Friday, June 08, 2012

More Chat!

Yesterday, faced with a pile of thawed minced beef and with little inclination to start several batches of chilli, spag.bol etc, put the whole lot into the slow cooker, breaking up the 'grains' with a little water, then left it to cook for several hours all by itself.
Have to say this turned out to be a very good idea. Firstly, when the lid was lifted, discovered the meat had shrunk from the edges of the pan and formed itself into a huge perfect circle of a 'burger' (reminded me of those burgers eaten on Man V Food). But it broke up easily when prodded with a wooden spoon. It was left to cool, then today will be making up the chilli, spag bol etc and these will take far less time as the meat is already cooked. This pre-cooking of mince is something I will probably do again.

My puffy face is slowly returning to normal, but am not finding it easy to rest comfortably in bed yet. Still, it could be worse, and as long as I am sitting down most of the time, can manage the cooking side of life. The intention today is to catch up on all the cooking that should have been done the previous few days. But you know me and good intentions!

Asked B to fetch a Chinese takeaway last night )(for us both, I paid) as didn't feel at all in the mood (or health) for cooking, and really enjoyed eating it (Singapore noodles being my favourite at the moment). It really gives me so much pleasure to eat something that I haven't had to cook myself. Do other cooks feel like that?

Watched a new 'cookery' series on Channel 5 last night. Marco Pierre White (not my most favourite of chefs it has to be said), and was very disappointed. All that happens is that pairs of cooks/chefs (who run their own restaurants) have to cook their 'signature dish' for MPW in a huge van (side open for the public to watch) in half-an-hour. We have barely time to note what ingredients are used, and with at least six pairs cooking during the hour long programmed (this interspersed with lengthy adverts), it really is not worth the seeing. MPW himself is doing nothing but standing in the background, occasionally making a nuisance of himself, and I won't be watching it again.

Sorry to hear that your EasyYo didn't set Jane, despite reheating it. Wonder if it was past its, as this might make a difference. Agree with you that the coconut one does taste delicious and as it is a bit more expensive than the plain Greek and wondering if this was made up with added dessicated coconut this might give a similar taste/texture.
A good idea to use some of the coconut yog. when making a Thai curry, it is also good served WITH a curry (instead of the normal Raita - I serve the mango flavoured with curry as well).

Can't pass on the secrets of 'white witchery' Mabel, I gave this up many moons ago, and even though could pick up the threads again, do not wish to travel that route anymore. In any case, knowing how to cast spells can do more harm than good (depending upon who casts the spells of course).

Can't now remember who Martin Lewis sold his site to Lisa. Think it was one of those other 'saving sites' where we can check out the prices of groceries in different stores, or the price of car/house insurance etc. But as these are all 'funded' by advertising (MSE was not), this then means there could be some limitation as to what the new owners are prepared to offer us.

As you sent in several comments Lisa (each using the comment box with different postings so not everyone will understand my replies), hope you don't mind me lumping my replies together.
Quiche is very popular in this country, more than a pizza in some households I would think. The supermarkets sell quiches with a wide variety of fillings, but homemade I like to think are best. Certainly cheaper.

Your daughter sounds as though she will already have a good grounding in catering once she graduates Lisa. As she is already good at what she does (baking, pastry etc), am wondering if it is necessary for her to have an expensive college training to further this. Almost all good bakers and pastry-chefs are 'born' not 'made', and should almost be able to make it on their own. But of course it depends what restaurants need in the way of qualifications. Some are happy with just the obvious skills, others need more. However, there are several TV chefs in this country who have not had proper professional training such as Delia Smith, and I think Jamie Oliver went from helping his parents in their pub to working in a vegetarian restaurant.
From recent TV cookery series it seems that many of our top chefs learned to cook 'at their mother's knee' and from there went to work as a 'learner chef' in restaurants (and often more than one). The Hairy Bikers (although not on TV as chefs, just 'cooks') used to work in TV, one I think as a camera man, the other worked in 'make-up'.
When anyone is really interested in cooking, most restaurants will find a place for them in their kitchens, and any qualifications needed are gained by 'day release' to a local college (usually paid for by the restaurant). Possibly this is different in the US.

One of my daughter's friends took a catering course at college. She came out knowing all that needed to be known, yet she still was no good at the actual 'cooking'. Had no real 'feel for it', so left the trade and did something else. My belief is that good cooks are born, not made, and if you can already cook well, who needs to know more?

When working in the catering business, much depends on the standard of food served. Pub grub (as we call it) is basically good home-cooking, and usually plenty of it. 'Fine-dining' is the upper-crust of catering where apart from the obvious quality of food prepared (and if eating there don't expect much to be served on your plate), a lot of attention is given to the presentation (more often than not drops of 'jus' carefully arranged round the side of the plate that holds only a tiny bit of food to eat in the middle). Maybe college training is needed for this, I don't know.

My (young) cousin who was an excellent and self-taught home cook (initially trained to be a teacher of languages and did this for some years), when at home, during the time she brought up her children (also when teaching), taught herself how to make and decorate cakes, Several years ago she moved to America (think it is Los Angeles, might be San F) with her family. From working in her home kitchen, by herself, she steadily has now built this up to a proper business, with so many orders coming in that she needed to find new premises and employ staff. She also has a web site (name changed recently so must get my daughter to remind me). Proving that no catering qualifications need be gained to 'start up', as long as you know enough.

From the financial angle Lisa, as you say your daughter is well paid when working at a restaurant, would she earn any more when 'qualified'? It's well known that in this country chefs at the start of their career (once they have left training college) earn very little, they still have to learn to cook quality food 'from the bottom up' if wishing to work in a good restaurant, and good pay is only paid to the top chefs. Also any 'tips' (money given to staff for good service) are shared only between those 'front of house' (waiters etc). Chefs do not get any of this 'extra income'. It could be that front of house staff end up with more income than those 'qualified to cook'.
Of course it's none of my business as to how anyone chooses to further her career, but as it does seem so expensive to gain extra qualifications, and 'cost-cutting' is always foremost in my mind, was just hoping that the above might give 'food for thought'.

Sounded as though you had a good holiday Alison, am sure you will enjoy your Pukka Pies (B loves them, those with puff pastry much nicer (and with more filling) than their new range of microwave pies with short crust (and less filling).

The catering colleges in this country too have their own 'restaurant's Margie. The public can book to have either lunch or an evening meal there and the price is very low considering the quality. This gives the students the training they need, not just in the cooking of the meals, but also the laying of tables, and the serving of food (waiting at tables etc) and drink. Considering the relatively low prices charged, the quality of food is up to top restaurant standard.

Not heard of the Herman Cake Starter Jane, but am sure it must be similar to a similar one that I heard about some years ago (name now forgotten). Works the same way as the 'ginger beer plant', and 'sourdough'. Once you have it, you can keep it going for ever. Supposedly.

Have decided to send an order in to Tesco for delivery this weekend, but only because I have a points voucher to use, plus another for £13 - the latter having to be 'spent' by this coming Sunday. Do have smaller vouchers that can be used with later orders, but £13 is too good to miss, especially as with my points voucher I'll have over £25 deducted from my bill, and this not including any promotional savings on products normally bought.
Normally like to start filling the basket several days before delivery to allow me time to change my mind (remove some so reduce the total cost), but this time will be too close to delivery time to give me a chance to do this, so must be very careful and only order what I really, really need.

A couple or so recipes to wind up today's posting. As the weather is still cold (we had to put the heating on again for an hour or two yesterday - it feels more like winter than last winter ever did) the first recipe is for soup. But at least a 'summer' soup as it uses plenty of seasonable veggies together with the usual 'staples'. With this soup we can get almost half of our 'five-a-day', and being low calorie, having plenty of fibre, one that is definitely 'good for us'.
To speed things up, pulse the first four veggies together in a food processor to 'finely chop'. You could also add the 'greens' as well if you wish. Young broad beans, after podding can be left with their 'white' skins still in place, older beans eat better if these skins are removed (this is sometimes called 'double podding'.
In place of one of the beans (or as well as) add some garden or frozen peas. Also you can use use chicken stock instead of the vegetable.

Green Vegetable Minestrone: serves 4
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
2 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
2.75 pints (1.5 ltrs) vegetable stock
4 oz (100g) small pasta shapes
11 oz (300g) mixed beans (runner, broad, French)
4 oz (100g) spring cabbage, shredded
4 tblsp pesto
Fry the chopped onion, garlic, carrot and celery in the oil until tender (use a large pan). Add the stock with seasoning to taste. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes before adding the pasta. Cook for a further 5 minutes then slice the long beans small enough to fit into a spoon, and add to the pot with the (podded) broad beans.
Simmer for 4 minutes then add the cabbage and carry on cooking for a couple more minutes. Serve in individual soup bowls each with a spoon of pesto drizzled on top. Offer chunks of crusty bread to eat with this meal.

Next recipe is another low-cal, but as it uses quinoa it has 'all round nutrition'. Instead of quinoa we could use pearl barley, couscous, burgul/bulgar, tiny pasta or even rice (although each will have more or less cooking time). Myself do not care for Puy lentils (expensive anyway) and would use green lentils, also I would prefer to cook these from 'dry' rather than use the canned. The split red lentils are too small and would end up 'mushy' so avoid using these.
Any 'crumbly' white cheese could be used instead of Feta.

Quinoa and Feta Salad: serves 4
7 oz (200g) quinoa
1 tblsp olive oil
1 small onion (or shallot) finely chopped
2 tblsp tarragon (or herb of your choice) chopped
1 x 4oog can Puy or green lentils drained and rinsed
finger length piece of cucumber, diced
4 oz (100g) feta cheese, crumbled
few spring onions, thinly sliced
zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tblsp wine vinegar (red or white)
Cook the quinoa as per packet instructions until tender. Drain well and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a small frying pan and cook the onion until softened, then add the herbs, give a stir, and remove from heat.
When all is cool, mix together the onions and quinoa with the remaining ingredients. Toss together so all are well combined and keep chilled until ready to serve.

Am feeling much better today, although still have the aching back, and after sending in my grocery order will then depart to the kitchen and spend most of the day doing quite a bit of 'culinary work'. But more about that tomorrow when I hope you will join me for another 'chat'. See you then.