Thursday, May 24, 2012

'Weather or Not?"

It's quite true about the British weather. We can never be sure what the day will turn out to be when it comes to sun, rain or storms. Take yesterday, we expected a really hot day over the UK, and most of it was like that, but not here in Morecambe. Admittedly, when I went and sat outside for an hour waiting for my cake to bake, I was sitting on the bench sheltered from a rather cool 'off shore' breeze, and it was warm, however thin wispy clouds kept appearing and after I had returned to the kitchen the sun didn't shine quite so brightly, and then stopped shining altogether. When B returned at 1.30 (from his stint at the RNLI shop), he said he couldn't believe the sunshine here at the east end of Morecambe. The shop had been in fairly thick sea-mist all morning and it was so chilly B had to wear his coat in the shop. Now the shop is very close to the Midland Hotel, about a couple of miles from where we live, so maybe after all I was lucky to get any sun at all. Also the life-boat was called out whilst B was there, so someone had been out and got into difficulties.

This morning it is again dull, but with the sun again expected to 'burn off' the cloud, and again fairly warm (but not quite as warm as yesterday). We are several degrees cooler here in the north west of England against the London and other southern areas. It is strange how the temperature can be so different in places around the UK considering what a small area of land compared to say Texas in the US where I bet the weather is pretty constant over the whole of the state. Do know they have a lot of wind if watching Dallas was anything to go by.

A couple of comments from an Anonymous (one sent via a much earlier comment box), but believe each from a different one, so a welcome to both. If either write again, please give a name or some word to recognise you by as I like to feel I give a personal reply to a person I can 'visualise'. Replying to an 'anonymous' is like speaking to a person wearing a paper bag over their face.
A welcome also to Anne H. and thank you for giving your name. Hope you enjoy this blog and hope you will send in more comments from time to time (or even more often than that).

Pleased to hear that West Yorkshire had good weather yesterday, and that you really enjoyed your sit in the sun Jane. Myself always prefer an early start to the day, and when a few years younger always tried to get up at almost first light during the summer months (which could be around 4.00am), and do remember on hot summer that seemed to last several weeks when I would get myself an early morning coffee, take it outside and sit in the garden listening to the dawn chorus, the buzzing of the bees and also seeing other wildlife. Even the flowers seemed to be more scented at that time of day. Around 7.00am all the natural sounds ceased and then came the bleep, bleep of car alarms (no break-ins but people leaving for work and not switching off the alarm as quickly as they should), then the sound of cars driving around and - well, sort of 'civilisation' making itself known.

When our children were smaller - and even when almost up to teenagers, they would always wake early, around 6.00am, so we never had the problem of over-sleeping at our house. Possibly this was due to the fact we had no TV or computers, so children went to bed a lot earlier than they seem to do today. Seven pm was bed-time for the pre-school age, then it increased by either 15 mins or half an hour each birthday, but they were all expected to be in bed by 9.00pm until well into their teens. Have to say this was not a burden to them for they had such an active life outdoors they were dead tired when they came in, had their early supper, then later a warm bath and bed (plus bed-time story for the small fry - the older ones used to read their own books in bed).

How pleasing it was to read about your 'perfick' day Kathryn. For I know just how you felt. There is something quite magical happens when we start to become self-sufficient and thrifty and discover how 'perfick' life can be when opting out of the 'rat-race' of today's world. Sometimes it may seem harder work to 'work at home keeping the wolf from the door, than for those who sit behind desks all day, but the benefits we gain make it all worth while.

Am hoping that again will be able to bring some of this 'magic' back into my life for I've got so accustomed to 'making do' that it doesn't seem to please me as much as it should. Suppose I've taken this life-style now for granted. Luckily (or not according to how you look at it), yesterday got my gas bill for the last quarter. As you know the weather has been unseasonably cold, so we had the central heating on (normally this would be switched off at the end of April). Despite the fact we had a small credit from the previous quarter, we now owe British Gas money, so - as always - they up the direct debit to cover the excess and now the d.d. has risen a further £20 a month! If we do get a long, hot summer, and warm autumn, then hopefully this will be able to be reduced again next spring. Having said that, they did reduce it quite a lot some months ago (not sure for what reason), so if my memory serves me right, we are still paying slightly less than a year (or so) previously.

Even so - we haven't yet had the electricity bill (this may come this week), so if that has gone up as well, then belt-tightening really will have to start again. Even though food is still easy enough to keep within (food) budget, am not getting so many purchases for the same amount of money (even when buying mainly bogofs and reduced prices), so this will mean giving a little more thought into the dishes I make from now on. And of course, you know this is something I really DO enjoy.

Due to the new 'caring' system with egg-laying birds, this has now brought the price of those cheap 'value' eggs (recently working out at 8p each) up to 14p each - almost double in price. And that's just the start. Just about EVERYTHING is going up in price.

Checking (for interest) noticed that Tesco are selling Heinz beans in single cans, in packs of four and in packs of 6 (all cans the same weight). We would expect the packs to work out cheaper per can, but this wasn't the case. The single tins - not on offer - were the cheapest. So always worth checking the price (per 100g etc) in both bulk packs and 'singles' (whatever food it is, canned, packet or fresh) before the final purchase is made.

You certainly have been busy in the garden again Lisa. Is this a personal thing, or is Missouri a state that encourages 'growing your own'? Although I can only go on TV films, it does seem that American gardens don't have that many flowers, and hardly seem to grow any vegetables. Plenty of open fronts with a shrub or two and water-sprinklers to keep the grass green. Obviously in rural areas people do grow more produce, but very little of this is shown on TV, can't even remember The Walton's or Little House on the Prairie having much more than a fruit tree, or hens.

Watched the repeat of 'Superscrimpers' yesterday and again was amazed at the way people just wasted their money and couldn't see what they were doing (especially when they needed to save). 'Mrs Moneypenny' did her usual "go for a week without spending any money at all" challenge to the couple, and of course they were able to survive on what they had (including food they already had) without feeling THAT deprived. So this is a good challenge for each and every one of us, just don't spend any money for a week. Am sure most of us could do this easily, although probably we would have to allow some money for public transport to get to and from work. Or maybe cycle there and back?

Beloved went to have his medical MOT with the doctor the other day and was told he was most unsual in that he was the very few at his age who was in no need of medication whatsoever. Myself like to believe this is due to having a life-time of eating home-cooked foods with very few of the 'readies' being eaten. Not bad either considering (as I keep saying) the amount of butter and home-made beef dripping, double cream, bacon and cheese, loadsa meat, and all the other 'naughties' that B eats (and often double-sized portions) that the medical profession say is bad for us. But as I keep saying, if these are 'natural' foods, then what is so wrong about eating them?Or is he just lucky?

Yesterday filled six cannelloni tubes with home-made spag.bol meat sauce, and instead of using tomato passata to pour over and then top with a cheese sauce, instead stirred a tablespoon of tomato paste/puree (left-over decanted from a small can), with half a tub of creme fraiche. This made a lovely creamy tomato flavoured 'dip'/sauce, and so spooned half in a dish, laid the filled pasta tubes on top, spooned the rest of the sauce over, and topped with a good layer of (previously) grated cheese. Once the pasta was filled, a very speedy dish to put together.
For 'afters' B had one of three individual trifles made with some left-over trifle sponges (found in the larder), an orange jelly with sliced banana, and this was topped with the end of the EasyYo mango yogurt and then cream poured over.
For one of his 'snacks' he later had some pikelets/crumpets spread liberally with butter. Then ate something else later but I know not what.

During the day made a very successful ginger cake from my own 'easy' recipe (for my new site, so you will have to wait for that), and today am 'experimenting' again with other 'bakes'. Also need to bake another (and extended) loaf, then revue my larder and fridge/freezer contents to see what can be used up (to save further purchases) and also what needs to be replaced (but only when on offer.

Am now regularly wearing my big linen apron because this has a huge pocket at the front (that says "Never Trust a Thin Cook" across the pocket-top. In the pocket I now always carry a note-book and pen so I can immediately write down ingredients that need replacing. Also in the pocket carry a small pair of scissors and my mobile phone. The pocket is also useful for holding certain things that need to be carried (but won't drip etc), from room to room when both my hands are full (like when holding a walkng stick in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other). This does make me feel (and probably look) like a kangaroo with a heavy 'joey' in its pocket, but have to say an apron with a big pocket is the most useful thing a cook can wear.
If you have aprons without pockets, then always worth finding a bit of material (and it doesn't HAVE to match) and sew on a pocket (or even two).

Was watching Great British Menu last night (nothing else that B wanted to watch at that time for once), and had a bit of a smug feel when the sous-vide cooked meat got a thumbs down again. If a top chef can't get it right, then what hope do we have? Nothing wrong with the tenderness of the meat of course, it is the flavour (that roasting gives) it lacks This has been mentioned before by the judges.
Being a traditional sort of 'gal', then am quite happy to continue cooking in 'conventional' way, so please no-one write in and suggest otherwise.

Quite an interesting day for me when it came to TV cookery progs. Even though my day was fairly busy with cooking (and also sitting in the sun) managed to watch a channel 5 prog on Mexican cookery (wasn't THAT tempted), Superscrimpers, a bit of River Cottage, and Hairy Biker's who were doing slow-cooking (the trad way), and their mention of 'feather blade' of beef was a new cut to me. Must see if our butcher sells that by name. In the evening watched Great British Menu.
Whether I like or dislike a cookery prog. there is usually something new to learn with each, even Superscrimpers sometimes comes up with something I haven't yet tried (although not very often as there is very little new these days that has not been done on a regular basis by us 'old folk').

There are very few (if any) really 'new' recipes these days, for - as I keep saying - what we see is usually a variation on a 'classic', and the amount of variations and adaptations today it is very difficult to know what the original was like.
So, in a way the recipe that follows is yet another 'adaptation', although it is more a different way to use bread dough than an actual 'recipe'. Anyone who has followed my suggestion of adding half as much again strong bread flour to an already bought bread mix (plus half as much again of water) will already have proved to themselves that this way they can make an extra loaf of bread for around 10p (if using a store's own-brand bread flour).
The next time you make a loaf from a mix, by adding the extra flour/water you should have enough dough to make a plain loaf plus these cheese 'n nut rolls, ideally made with blue cheese, but any mixture of hard cheeses can be used - some blue cheese if possible as it adds extra flavour.
(the above reminds me - when I recently made a cheese quiche, included the last bit of 'cheddar with pickled onion' that I grated along with normal cheddar and this gave a lovely 'tang' to the filling). If you don't have a bread mix, then use the recipe as given.
A variation (although I haven't tried this myself -yet), could be spreading the rolled dough lightly with a bit of Marmite before adding the cheese.
Cheese 'n Nut Pinwheels: makes 8
1 batch (500g) bread dough
4 oz (100g) walnuts, finely chopped
8 oz (225g) blue cheese, crumbled
2 medium eggs, beaten
Make the bread dough in the usual way, leaving it to rise in a covered bowl in a warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled in bulk, then knock back, knead in the walnuts, then place back in the bowl to rise again for about half an hour before tipping onto a floured board.
Roll the dough out into a rectangle approx (50cm x 20cm x 2cm thick). Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the dough and lightly press in using a rolling pin. With the wide side towards you, roll up like a Swiss Roll, then cut this 'sausage' into 8 equal slices and place on a lightly greased baking sheet, flat/cut side down. Cover loosely with cling-film and leave again to rise for one hour.
Brush each round with beaten egg and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 20 - 25 minuts until risen and golden. Leave to cool slightly before eating (these are best eaten warm with either a bowl of soup, or with a cool and crispy salad with apple.

In a recent 'Instant Restaurant' one of the 'home-chefs' served a risotto made with pearl barley, and this didn't go down well with guests. Have to say it wasn't cooked or presented well, so that is probably the reason. Myself find pearl barley a very economical grain and with its quite 'nutty' flavour I often prefer to use it instead of rice. So here are two very reasonably priced dishes that are made with this grain. The first recipe cooked on the hob (and more colour and flavour can be added to this dish by including some canned sweetcorn kernels or diced red bell pepper, frozen (thawed) peas etc, and these should be added towards the end of the cooking time).'
The second recipe is cooked in the oven, so after the initial start, then no need to stand over it and keep stirring...
If you feel like making on or t'other (or both), let me kow what you think of the result/s.
Barley and Carrot Risotto: serves 4- 6
2.5 pints (1.5 litrs) hot vegetable stock
1 onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 tblsp sunflower or olive oil
10 oz (300g) pearl barley
1 - 2 tblsp chopped flat-leaf parsley (opt)
salt and pepper
grated Parmesan cheese for serving
Put stock on to heat, and in a separate pan put the onion, carrots and oil and cook ('sweat' or 'saute') for 3 - 5 minutes until softened. Stir in the barley and cook for a further minute so that the grains become coated with the oil.
Add two ladles of simmering stock to the barley/veg and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding a ladle of stock and cook/stir, adding another ladle of stock as the last is absorbed. After about 30 - 40 minutes the barley should have become tender and most (if not all) the stock has been used/absorbed. Add seasoning to taste. Stir in the parsley (if using) and serve immediately with the cheese scattered on top.

Butternut Risotto with Herby 'rooms': serves 4
4 large flat field or portobello mushrooms
sunflower or olive oil
1 oz (25g) butter, softened
water or stock
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tblsp chopped fresh thyme (pref lemon thyme)
1.5 pints (900ml) hot vegetable or chicken stock
1 onion, finely chopped
1 lb (500g) butternut squash, peeled and diced
9 oz (250g) risotto (arborio) rice
4 fl oz (100ml) white wine
1 oz (25g) Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper
Brush the mushrooms on both sides with the oil and place on a baking tray, gills side up. Mash half the butter with the garlic, parsley and thyme, then put a blob in the centre of each mushroom. Pour 2 tsp of water (or stock) over each, then cover with foil and set aside.
Melt the remaining butter in a flame-proof casserole, the add the onions and cook for a few minutes until beginning to soften, then stir in the butternut and 3 tblsp of the stock. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, then add the rice and wine. Raise the heat and cook until the wine has evaporated, then add the rest of the stock, bring to the boil then remove the casserole to the oven, but leave uncovered. Put the tray of mushrooms on the shelf above and then cook both at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 10 minutes. Remove foil from mushrooms and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until both mushrooms and rice are tender. Stir the grated cheese and remaining herbs into the risotto and season to taste. Divide between individual serving bowls and top each with a mushroom. Serve immediately.

Think I've forgotten to reply to one comment. Do hope you have a lovely holiday in Bulgaria Sarina, and if you get the chance to sample 'local cuisine' do let me know what this is like. You maybe will discover some new dishes as most of the time all we seem to hear about in any quantity are the French and Italian, Spanish and Greek, and some German. The Hairy Bikers' did do a trip around part of Europe, but mostly this seemed about baked goods - mainnly bread. European countries MUST have some wonderful dishes that we have yet to become familiar with.

The sun is now trying to break through, so am hoping it will warm up enough for me to have another sit down outside for an hour. Even in that short time yesterday my arms gained quite a tan and do need to absorb as much Vit. D as possible from the sun's rays to keep me healthy through next winter.

With plenty of kitchen and culinary work for me to do today, really must love you and leave you again, but of course already lookng forward to tomorrow morning when I'll be back again in this chair chatting my little socks off as per usual. See you then.
p.s. spellcheck suddenly switched off half-way through editing and having already seen some letters needed altering, didn't get to them in time to remember where they were and now can't be bothered to find them. Apologies for any errors.