Monday, July 30, 2012

New, Improved?,,,,

Maybe it is because I am now 'elderly' (but don't feel more than 35 on a good day), that I am suspicious when I read: "new, improved" on the packaging of a product that has stood the test of time for many years that I care to remember. Possibly it has less salt added than before (probably a good thing), but it does seem that more products we are told (on the pack) now they need to be kept in the fridge once opened, whereas before they would keep happily on the larder shelf (or in a cupboard).

'New, Improved' recipes are almost as bad. What's wrong with the old, traditional way of making? Far easier to remember than the endless variations that get published today that all need constant reference as we can never remember the 'new' way to make them.

There is so much 'new' in our lives that it seems we are using them too often. Look at mobile phones, the youngsters now seem to have them almost glued to their ears all hours of the day. Teachers are now complaining that their young pupils can hardly keep awake when they arrive at school as much of their evening (and quite a bit of their night) has been spent either playing computer games or 'texting' to friends. Older pupils no doubt 'twitter' for hours upon hours.
Unhealthy, and doesn't do anything to help our learning capacity.

Even I can fall by the wayside as I discovered yesterday after retuning the digi box so that B could watch more Olympics (and then discovered 'the little red button' on the remote doesn't seem to work). Just for interest tapped in 49 on the remote and up came the Food Channel/network. So I spent a happy hour learning how to cook Mexican food, then later (when B had trotted off to have his supper) watched another programme on that channel. Then, after B had gone to bed watched even more. Am wishing now I had left things alone and let B stick with the BBC channels for the Games for I know I could get hooked on '49'.

By the way, the Hair Bikers are starting a new programme this week, all about their challenge to lose weight and the recipes that helped them do so. Definitely one that I'll be watching and if it coincides with another that B wishes to see, can always pick it up later via iPlayer.

Yesterday was spent mainly doing 'experimental' cookery for my new blog. A batch of Flapjacks turned out really well, B having eaten most of them already. Very moreish.
Today will turn my thoughts to sorting out the frozen food. This is slowly being used up, and do need space to put some cakes etc for next weekend's 'feed the 500' held at the social club.
Will probably get out all the minced beef, thaw it, then cook it overnight in the slow cooker to pack up in small containers to later use for chilli, spag.bol, and cottage pie. Pre-cooked meat (in containers) take up less room in the freezers than they did when raw, probably because containers fill all the gaps and odd shapes of packaged meat/fish often have space left around them.

Frozen veggies too tend not to fill all the gaps, so often I empty the contents of their pack and decant these into smaller containers, writing on each with a marker pen (later easily washed off), so that I know exactly what is inside. As well as writing the contents on the lid, also write on the end so that when stacked they are easily found. Depending upon whether the containers are in drawers, on shelves or in a chest freezer, once frozen they can be stacked one on top of the other, or stood on end then stacked side by side with the written end facing up. Save having to have the freezer doors/lids open for too long whilst sorting out as this uses more electricity.

Organised cooks will have already made a list (or even made a sketch) of where exactly everything is in their freezer, unfortunately I'm not one of them. I try to be, and today will be (again) making a list of what frozen food I have, and will try to keep all the beef together, all the lamb, all the poultry, all the fish etc so that I know at least which drawer they are in, and hopefully stack all the containers so the contents can be easily seen and written down as to which shelf they are on. That is the intention, whether I can keep it like that is doubtful, normally I never do. B often goes into the fridge to get something (usually ice-cream or oven chips....) and then puts the containers/packs back in the wrong place. Does it really matter?

The other day read an article about being too specific about things. There was a mention about a husband who had brought the wrong sized tomatoes and the author had got really annoyed about this. Readers will remember the same happened to me when B brought in a small box of large tomatoes when I had expressly asked for a large box of small tomatoes.
As the article said, these are only little things that don't really matter at all, and life then becomes far less stressful when we 'go with the flow' rather than trying to have everything exactly as we wish. So now that is my new resolution. If something goes wrong, if B brings back the wrong product, or cuts something the wrong size, it really doesn't matter. Even this thought has made me feel far more comfortable in myself.

Loved the sound of your rhubarb pudding/cake Eileen. Looking forward to hearing about your next experiment.

Your charity shop 'finds' and what you made with them sound fantastic Kathryn. Do hope you get good weather for your pony 'fancy dress', and that your dressage event also goes well.
Myself like to watch most of the equestrian events held during the Olympics, and from today and the next few days will be watching. Did see some dressage, and cross country I can take or leave, but the show-jumping is my favourite. Don't want to miss that.

Although not a swimmer myself, find enjoyment watching the high-diving, especially the pairs. B likes watching all the swimming events as he is a very accomplished swimmer himself.
The cycle race the other day prompted me to ask B about the time he went on a marathon cycle ride with his brother. This was in 1949 when he was 17 (his brother a couple or so years older). In those days their cycles were fairly 'ordinary', no more than three gears (if that), and they spent a week cycling from Leicester, through London (where they stayed at a youth hostel io Great Ormond Street - B said he could hear the babies crying through the night), and then across the south to the Isle of Wight, where they stayed a few days, then back up the country to Leicester again.
I asked about food (war-time rations still applied at that time) and he said no problem as a good breakfast (and sometimes evening meal) was supplied by the Youth Hostels where they stayed each night, and each morning they had to do some domestic chores (washing up, cleaning etc) to help pay for their accommodation/food.
In those days you had to be a member of the Y.Hostel Assoc. and only walkers and cyclists allowed to use their facilities. Nowadays - apparently - car users can take advantage of the cheap accommodation.

At least in those days there was not nearly as much traffic on the roads as there is now, so the lads had quite an easy ride, even along major roads (can you imagine cycling through London these days?). Wonder how many youth of today would take the same sort of holiday. Not many I would suppose, but maybe more than we imagine. We tend to only hear about the young who spend their time 'twittering', drinking, and spending the night dancing or taking drugs. That has always been around (well, not the 'twittering' that is new), and strangely, in the old days, done more by the elite and wealthy, than the rest of the population. Now it seems many youngsters from all ways of life much - if not all - the above (but how they can afford to beats me).

Myself am quite content doing very little in the way of 'entertainment', although having unearthed some novels that I was once given and never read - am now considering going to the charity shop and buying more as once upon a time really enjoyed reading, but in my latter years these have tended to be mainly factual and reference books which are fine when I want to learn something, but can't really get absorbed in them as I can a good novel.

There has been a lot written and now even a programme about a new book 'Fifty Shades of Grey'. Apparently it is very 'racy' (and said to be very badly written, so that gives hope to any budding authors) , but this is not really my type of reading. Not really sure what is. Used to like A.J.Cronin when younger, and loved the Mazo de la Roche 'Jalna' books. Catherine Cookson is another author whose books I like reading, and generally do prefer stories set in bygone days (not deeply historical, just slightly before my time, or during my early years). Nella Last's books are favourites, particularly her first, but these are non-fiction, her autobiography of her life up to and during World War II.
Autobiographies I also like to read, especially those written by celebrity cooks, Clarissa Dickson Wright's, and Nigel Slater's I particularly enjoyed.

With the weather changing back to 'normal' British (cooler, windier and showery), now feel that we will be seeking to eat warm food instead of the salads we have craved recently, so here are a few ideas.

One of the 'new, improved' products that have arrived on supermarket shelves is the 'dry mixes' where we are provided with a bag and spices to put in it, then add chicken and 'give a good shake'. This then coats the meat and when removed from bag and roasted we are supposed to have given it a wonderful flavour.
Well, this might be so, but as it is so easy and VERY MUCH CHEAPER to make these ourselves, here are a few suggestions. It shouldn't be too difficult to make up other versions, so start experimenting.
All we need is a plastic bag to do the shaking, and the chosen spices or herbs - all of which we should already have, although unlike the packs, not everything need be dry (and all the better for it). Chicken portions are used, and these could be bought fresh (or thawed if frozen). The amount of 'shake' is enough to cover 8 thighs or drumsticks (to serve 4).

lemon and five-spice 'shake':
juice of 1 lemon
3 tblsp light brown muscovado sugar
thumb sized piece of unpeeled root ginger, shredded
1 - 2 garlic cloves, crushed
5 tblsp soy sauce
1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
splash sherry or white wine
(chicken portions)
Put everything into a bag with the chicken portions and shake well to coat. Leave for half an hour (or overnight in the fridge if you wish).
Remove chicken from bag, shake off excess marinade (reserve this) , then cook under a pre-heated grill (or on a barbecue) for 20 mins, spooning over a little marinade every few minutes. Turn several times, until cooked through and dark golden brown.

garlic and rosemary 'shake':
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp white wine
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
Put everything in a bag with the chicken, then follow method above.

Chipotle 'shake':
2 tblsp chipotle paste
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tblsp olive oil
juice of 1 lime
black pepper to taste
Put everything into a bag with the chicken, then leave to marinate for half an hour (or overnight if you prefer).

The complete recipe for using the above makes the 'sticky' bit, so will give the whole recipe, but if you prefer, just use the 'shake' as the preceding recipes, and roast the chicken only, omitting the rest of the ingredients (as shown below). The chicken won't be sticky but it will have flavour.

Sticky Roast Chicken: serves 6
6 large chicken joints, skin left on
1 batch chipotle 'shake' (see above recipe)
2 onions, cut into 8 wedges
olive oil
4 cloves garlic, flattened but kept whole
1 mild chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tblsp muscovado sugar
1 tsp tomato puree
1 tblsp chipoltle paste
7 fl oz (200ml) chicken stock
Make the chipotle shake in a plastic bag and add the chicken. Marinate for half an hour (or 25 hours in the fridge), then tip contents into a roasting tin and scatter the onions around. Drizzle top with a little more oil, then roast for one hour at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until the chicken is a deep cold colour and the skin is crispy. Halfway through the cooking, tuck the garlic between the joints.
Remove chicken and onions from the pan to a warmed serving platter, reduce heat of oven to low and return chicken to oven (uncovered) to keep warm (it will sit happily there for up to half an hour whilst making the sticky sauce (this can also be reheated).
Place the roasting tin on the hob, spooning off excess fat (but leave chicken juices) add the chill and fry for a couple of minutes before stirring in the sugar, tomato puree and the tblsp of chipoltle paste. When combined, stir in the stock, then boil for about 5 minutes until the mixture has turned into a sticky sauce. Spoon this over the chicken and serve with rice or salad.

This next recipe uses 'left-over' roast chicken. Reader will know this means using the scraps we have peeled away from the bones of a carcase after making stock.
Although the recipe uses tortillas, I've made this successfully using chapatis, and - incidentally - when frying a 'tortilla sandwich' these are often given the name of 'quesidillas'. If using the latter, why not add a little curry powder to the beans, and serve with mango chutney instead of the salsa?
Chicken and Cheese Tortillas: serves 4
8 tblsp hot tomato salsa (from a jar)
4 large flour tortillas
2 x 220g cans red kidney beans, drained and mashed
1 small red onion, finely chopped or grated
4 oz (100g) left-over roast chicken, shredded
5 oz (150g) mature Cheddar cheese, grated
handful coriander leaves, chopped (opt)
oil for brushing
Spread 1 tblsp tomato salsa onto each tortilla, then top half of them - as evenly as possible - with the beans, shallot, chicken and cheese. Scatter the coriander on top (if using) then cover with the remaining tortillas (sauce side facing down). Press gently to hold everything in place, then brush the top with oil.
Cooking one tortilla 'sandwich' at a time, heat a large non-stick frying pan and place the tortilla, oiled side down and cook for 4 minutes, then - using a fish slice or palette knife - carefully turn, cooking for a further couple or so minutes on the other side until golden.
Serve cut into wedges.

One final recipe, again using chicken and a version of the 'shake in the bag'. This makes a much healthier 'chicken nuggets' than any bought, so while the children are on holiday, let them help you make these. The use of pesto means we save ourselves the hassle of 'egg and crumbing'. If you think they won't like the flavour of pesto, use tomato ketchup instead, or even mayonnaise (as the crumbs will stick to any of these. Or make some of each and turn it into a 'taste testing game'. Instead of dried breadcrumbs you could use crushed crisps or cornflakes.
If the chicken breasts are large (and the children quite small) you may find you will only need two (or at most three).
Crispy Chicken 'nuggets': serves 4
4 boneless chicken breasts (see above)
6 tbslp red pesto or tomato ketchup
approx 10 oz (300g) dried or fresh breadcrumbs
olive oil
Cut each chicken breast into 12 - 15 small chunks and put into a bowl with the pesto (or ketchup). Mix together until the chicken is coated all over.
Tip the breadcrumbs into a large plastic bag, then add the chicken in batches, giving the bag a good shake so that the chicken is coated with crumbs. When all are done, place the chicken 'nuggets' on a baking sheet, placing them slightly apart, then chill (they can be open frozen at this point and when solid stored in a container or freezer bag. Thaw before cooking).
To cook, pour a little oil onto a shallow baking tray (Swiss roll tin etc) and heat this in the oven (200C, 400F, gas 6) for five minutes before adding the chicken. Roast for 10 - 15 minutes until the chicken is crisp and golden and make sure it is cooked through. Serve with oven chips, and a salad of your choice.

No doubt today I'll be doing more experimental cookery, and with this evening only having one episode of 'Corrie' and an 'EastEnders' that B will wish to watch, looks like another day of the Olympics. Not that I mind, as no doubt I'll be watching quite a bit myself. It is almost as good as being on holiday without having to travel to the various venues to have a 'live watch'. And far cheaper!!

Enjoy your day whatever it is you will be doing. And if something doesn't go quite right or to plan, then just 'live with it'. The less stress we make for ourselves the more pleasant our life will (or should) become. Advice I really do mean to take myself. A bit late in life to start, but it may mean I live a year or two longer if I do, so that's a bonus! TTFN.