Saturday, June 09, 2012

Always Learning

Further to yesterday's mention of cooking the minced beef in the slow cooker instead of on the hob. When I went to the crock-pot to remove the mince discovered the meat had absorbed all the liquid and had set to almost a 'jelly' with a very thin layer of fat on top. This made the meat far moister than if I had fried it off in the normal way.

Decided to begin by making chilli with the cooked mince, so removed a quarter, put this into a pan with a large onion that had been chopped, the fried it for a few minutes (using its own fat from the top of the meat) before adding a can of chopped tomatoes plus one (rinsed) can of water and a packet of Beanfeast Mexican Chilli, and a bit more chilli sauce 'mix'. When thickened, added a can of red beans. Together these made a HUGE panful, so was able to pack up six individual tubs of chilli con carne ready to reheat in the microwave.
Half of the remaining minced beef was made up with finely chopped and sauteed onion, carrot, celery and mushrooms, plus a can of chopped tomatoes and a packet of Beanfeast Spaghetti Bolognaise Mix. Again a huge panful, and a further 6 packs of spag bol meat sauce to freeze away (can the be used to stuff cannelloni tubes, layer between sheets of lasagne, or served with pasta as a meat sauce in the normal way).
The remaining cooked meat has been frozen in a couple of tubs ready to make up into Cottage Pies or as fillings for pasties etc.

Cooking the mince in the slow cooker certainly took HOURS off the cooking time had I made the dishes in the normal way (by 'cooking time' I mean the time I spend over the hob giving a stir etc), as the meat did take four hours to cook but this all without any need of me hovering over it.

Yesterday also baked another loaf. This time a 'crusty white', and the only thing about home-baked bread is that the bread tends to dry out sooner than a bought 'pappy' one, and although the crumb is still usable, the end crust has got beyond our elderly teeth managing to crunch through it.
So instead of making the mix with water (as per instructions) this time made it up with three-quarters milk and one-quarter water (mainly because I had a carton of UHT milk needing using up, and also thought I'd try making a 'milk loaf').
Discovered this morning that at least a quarter of the loaf had already been eaten (by B, after his return from the sailing 'social' and this after I had gone to bed), so cut myself a thin slice to try it (with butter and jam. Naughty!). Certainly the crust was much softer, and the slices of bread tasted much nicer - having a bit more 'body' than the 'ordinary' - and was also moister. So was well pleased.
So that's two things learned these last couple of days. Always cook minced meat in a slow-cooker, and make a bread mix up with all - or at least some - milk. What else can I learn today?

Almost have made a start as getting up early decided to weigh out a dozen bags of caster sugar ready to use when I next bake cakes/biscuits etc. Didn't take much time at all to do this, so carried on weighing out 12 x 4oz bags of self-raising flour and making up 12 x 40z packs of Stork marg. Now it will take me no time at all to make a cake as all 'the basics' have been pre-weighed.

Discovered that 4 heaped tablespoons of caster sugar weighed exactly 4 oz (granulated sugar, flour etc can vary in the amount of spoonfuls needed to reach this weight). Reminded me of my mother who could make a cake without needing any scales. Most cooks in the old days used to 'measure' by spoonfuls and could remember how many were needed of each and every ingredient when baking. Probably the reason why few households owned a cook-book. There was no need. Recipes were handed down from mother to daughter, both verbally and learning by watching, and often favourite recipes were jotted down in notebooks to hand on from generation to generation. Far easier than the continual search through books and mags to find a recipe we would like to make (and then find out we don't have all the ingredients or it costs too much).

Peering out of the window (peering under the roller blind pulled down yesterday to keep the sun from my eyes and not rolled up again), I see it is raining. Well, it would wouldn't it? Today being the day we have our 'Barefest'. Although Bare is just a 'suburb' of Morecambe, it was originally a village and some years ago wanted 'independence', so we now have our own 'Mayor' and today is the annual 'change-over' from last year's Mayor (the local pharmacist) to the new one. From mid-day onwards the main road through our 'village' will be closed until 4.00pm and there will be bands, processions and the lower 'Crescent' (our shopping area) will be full of stalls placed in front of the shops selling just about everything we can think of (proceeds to their chosen charities). There will be a Hog Roast on the tiny 'village green', and lots and lots of people milling around.
The last two times I've ventured out to see 'the goings on', found it impossible to move along the pavement and even reach any stalls because there were so many people, mostly just standing blocking my way. Did scoot along the road, but still couldn't get onto the pavement to look at the stalls, so gave it up and went home. Today think I'll stay at home as 'been there, done that', but for everyone else's sake, do hope the rain stops before the processions begin.
B will be on one of the stalls run by the RNLI, so for his sake hope the weather improves, even though the stall may have some overhead covering.

Had a call yesterday from B's social 'catering committee' member. Thanked me for the food I'd sent for the Jubilee street-party (held in the club house because of the rain and wind), and I've been asked if I could make more cakes for another 'sailing weekend' arranged for later this month. They seem now to be having a 'foodie day at least once a month, sometimes twice, and this is really great as now I 'have a reason to be', and finding so much pleasure 'cooking for numbers' again.
As I won't know until a few days before the arranged date what numbers will be catered for, will almost certainly make a start this week, baking gingerbread etc, as this improves with keeping, so the more that I can make in advance, the less work done on the day. Have been asked to make more scones (as the last were so good) and these will have to be made fresh on the day of eating, so anything else that can be made in advance is always a good idea. These could be just flat sponge cakes to freeze (then when thawed roll up with cream/jam or lemon curd as a Swiss roll, or Flapjacks. Or even Brownies. Will have to wait and see what 'madam' requires. Anything made prior to her call that won't be needed will not be wasted as B will work his way through the lot in a very short time I am sure. Suddenly my life has made a U turn from worse to better. Said it would, didn't I?

Interesting what you wrote about cookery qualifications Lisa. Almost certainly having these always helps when seeking work, especially when moving away from home to a large city.
Am sure all readers best wishes go to your daughter in her choice of profession, and am sure she will make a great success of it.
When reading about that 'Indian Place' I got all excited as very interested in the Indian culture. By this I mean the Red Indians (as they used to be called - and have many books on this). Now of course we have to be PC and call them 'Native Americans'.
Then realised that perhaps the 'Indian Place' was what we call a 'curry house'. In the UK almost all of these are owned and run by Pakistanis (almost the same as 'Indian' but not quite). For that matter are there any diners or eating houses that cook/sell food that is traditionally Native American?

There are times when I feel very ashamed of belonging to a nation that spread itself across the world, entering countries that 'belonged' to the 'natives', and just took them over. We did that in Australia (the Aborigines pushed to one side), in New Zealand (where the Maoris did come out of it a bit better), South Africa - not good there until apartheid and still not as good as it could be), even the United States of America - the Red Indians (as called then) almost wiped out and then shoved into 'reservations'.
India probably came out best of all as when the English moved in (mainly for trade purposes), they dug their toes in at being taken over completely and eventually (around the time of Gandhi) managed to get the country back and seemingly have managed to run it successfully every since.

Suppose all these 'take-overs' of countries etc are mainly to do with a country's resources. If there is gold, silver, diamonds etc, then a bigger country will move in to reap the profits. Even today it is very noticeable that the bigger countries (America in particular) has no interest at all in distant warring countries/tribes unless they have oil and then it's a different matter. Would we have bothered with Iraq if it didn't have oil? The excuse was the way Saddam Hussein treated the people, but other countries (that have no oil) treat theirs far worse and get little or no attention.
Certainly today we do have 'peace keepers' but even they can't always keep the peace. Charities help by flying in food to starving millions and all to often much of this is hi-jacked by militant soldiers before it reaches the people.
There are nations in Africa (and perhaps other areas of the world) where the 'heads of state' (presidents or even kings), rake in all the money, mostly for their own use, and live opulent lives while their people live in sheer poverty. It takes a war to get people to pull together, and the only way this would happen globally is if we had an invasion of aliens in their UFO's. If this ever does happen, then we have to pray they are friendly and come in peace.

Mind you, if I was an alien I would fall in love with the Earth (as a planet) , and wipe out all the people and start all over again. Maybe this is how we began. Will we ever know?

Obviously one of my 'deep in thought' days, and there was me all bright and happy thinking 'cakes'. It was the mention of ''Indians' that got my little grey cells whirring around. As always I speak as I feel and this is not necessarily accurate. No doubt someone will put me back in my place.
Best reply to the second comment that came in.

Think the cook you were referring to was Nigella, Campfire. Do agree that Rachel Koo (of the Little Paris Kitchen) is how a 'real' cook should be. She cooks from scratch in the tiniest kitchen I've ever seen (this being one end of her bed-sit room), and her utensils are 'used', not the brand new as normally seen in cookery progs. Mind you, when I see her using her favourite bowl where the enamel layer has worn away at the edges, am surprised they allowed that to be used on TV.
When I did my own series was not allowed to use any of my own pots and pans (because they looked 'used') and everything was supplied my some manufacturer or another). Was not allowed to keep any, although have to say that was able to keep the (provided) brand new cooker (with double oven) because the name was visible and used regularly, so it was 'good advertising'. Was later given a microwave oven for the same reason (not then on TV but lots of 'kitchen shots' in mags).

Sometimes now we can see a 'used' pot or pan, usually in a Hairy Biker's type of programme. This certainly makes me feel better because it makes cooking seem at a more 'domestic' level, and one I can relate to.
Watched the final of Great British Menu last night, and for once wished I could have a taste of all that was served. Everyone raved over the dishes, so they must have been mega-special. Not sure that filling glass domes with smoke, or spraying the air over the tables with a scent of roast chicken was absolutely necessary, but whatever adds to the ambiance I suppose...

A couple or so recipes to have a think about. The first makes good use of those broken tortilla chips that end up in the bottom of the bag (keep storing these in a jar then it save you having to crush whole ones). You could use crushed chicken, cheese 'n onion, bacon or chilli flavoured potato crisps if you prefer.
For even more economy, if the chicken breasts are lovely and plump, then probably one would serve two (just slice in half, then bash to make each half thinner, or cut through lengthwise), otherwise use the recipe as given.

Roast Chicken Nachos: serves 4
1 oz (25g) tortilla chips, crushed
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (see above)
salt and pepper
7 oz (200g) tub spicy tomato salsa
5 fl oz (150ml) soured cream or creme fraiche
handful grated Cheddar cheese
Place the chicken breasts on a non-stick (or lightly greased) baking tray, season to taste then slash partly through in three places with a sharp knife. Spoon a tablespoon each of salsa and sour cream over each breast, then top with crushed tortilla chips and finally the cheese.
Place in the oven pre-heated to 200C, 400F, gas 6 and roast for 15 - 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked and the topping melted and golden. Serve with a crisp green salad.

Second recipe is for a chicken and veg. pie. With economy always in mind, suggest we use the cooked chicken 'scraps' we peel from the bones after making chicken stock, and the vegetables can be any assortment that you have (and that would complement this dish), those given are just a suggestion (could also use broccoli florets, chopped carrots, green beans, potatoes....).
When changing ingredients, always remember it is the total weight of those used (in this case to fill the pie), that matters when following a recipe. Use less and it will feed less, use more and you get an extra serving.

Chicken and Vegetable Pie: serves 6
2 oz (50g) butter
1 onion, finely chopped
3 oz (75g) mushrooms, finely sliced
2 oz (50g) plain flour
14 fl oz (400ml) chicken stock
14 fl oz (400ml) warm milk
salt and pepper
half tsp mustard powder (or 1 tsp made mustard)
1 bay leaf
9 oz (250g) cooked chicken, cut into small pieces
7 oz (200g) mixed veg (sweetcorn, peas, peppers etc)
1 lb (500g) ready-made shortcrust pastry
beaten egg or milk for glazing
Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat and fry the onion for 5 minutes then add the mushroom. Stir-fry for a few minutes until both are almost cooked, then stir in the flour until all gathered together (into a bit of a sticky mess). Cook for 2 minutes (this 'cooks out' the taste of the flour), then slowly add the warm milk and stock, and keep stirring until it begins to thicken. Add seasoning to taste, the mustard and bay leaf, and keep stirring otherwise the sauce will become 'lumpy'. When thickened, fold in the chicken and vegetables, then remove from heat and spoon the mixture into a pie dish.
Roll out the pastry on a floured board (also flour the rolling pin), and roll until slightly larger than the top of the pie dish. Wet the rim of the pie dish then carefully place the pastry over the filling and press the pastry onto the wetted rim. Trim off any overhanging pieces of pastry and press the outside rim with fingers or a fork to seal it more firmly (this also looks prettier).
If you wish use the oddments of pastry to make leaves to place on top of the pie.
Brush the top with egg or milk and make a small hole in the centre to allow steam to escape. Bake a 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25 - 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Serve hot.

Before I leave you today, must mention that I noticed Jimmy's Free Range sausages are already being sold by Tesco so ordered a pack. When we have tried them will let you know what they taste like (am really hoping they are worth buying as they are much cheaper than some of the branded sausages on sale, and not much dearer than Tesco's own Value sausages). The more people that buy Jimmy's 'free range' (low cost) meat products the better quality meat we will be getting for our money.

The rain has now stopped, so hopefully it will be a dry (but still cloudy) day for the Barefest. Apparently this is turning out to be the coldest June on record. No surprise there. Over the country we have now had so much rain that the hosepipe bans are now being lifted.

As a nation we do tend to worry to much before the event. Look at the tanker drivers strike expected some weeks ago now that never happened. Everyone panicking and filling up with petrol at inflated prices to make sure they had some, and all the time no need, they decided not to strike at all.

Expecting Britain to have a drought that could last 12 months is only in fantasy land. We always seem to get far more rain than other countries(especially here in the North West, and of course Ireland) ignoring those with their annual monsoons of course. Yet we still don't seem to be able to 'save' any of our rainfall in larger reservoirs to see us through a few weeks of nothing but sunshine (or a winter without snow). In my young days we had severe winters with weeks and weeks of snow and frost (and how I loved watching those big flakes of snow fall), and summers that were lovely and warm but not too hot (and we could plan picnics a week or so ahead and know it would be fine), and our weather seemed then to be as accurate as the old saying: January snow, February 'fill dyke', March winds, April showers, June roses (that's all I can remember), also 'neer cast a clout till May be out (although we were never sure whether that meant the month of May or the 'May' (hawthorn) blossom.
There were other sayings: May comes in like a lion it goes out like a lamb (and vice versa), and something about 'if the oak comes out before the ash, the summer will be a regular splash, if the ash comes out before the oak, the summer will be a regular soak'. All so true THEN, but seemingly not any more. We just don't know what to expect from one day to the next. We just have to wait and see. And hope for the best. Which this year doesn't seem to want to happen at all.

Oh dear, is that a gloomy mood taking me over again? Not really, just my usual 'rambling', but tme is moving fast, B will be out shortly at the RNLI stand, and soon after that my Tesco groceries will be delivered and I will spend a happy hour putting it all away. B may not even want much supper if he has managed to have a Hog Roast Butty or two.
This means time for me to love you and leave you and hope to meet up with you all again tomorrow. Have a good day.