Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Double Checking

As such a glorious day yesterday, spent most of the morning and part of the early afternoon outdoors sitting in the sun. Have to make the most of it while we have it. Today is said to be even warmer, but although the sun is trying to shine, too many clouds today for my liking (no clouds at all yesterday). Also the wind has got up again, but think I can brave the wind if the sun is warm enough. This means another 'sit-out' and am taking this as my 'holiday' (as it is the only one I get).

At least with more footie on during the evenings this week (two matches each and every day it seems) can spend some of that time in the kitchen making the cakes for the weekend (if only someone would phone and let me know what they want). If I don't hear will still make 'keeping' cakes and hope that some of these can be used. Although I don't mind making cakes at the last minute, do like to know in advance so I can plan my time (and make sure I have all the necessary ingredients).
This coming Friday may be 'tight' on time when it comes to cooking as this is the day the Olympic torch is carried along our prom, although have a feeling it is more likely to be in a van than on foot as it has to go some distance in a short time. However, if the weather is fine will go with Norris to see the event. The rest of the weekend is then taken over to 'velocity' events in Morecambe (all to do with sporting events including sailing - B will be involved with those), hence the need for cakes for two days to feed the shivering sailors (as no doubt the weather will have changed to wet and cold by then).

Interesting comments sent in by gillibob and jane mentioning the way their supermarket's offers are not all they seem. it really is necessary for us to double check prices before we buy. Most people don't and suppose this is why the supermarkets get away with it, stick on a 'reduced' label and we rush to buy without considering if we could get more for our money buying at 'normal' price.
Have not yet managed to sort out the price comparison website mentioned. Do know that it shows where the cheapest (of the same) can be bought, but this seems to imply having to shop in several stores to gain the benefit. As I shop on-line I tend to scroll down (often several pages) to find out the best value of the product I am looking for. This can be either a different brand (than I might normally buy), or a different size container. It's surprising (or maybe not) how Nescafe (instant -per 100g) different sized jars can vary in price over a short period of time, and the best way to check one against another is to compare the price 'per 100g' (this normally shown against each item on the website and in-store on the shelf label). Sometimes it is better value buying coffee in 200g jars rather than 300g, other times the other way round. Especially useful checking 'price per 100g' when fresh food is sold in portion-packs and not by weight.

Was rather pleased to read that both minimiser deb and Sarina gain weight when eating too much (home-made) bread. Makes my weight gain now have a solid reason. All carobs seem to stay on my hips, and by now should have realised that it is just not worth eating what really is not good for me. Interesting too that gluten can cause problems with arthritis. Am now giving up bread (and other carbos) and am hoping that my aches and pains will lessen because of it.

Don't fret about writing long comments Lisa, as your way of life over the pond makes fascinating reading to us UK readers as often it is quite different to ours. Even your garden crops are miles ahead of ours, so far the only thing ready to pick here in our garden is rhubarb, although we will be having a good crop of red-currants once they have ripened (and the birds don't strip the bush).
It's just been too cold for anything to grow this year, so apart from a couple of tomato plants (these will now be hardened off outside), will have very little to harvest other than the mixed salad leaves growing on the conservatory windowsill, plus a few different herbs also growing there. Might get a late crop of peas and beans if I sow the seeds now (and the mice don't eat them).

Raspberries are always worth growing, just a few canes will - over a couple or so years - spread to double or treble the amount, and continue to do so. Any planted this year will not grow fruit, but next year should produce a good crop. They seem to grow happiest in fairly cool conditions, enjoying the morning sun, but in the shade for the hottest part of the day. The best raspberries grown in the UK are grown in Scotland. Being a 'juicy' fruit, they do need to be kept watered (not difficult in this country with all our rain - this year our red-currants are almost the size of small grapes!).

Now time to chat about cooking, and one of the cheapest 'joints' of meat we can buy is still pork belly. A lot of people think this is not worth buying as it looks very 'fatty'. It certainly does have quite a bit of fat, and when cured and/or smoked is then sliced and sold as streaky bacon (which of course we eat with relish so no reason not to eat it when cooked another way).
When cooked slowly, belly pork is absolutely wonderful (B adores it), and a little goes a long way. I buy one large piece (cheap enough) and then cut it in half so can cook one, freeze one.

Belly pork needs slow roasting to become meltingly tender, and it has to be roasted, not slow-cooked in a crock-pot. Once cooked it can be served as normal pork (with the skin turned to 'crackling') or can be used for the following recipe. Ask the butcher for the thin end of belly pork for this dish, and get him to score the skin for you.
Crispy Oriental Pork: serves 4
3 lb (1.3kg) boned belly pork (see above)
2 tsp five spice powder
2 tsp rock or sea salt
4 tblsp soy sauce
thumb length piece fresh root ginger, grated
1 tblsp Thai sweet chilli sauce
2 tblsp water
1 spring onion (or shallot) finely chopped
Rub the pork with the five spice powder and salt, then place on a plate and leave - uncovered - in the fridge overnight (but if in a hurry leave at least 3 hours).
Preheat the oven to its maximum setting (probably 250C - more if you can) and place the pork, skin side up, on a rack that has been placed over a roasting tin. Roast for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180C, 300F, gas 4 then leave to cook for a further 2 hours. If the skin hasn't crisped up enough, raise the heat to 220C, gas 7 and cook for a further 15 - 30 minutes. Leave the cooked meat on a board, covering lightly with foil to keep in the heat, and leave to rest for 15 minutes before slicing.
Meanwhile, make a dipping sauce by mixing the rest of the ingredients together. When the pork is rested, cut into small portions and serve with the sauce and some boiled or steamed rice.
(Tip: when cooking belly pork as a 'roast' to eat sliced with cooked veggies, apple sauce etc, just rub the skin with plenty of salt, and when the meat has been slow cooked to tender, remove from oven, raise the heat to 220C, gas 7, carefully remove the skin and underlying fat and return this to the oven to crisp up as 'crackling' while the meat 'rests'. Serve strips of 'crackling' with the meat.

Here is another recipe that can make use of belly pork that you might wish to use up. You can use chunky bits of leftover cooked 'roast', or use it uncooked and sliced thinly (as we would use bacon). There is some similarity to Boston Baked Beans with this dish, and a million miles better than the bog-standard baked beans we normally buy in cans. So if you have the belly pork (or even bacon), a can of beans (can be haricot, butter or cannellini type), why not have a go at making this?
Barely Boston Baked Beans: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 - 6 slices belly pork or streaky bacon (see above)
1 tblsp brown sugar (pref muscovado)
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
15 fl oz (450ml) vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
2 x 410g cans beans (see above), drained and rinsed
Put the oil in a deep frying pan and start frying the onion, Chop the pork (or bacon) into smallish pieces and add to the pan. Fry for 5 - 10 minutes until the onions are softened and just beginning to turn gold.
Add the sugar, tomatoes, stock, and seasoning to the pan, then simmer for 10 minutes before adding the beans. Continue simmering until the sauce has thickened. These eat well when served with chunky chips or spiced wedges (recipe below).

Spiced Potato wedges: serves 4
2 tblsp flour (plain or self-raising)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp paprika pepper, cayenne or chilli powder
1 tsp dried mixed herbs (opt)
4 baking potatoes
1 tblsp sunflower oil
Put the flour, seasoning, spice and herbs (if using) into a bowl or bag. Slice each potato into 8 wedges then toss in the seasoned flour until coated. Remove to another bowl, shaking off excess flour.
Put the oil in a small roasting tin, place tin in the oven at 200C, 400F, gas 6 and when spitting hot, add the potato wedges, moving them around and turning so they are coated with the oil, then bake for 30 - 35 minutes or so until crisp and cooked through.

Can see only a few white fluffy clouds in the sky now, and hopefully they will soon disappear, so will shortly take myself outside for my next little 'holiday in the sun'. The good thing about sitting with eyes shut is that I can imagine myself to be almost anywhere. Perhaps today will be thinking Florida. If I had a portable radio that could play tapes (or is it discs these days?) could play 'sounds of waves crashing on beaches'. Yes I know Morecambe is a sea-side resort, but the only wave crashing is when we have a howling gale, normally the water just seeps quietly into the Bay without any sound whatsoever. Boring! Mind you it does come in at great speed, blink and it's moved a foot further along the sands.

It's not just sounds that can bring back memories. Had a sudden reminder yesterday, after hearing a mention of 'moth balls' (on Eggheads). In my youth, come the winter months, we would keep getting a whiff of camphor when passing by people who had obviously just taken their winter coats, woollies, etc (anything moths would chew) from their cupboards, protected of course by a liberal sprinkling of said moth-balls. Can't say I liked the smell, but it was of 'that age'.
Then came the thoughts of other aromas. The lovely scent of bonfire when my dad burned the autumn leaves and prunings in our garden, and later the smell of smoke from the fire burning in the grate. Or - perhaps worse - the smell outside when a chimney caught fire (I used to love seeing the flames rise out of the chimney pots). Coal fires of course added smoke to fog, making 'smog' that had a sulphurous smel that we no longer have, since 'smokeless zones' are now in most areas (other than rural). We don't seem to get 'ordinary' fog any more, the worst being thick mists. Today many new houses don't even have a fireplace which is sad.

Seems that everyone now needs to get from A to B in the shortest time possible, and get our houses heated in the easiest possible way (central heating), so instead of the occasional winter smog, we now have progressed (that's a laugh) to the extent we now have to breathe in daily the invisible and very unhealthy fumes from the constant traffic passing by. Throw a switch and pay a fuel bill, and stick a pikelet in a toaster instead of enjoying sitting by a roaring fire and using a toasting fork to brown our crumpets. In the old days we could gather fallen wood, and burn up almost anything as 'free fuel' to keep ourselves warm (we used to roll up damp paper into 'logs' and burn meat and fish bones on the fire, even burn old leather gloves, shoes etc). Now we just pay a huge fuel bill.

I remember the lovely smell of new mown grass, plus the sound of the push-pull Qualcast that preceded the 'hover-mowers'. That was a nice noise, not like the electric whines of today's grass cutters. The sound of hedges being cut was also pleasant when hand shears were used. Electric shears today making another 'sound annoyance'.

Christmas to me started with the scent of a real Christmas tree brought into the house, and can also remember the smell of the fresh pineapple that used to sit on the top of the fruit bowl. Even snow seemed to 'smell' crisp and white and well - just lovely.

In summer, after several weeks of drought, the scent in the air after the first shower or rain was sheer delight, and when it came to garden flowers, the roses then were very perfumed, as were the sweet peas and many other flowering plants. Now it seems every flower in gardens today has been bred to look perfect and by doing so has lost all its scent. In the same way as shop-sold fruit and veggies now all look like clones but taste of nothing.

It just seems we have lost so much and gained so little of value over the past 50 years or so. Other than perhaps time-saving, but what is time worth if there is so little left to enjoy? Even our wild life, esp birds and butterflies, are fast disappearing.

Once upon a time most foods were grown 'organically', and most animals reared 'free-range', now everything has changed, and not for the better. There has been over-fishing, so a shortage there, and it seems the only thing we can do is to be as self-sufficient as possible and try and bring back the old ways whenever we can. At least home-cooking and 'growing our own' is coming back into fashion, plus many of the old crafts, and although much of this is due to the recession, at least we should be thankful for that. Every cloud has a silver lining they say, and maybe this particular cloud of global financial insecurity has more than a touch of gold about it. Just as long as we take (and enjoy) the opportunity to turn our life round and make it how it used to be.

Must stop feeling nostalgic and get out into the garden and soak up some of that sun. Even that isn't quite as I remember. Seems far hotter now (when it shines at all) than it did in my youth, but then did live in the Midlands which always had an 'industrial haze' making the sky seem much paler blue than in more rural areas. When we moved to Leeds couldn't believe how deep blue the sky could be, the same here in Morecambe where the prevailing wind almost bypasses Ireland (not much industry there anyway), and is as clean as a whistle (although we do have a nuclear power station a few miles up the road, and as we have had more than one earthquake since we moved here 3 years ago let's hope the next won't be stronger! At my age do I care?)

Just wish the wind would drop. One thing I hate more than rain is wind. Not sure why, think it is because it blows the curls out of my hair (wearing a hat or scarf crushes my locks), you just wouldn't want to see me when my hair is 'wrong'. Baby fine and straight as a die. I look like a mournful spaniel when Norma has missed a week. Can't have a perm as it would damage my already thinning hair, so I pray for a day that has no wind or rain, THEN (and only then) might I stick my head outside the door and possibly even have a scoot.

Life has a way of giving what we deserve. Whatever state my body was in (and you wouldn't like that either), the one good thing I had (the only good thing in fact) was my hair. It used to look quite attractive with the able assistance of Russell, my hairdresser who had tended my golden locks for a good 15 years. Due to having many months of strong and varied antibiotic (during and after getting cellulitis) this damaged my hair, and it has got progressively worse, so I have nothing left worth knowing but my thoughts on food (and the occasional moan about life). Sad but true.
Even so, hope you will still continue to share your thoughts and life with me, and of course all readers, and even 'invisibly' we can all help to improve personal worlds and make life worth living again.
Tomorrow the blog may be later as it is Norma day again. Have to fit in cake making, but will certainly find time for a 'chat'. Hope to see you then.