between the layers, then finished off with lots of (I think) Parmesan (or similar cheese) and put into the oven to cook further. Suppose it was a peasant version of vegetable lasagne with the 'lasagne' being the tagliatelle, mixed in with the 'filling' rather than separating it.
Have to say once cooked it looked really good and B said he could almost smell and taste it and said to me "you can make this anytime". I too felt it worth having a go at, using up a mixture of vegetable 'greens' that I have in the fridge (have plenty of cheese). Could be worth making for supper tonight?

Wish there were many more cookery programmes like this - just showing simple food using regional and 'free' produce (nature's bounty), and cooking food we can grow ourselves. Programmes such as the Italian one (mentioned above) makes me at least WANT to dash into the kitchen and begin cooking, because it all looks not just easy, but also very appetising..
The 'cheffy' programmes are fun to watch but how many of us would even wish to try and make many of those dishes (apart from those demostrated by Jamie Oliver and Hugh F.W.?) It just makes us feel that is we wish to cook 'good food' to serve, it ALL has to be complicated, and not even sure what we see tastes that good. Clever presentation make make a dish LOOK appetising, but that's about all it does. A dish can look mouthwatering but taste absolutely awful.
We then had a short discussion about the food 'of the past' and the foods of today. Said to B (as I've said on this site before) "recipes today are becoming far too complicated, what we've just seen shows that we don't really need a recipe, just use up what we've got and still end up with something really tasty." Again he agreed (bless him, he is learning fast).

In the 'old days' (like pre-war, as after rationing finished everything went downhill from then), food was cheap enough and it was usually the folk who lived in rural areas that were the healthiest. With few convenience foods (compared to today), even the worst of the 'fresh' tasted better than some of the 'best' now.

Think about what our ancestors ate in the past and what was 'normal' to them. Wonderful crusty bread (now called 'artisan'); quality jams, marmalade, pickles and preserves; free-range eggs; organically grown fruit and veg; great meat from animals allowed to grow as nature intended; fresh fish when living near the coast. Farmhouse butter and cheese both cut from a slab/whole piece, clotted cream, milk in bottles with inches of cream on top, wonderful cakes and biscuits, and bacon sliced from the 'side'. Cold meats cut from joints the thickness as desired, and absolutely nothing sold in pre-vacuum packs (with added water!!!). All (relatively) as cheap as chips for there was no other kind. It was all wonderful and nothing today has as good a taste as it did then. Think the only thing today that we have benefited from is having chickens available all year round (in my youth only bought to cook for special occasions, and were not cheap then).

Today there are a lot of 'other kinds', mostly second-grade, some downright 'unhealthy' (junk food), but 'mass marketing' and bulk purchases and 'farmed foods', make these all far cheaper than the prices today of the 'best of British', all these now being far too expensive for the likes of most of us (we have to save if we wish to indulge) So no wonder that with the lack of cooking know-how (due to several generations learning how to 'enjoy' the use of convenience foods and the 'why bother to cook when we can do it for you' temptation thrown at us by the manufacturers and supermarkets), means that most living on a fairly low income especially during this recession never do get the chance to taste food as good as it used to be. Probably wouldn't even know what to do with it if they had it, and this is all so sad for it is SO easy to return to those 'good old days' and start cooking like our grandmothers did. By this I mean simple cooking (and this includes the bread, the preserves, the cakes, the biscuits, the savoury 'peasant' foods).
We just have to remember that 'home-cooked' can still be done very cheaply indeed, and if we return to doing this we can end up with as good a meal as our Queen would find pleasure in eating.

Obviously we can't buy EVERYTHING as it used to be. despite the fact that some of it is is still there for us if we look hard enough. I say 'can't' because the reason - as ever - is always the price I would be expected to pay. There is only so much I can afford so I buy cheap eggs for baking as although do buy some free-range for 'eating as an egg' (boiled, poached, scrambled or for omelettes etc). Also (as you all know and I keep SAYING) I save as much money as possible when home-cooking (using left-overs etc and what anyone else would throw away), then spend some of the savings to buy 'quality meat/fish'.
The 'Goode kitchen' preserves are always home-made, and bursting with flavour, and this as cheap as the price for the worst possible jam sold in supermarkets (don't even think about buying that!), with the home-made tasting even nicer than the most expensive on sale. True!

Bread once was very cheap to buy (and it tasted good even when sliced bread first came on the scene). In a recent repeat of Hugh F.W's prog, he was explaining what now goes into that pappy, moist supermarket bread and it's no wonder many of us have allergies. There was a time I quite like using this softer bread for sarnies, but over the past few years the flavour seems to have changed from bad to worse, so even this isn't what it was. Both B and I agree that once tasting (my) home-made bread, the branded 'pappy' bread just isn't worth eating. In fact it's 'orrible'.
Of course I often do cheat a bit and use a bread mix to make my bread, but this too is pretty basic without all the additives and preservatives that go into many of the bought breads today. To buy a small white loaf freshly baked from a baker could be sold to me for as much as £3 (as I know - and at the time refused it point blank then went home and made my own). Using even a bread mix (Tesco's at 69p for 500g to make a 2lb loaf) makes good bread far cheaper than any sold, and a 1 lb loaf then would work out at no more than 35p (and a lot less if I extended the mix by adding more strong plain flour and water). As proved the other day, 250g of extra strong plain bread flour added to a bought 'mix' gave me that extra (1lb size) loaf for just 10p!

Although there is the north-south divide when it comes to certain food prices, have always believed that most supermarket prices remain the same whatever part of the country. This may not be the case, but certainly Tesco sell eggs really cheaply Sarina. Very recently have been buying a 'tray' of 15 'value' eggs that work out at only 8p each (they say it is 'mixed sizes' but out of the 15 all are medium and some are slightly larger. Only once have I had an egg that is slightly under the 'medium' (a medium egg is 2 oz/2 fl oz).
This last order they didn't have the 15 to a tray, but they were selling the 'value' eggs in half dozens - these worked out at 10p each (still have some in use), and I see now these are priced at 85p for the half-dozen) so they have risen to a whopping 14p each!! Even so, FAR cheaper than many others on sale, and we have to remember that 'free-range' only goes as far as letting the hens have freedom to go outside from the barn they are living in (by means of a small door), and as many hens prefer to stay indoors permanently in the warm (especially in our climate), so these 'free-range' eggs are no better than the 'barn-raised' and there is no way we can tell the difference other than we are charged a higher price just for the 'name'.

Sad about many street parties not being allowed due to 'rules and regs', and if there were no problems having street parties in the 'old days', why should there be now? All too often things are not now allowed (bunting etc) in case someone hurt themselves falling off a ladder putting it up.

Think once we had a Lynda writing in before, but have a feeling this Lynda is a newcomer to this site, so very welcome (or welcome back). Perhaps when it comes to thrift there is also a north-south divide. In the north it was traditional, and even now believed (and probably is still true) that northerners are tight-fisted when it comes to money, and nothing gets thrown away if it has a second use. Rag rugs made from strips of old material, patchwork cushions and quilts ditto, and no left-over food is ever binned, all turned into another very tasty dish (or two). Very sensible.

Being born in the Midlands, and living there for about half my life in one town or another, was piggy in the middle when it came to the north-south attitude, although it was probably being World War II rationing of just about everything (clothes, food etc) that brought the nation to the same level of thrift, and have a feeling those 'up north' probably found this a great deal easier to cope with that those 'darn south'. After the rationing was over, possibly the south went back to their wasteful ways, while the north still kept up the old traditions.

Oddly though, in some of the glossy household mags there are many items on sale made from 'seconds'. Although perhaps the fact these are now counted as 'craftwork' sold as a 'cottage industry' and sold at a high price allows these to be present in the homes of those who live in the 'higher bracket' areas of the country. If you can afford to buy then this makes it OK. The rest of us have to make do with making our own (which is exactly the same thing but for little or no cost). Proving that however 'poor' we are, we can still live like the nobs.

It is even becoming fashionable to buy secondhand clothes from charity shops these days. Although perhaps in the south these clothes may have designer labels, bought for possibly hundreds of pounds by someone who loves to shop but ends up with wardrobes of clothes never worn (or really wanted) and then given to a charity shop, so maybe clothes and handbags etc bought very cheaply indeed can be passed off as something bought from a top shop.

The danger with passing on part-worn 'southern' clothes to charity is that if anyone is 'thrifty' enough to buy one, she might find that a neighbour recognises it as being one of hers she 'threw out' a few weeks earlier. This has happened, and in the north it would be cause for a laugh, but in the south - oh, the shame of it!

Mind you, having watched many repeats of 'The Darling Buds of May' it is nice to believe that even in the 'deep south' (Kent), the frugal way of living still lives on (but then that was supposed to be 'then' - just after the war - and not 'now').
Dare I say that even 'now', there is still a divide when it comes to class. Both the poor and the wealthy (those living in mansions and stately homes) 'make do' in exactly the same way, and it is the middle class who are the snobs and won't have anything to do with worn-outs or secondhands.
I've been lucky enough to be 'entertained' in many mini-stately homes (due to me being a good bridge player, so all doors are then opened to me), and really do know how the owners have to scrimp and save to keep the roof over their heads (the maintenance of the huge houses takes all and more of their money). I've even been asked round for morning coffee/tea (where they use their tea-bags twice and put the surplus hot water from the kettle into thermos flasks to save money - and not ashamed of admitting it), and noticed when dressing casually, they darn the holes in their (admittedly pure wool) jumpers, and stitch leather patches over the holes in tweed elbows, and leather trims around the cuffs. Carpets of course are threadbare in patches, and cushions are usually hand-embroidered, patchwork or knitted/crocheted. Painted walls desperately need redecorating and during the winter months most rooms are freezing because they can't afford to have central heating on. A log fire is probably the best they can manage, and only in one room at a time.
Today the working class have a much better standard of living. Or at least they could if they spent their money more wisely. Yet they still feel as though they are deprived of something. Just shows how life has changed even during the last century. Life is what we make it, and if we want something badly enough, there is usually a way to achieve most of it. We just have to put in a little effort to get it, not expect it to be handed to us on a plate (then grumble because our plate has not been piled as high as we wish).

Don't know what's got into me at the moment. Maybe it is the dreary weather that is making me feel so gloomy about 'the state of things'. Early summer and it is far worse than any day last winter what with the rain and cold and winds we are having at the moment. Seems it's going to be one of those years when it could stay like this most of the time, but on the other hand it may swing round and we get a few weeks of much better weather, warm, dry and with the barest of breezes. We can only hope.
No point at the moment in buying bedding plants or even growing any veggies outside for doubt they would last out. Think my tomato plants will have to remain in the conservatory from now on. Maybe other parts of the country are getting better than the north west, and let us hope so.

Have got myself into 'fed-up' mode, so think I'd be better off going into the kitchen and vent my spleen on the ganache, whipping it up to a bigger and softer volume. Then start the cheesecake. If that works out OK I'll be smiling again ready to sit in my chair and watch 'Instant Restaurant' in the hope of seeing other domestic cooks get it all wrong.

Tonight B is out, so I can watch what I want, and also will enjoy having a naughty nibble at some snacks (why should he get all the treats). Tomorrow is the RNLI 'do' at the social, but this I won't be going (the talk is always about boats, sailing etc. Boring, boring, boring!!!). Maybe another time (they are planning a cookery demo later in the year - sort of a type of Tupperware party - that is one I will hope to see).

So a farewell from me until I return again tomorrow, hopefully in a better frame of mind. Hope to see you then.