Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Read the Small Print!

My Beloved's supper of mini-lamb shoulder, served with new potatoes and peas, plus redcurrant jelly and mint sauce did not turn out as well as hoped. Normally B loves a lamb shank with all the trimmings, and the pack of 2 mini-lamb shoulders looked almost exactly the same as the pack of shanks, so I just checked the timings and cooked one of the shoulders as I would a shank. So far so good, but when I asked B what it was like to eat he said it had very little flavour "and there were white bits floating around in the sauce, also it was very fatty".

Normally B doesn't mind 'fatty meat', as long as it is crisp. But this fat seemed to be inside the meat, not on the surface. He really was disappointed (as was I) with this particular cut of lamb, although it looked big enough in the pack and seemed to have plenty of (frozen gravy) with it.
So off I toddled into the kitchen to read the ingredients in small print and was in for a bit of a surprise. The shoulders were not in mint flavoured gravy as the shanks used to be (so I assumed these were too), but in a 'Moroccan flavoured sauce'.

The ingredient list for this sauce were (wait for it)....water, onion, chickpeas, tomato, tomato puree, apricot, cornflour, brown sugar, lamb stock, onion powder, concentrated lemon juice, salt, cinnamon, lemon peel, ginger puree, caramelised sugar, garlic puree, parsley, coriander, paprika, cumin.
So how B could say the sauce tasted bland I don't know, it sounds very flavoursome to me, but possibly his liberally spooning over of mint sauce (as he normally likes served with lamb) was stronger in flavour and 'killed' the 'Moroccan flavour'.
The pack also said 'serve with couscous or rice', so obviously this time there was a need to read the small print. If the product had more details on the Tesco website, instead of just saying 'mini-lamb shoulders' then I would have been prepared (or even warned).

As we have one lamb shank left in the freezer, I might 'treat' myself to the remaining mini shoulder and serve it with couscous, then will see if it does have any flavour and worth buying again. The price of butchers (and supermarkets) fresh lamb shanks are now so expensive I doubt I will buy them again unless Tesco bring back the cheaper frozen ready-cooked ones (they were very good value for money).

Did make an apple and blackberry crumble for B's 'afters' (enough for two servings, so half has been left for today), didn't bother with the 'cobbler' topping as by the time I'd got into the kitchen had forgotten how to make it, so resorted to making a 'crumble' as can do this from memory. Didn't make another loaf as I had intended, instead brought out the rolls made recently and had frozen, these to be eaten with the last of the small loaf today, and by this evening should have made another loaf ready for B to start. He loves home-made bread, the only problem is he eats more of it than the bought, so it doesn't last as long, and now have to make bake a large (or small plus bread rolls) about three or four times a week. One bought 'pappy' loaf would probably last a week, so not now sure whether it does work out cheaper to make my own bread or not. Probably doesn't cost any more over a week (one bought loaf = cost of 3 home-made loaves), but at least the home-made is MUCH nicer, and if the same (quality) had been bought then WOULD have cost a lot more.

Have now had details of forthcoming events emailed to me by the 'catering committee' member of the sailing club. As they have some (of their own) cakes frozen, and only a few numbers expected this weekend they won't be needing anything from me (actually don't mind), but they will need some cakes/scones/jam...on 4th August for about a dozen, but the following day (5th) they expect to cater for up to 500!!
On the 18th August baking needed for up to 40 people, and the following day (19th) more still but numbers as yet not known.
On 1st September will be another 'refreshments provided' day, but again will be given numbers to cater for later.
Then in October a special club meeting (need food), and a biggie in December when they push the boat out (no pun intended) and have a real spread.
They also want me to make jam, marmalade, and lemon curd to have on sale at some of the above events, so it looks like from now on until Christmas I will be contentedly busy in the kitchen. It really is nice to have something to look forward to other than 'just' cooking for B.

While B was out yesterday, got out the Hoover and ran it over the carpets, the place looks much better once the bits have been vacuumed up. B will not wear slippers, and his heavy outdoor shoes scuffs up the carpet (which is cream - or supposed to be), and around where he sits there is always a lot of fluff that gets dragged from the carpet as he shoves his feet around. I've put cream mats (off cuts of the carpet) in front of all the chairs, so generally the fluff comes from these, but then get shaken (by B) onto the main carpet. Do wish B would wear slippers, but he doesn't really seem to care what happens to the furnishings as long as he is comfortable.

Perhaps I am too fussy, I try not to be, so tend to let him wear what he wants and just clear up after him, and have to admit this is not as often as I should. The older I get the more I feel like leaving it all to pile up and then have one good clean (now and again, and more again than now).

After yesterday's dreary day, today looks a bit more promising although the weather forecast says otherwise. At least the sun is out at the moment. Tomorrow we expect to have a lot more rain, so at least won't need to water my outdoor plants. The indoor ones are growing rapidly, the avocado now twice the height of the lemon tree, but this is normal. May have to pinch out the top of the avocado to make it branch out lower down as it can end up a bit too 'leggy' and this makes it look boring. The lemon tree is throwing out side shoots now, so should end up looking very attractive as it has very shiny deep green leaves.

As I was sitting drinking my first mug of coffee of the day this morning (also taking my pills), gazed over at the conservatory where I could see a double bed sheet that had been washed, draped over the airer. For some reason the memory of folding sheets with my mother came back to me. She used to take the dry sheets (heavy cotton or linen in those days which had a lot more creases than today's fibres), and she and I would hold a corner in each hand, stand well apart and pull the sheets tight, then put the two corners together, and with our free hand pick up the fold in the middle of the sheet that had then been made. Corners in one hand, fold in the other, again pull them tightly apart, then we would move together so my mother could take the corners and fold in her two hands, and I would then pick up the part hanging down, and we would do the 'together' fold again. By this time the sheet was a neat and fairly flat package and when placed on a table could be used as a pad when ironing (or could be put on an ironing board), and when other things were put on top and ironed, this also helped to iron out the creases in the sheet. Is anyone interested in the above. Doubt it, but it was the way sheets were folded in those days, and maybe still are. I wouldn't know as I now have to fold them all by myself and what a difficult job that can be at times.

Considering we have twin beds, there is no need to use double sheets any more, but as our mattresses are deep the 'fitted' sheets don't have enough material to tuck securely under (so I use nappy pins to secure them to the bottom rim of the mattress), and often prefer to cover the mattress with a double layer of a double sheet as this then is wide enough to give plenty of 'tuck under'.
Twin beds are always better than a double bed as when pushed together (as ours normally are), they then make an even larger 'king-size', and having a duvet for each bed means we can keep warm without our sleeping partner dragging most of it off us. Also the king-size double sheets are large enough to cover both mattresses, so to all intents and purposes it looks and acts just like a double bed (although I prefer to have our own sheets for our own beds). In the very cold weather we can put a double duvet on top of our 'singles' and this makes it really, really snug.

Am pleased to hear your bread baking turned out well Jane. The temperature when baking bread can be variable, and recently have found that my bread rolls are much softer and lighter when baked at 200C 400F, gas 6 but for only 10 minutes. Any longer and they tend to end up a bit dry with too much 'crust'. Baking them at a lower temperature they are OK but don't seem to stay soft for quite as long. Think it is a matter of experimenting and seeing what works best for us and our ovens.

Did see the 'The Baker Brothers' (channel 4 cookery prog around mid-day), making some 'burger buns'. The 'baking brother' (the other is a butcher), rolled out his dough with a rolling pin and cut the buns out using a large scone cutter (as Jane did) and these made lovely 'baps. I usually form the dough into balls then squash them down with my hand, but from now on will try the rolling/cutting to see if they turn out better.

Lovely to hear how old duvets are now being used as part of patchwork Catriona. In the old days almost all material was made of cotton (or similar). Nowadays there are so many different fibres used, but as long as these have been pre-washed (and therefore would not then shrink when washed later), suppose any materials today can be put together to make patchwork.

Myself always regret not saving material from my daughter's dresses when they were younger. Made into a patchwork quilt these would have given them a life-long memory of the clothes they used to wear when children and teenagers, and also bring back thoughts of what they used to be doing when they wore them.
So if any reader has small daughters, do save their old clothes and later make them into a quilt (or even a cushion cover) as a memento of their early life. It will bring them so much pleasure and they can then tell their own children the games they played or the holidays they went on 'when I wore a dress made from this, and this, and this".

Will you be travelling all over the UK Margie when you visit, or are you planning to stay just in the London area?
As you say, the weather isn't doing us any favours re the Olympics. The first athletes already arriving at Heathrow airport. And what a farce that is turning out to be. One coach, taking them to the Olympic village, lost its way in London and took four hours to find the right road. There is a 'designated' coach lane for these Olympic coaches to use, but obviously they are not signposted properly.

If anyone watches the series "Twentytwelve" (and if you haven't, it's on this evening BBC 2), it's now becoming that 'real life' is as daft as the programme. Originally this was making fun of the preparations for the Olympics, what could go wrong etc, but what was funny seems no to be actually happening. If we're not careful this nation will end up a laughing stock.

There is the problem of security. The firm who is supposed to be supplying the security guards now doesn't have enough. Fifty or so were supposed to turn up at a Manchester hotel yesterday to secure the area for the athletes staying there, but only 17 guards arrived, so the police had to make up the numbers by calling in those who were on leave etc. Costing thousands of pounds apparently to do this, yet as I said to B "when police are on 'days off', aren't they paid anyway"? He said they were, so why it has to cost MORE I don't know.

Then there is another problem with the accommodation for those people employed to be cleaners for the Olympic visitors and buildings, but are having to share rooms and bathrooms, and what is more, these jobs were promised to 'London citizens', but apparently most of these jobs are token by people coming in from abroad. Maybe this is because 'us Brits' think cleaning loos etc is beneath us, and leave the job for someone else to do.

Have to say that the fault there is so much unemployment at the moment could be because we are getting too fussy about the jobs we wish to take on. This then leaves the door open for people to come from abroad and take this work. So we can hardly complain when this happens as in a way its all our own fault for being too picky.

What else is worth having a moan about? The railway in our region is worth having a real good gripe about. Instead of diesel trains, the plan is to electrify the track so the trains will travel faster and get to Sheffield TEN MINUTES EARLIER. As it is going to cost millions (or did they say billions?) to get this system working, we should expect higher train fares (probably much higher). Can any passenger on these trains say it is worth paying £££s more to arrive just 10 minutes sooner than by diesel? I don't think so.

Honestly, I cannot understand where we get all this money to spend 'updating' systems (as above), considering we are in a deep financial recession I would have thought money should be saved and not spent. How can we afford to pay more for rail fares when we are not paid higher wages? So what is the point? How can the country afford to do a lot of what is being done (and none of it seemingly necessary at this present time) if we - the public - cannot afford to pay the extra for using whatever to pay for the costs?

The very words 'New Improved' now makes me shudder for every time it means we have to fork out more to buy, eat or use it. Just leave things as they are (or preferably as they were), and start saving instead of spending, then perhaps this country might be able to get itself back on track (and not an electrified one either).

Life has changed so much since I was a 'gel'. We then worked longer hours and for more days of the week (often having only Sunday off). Since then there has been vast advancement in technology so what took hours to do now takes only minutes (or even seconds when using a computer). We can put the washing in a machine and then leave it to wash, spin dry, and can also tumble dry, while we get on doing something else. In the old days this could be a days work.

When cooking we now have electric mixers, hand beaters, slow cookers, pressure cookers, ovens with timers that switch themselves on and off, and kettles that do likewise. No need to watch the toast it will pop up when done. Every thing needed to save our labour has been made for us, including ready-meals to pop into the microwave.

Vacuum cleaners clean carpets rapidly, and a wood (effect) floor (or tiles) easily wiped clean with just a damp mop. Our grandmothers would take a week doing 'domestic duties' and only manage to do half of what can be done today in a very few hours.
So what do we do with this spare time we have? According to the way of life today, everyone is rushing here and then at great speed, and getting stressed because of it. All we seem then to be able to do is return home, flop down in a chair and spend the rest of the time watching TV or playing computer games. And of course eating a meal from a tray on our laps as we do so.

Surely there must be an easier and better way to live than this. With less working hours we have so much more spare time yet seem to prefer wasting it. Television has now become the only source of enjoyment to many families, yet most of the time we don't really watch it that closely, tending more to just 'look at the box' instead of learning useful things from it. That TV programme 'The Royle Family' shows exactly how it is in some homes, and have to say it is turning out a lot like that in ours now. What else is there to do other than watch TV? Am sure there must be something. Certainly if younger would be out and about a lot more (even if only playing bridge!).

Although not a good thing to suggest, we really need something like a national disaster to bring us back to sanity, to make us all start to be self-sufficient again, and to be concerned more for the welfare of others and not always ourselves, for the problem today is that with having too much free time and not knowing what to do with it is causing youngsters (who are less inclined to watch TV) to roam the streets because they are bored and have nothing much else to do. Some take drugs just to try and find a fantasy way of life that is less boring than the one they already have.
I too am now often bored, and never thought I'd ever get to that stage, so now how depressing a feeling (or life) like that can be. How much worse for younger folk who cannot seem to see any future worth working for. But what can be done? Very little it seems other than to try and make our own family life worth living for, and trying to get the message across to others.

Have a feeling that our good earth will throw a spanner into our works before long. Nature gets fed up when we are spoiling her perfect world, and in one way or another will let us know who's still boss. There are those who say the recent change in weather, the earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, flooding, are just natural 'cycles', but then who can be sure? One thing we should realise, we have no real importance in the 'balance of nature', so should be grateful we are here at all and at least make sure we don't harm our beautiful planet while we play 'mind games' between nations developing nuclear warfare etc. Even trying to find out the meaning of life through the Hadron Collider (or whatever it is called) could be playing with fire. Of course we want to know how the universe started, but will anyone ever know WHY? Far better to stick to improving our own planet and bring nations together in peace before we start trying to spreading our universal wings.

Obviously one of my 'philosophical days', and probably better if all I have written is wiped off and I start again, but as it is now after 10.00am I just can't be bothered, so take it or leave it.

Here are a few recipes for those who logged on to read something about cooking. The first is a good way to use up the chunky bits of home-cooked gammon (aka 'ham) and also makes use of root veggies that we may have lurking in our fridge (I keep the 'roots' in the fridge but onions at room temp).

Here is a great pie to serve at family gatherings or 'student fests'. Reduce or increase the amount according to how many you wish to serve.
Ham and Vegetable Pie: serves 8
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
1 lb (450g) parsnips, peeled and chopped
3 carrots, roughly chopped
2 ribs celery, thickly sliced
2 tblsp plain flour
1 lb (450g) cooked ham, cut into chunks
5 fl oz (150ml) double cream
15 fl oz (425ml) vegetable stock
2 tblsp wholegrain mustard
salt and pepper
approx 12 oz (300g) shortcrust pastry
Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion for 5 minutes, then stir in the parsnips and carrots and cook for a further 5 minute, stirring often. Add the celery and then the flour and stir together for one minute before adding the ham, cream, stock and mustard. Season to taste then simmer for 5 minutes until thickened slightly, then pour into a 2 ltr (3.5pt) dish. Set aside to cool slightly, then roll out the pastry to cover the pie, and brush with milk. Use any pastry trimmings to make leaf shapes for decorating the top if you wish, then brush these also with milk.
Bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 30 minutes until the pastry is golden. Serve with green veggies.

Next recipe is a savoury 'cobbler'. I like 'cobbles' for they are like scones in texture but taste more like dumplings. This is a good way to use up the bacon that is often sold cheaply in 'mixed packs' as it doesn't matter if they are thick or thin rashers as they have to be chopped up anyway. Really thick chunks of bacon can be blitzed to 'crumbs' in a food processor for fast cooking. If you haven't butter beans, use another variety of canned bean (or a mixture).
Bacon and Tomato Cobbler: serves 4
12 rashers bacon (see above)
1 large onion, chopped
1 tblsp olive oil
4 ribs celery, cut into chunks
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
5 fl oz (150ml) chicken stock
1 x 400g can butter beans (or other beans) drained
salt and pepper
3 oz (75g) butter
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
2 tsp dried mixed herbs
pinch of salt
6 fl oz (175ml) milk
Chop 3 of the thickest bacon rashers into tiny pieces and set aside. Cut the rest of the rashers each into 3 pieces. Put the oil in a pan and fry the onion for 3 minutes, then add the larger bacon pieces and fry for a further 5 or so minutes, then add the celery and fry for a further 4 minutes.
Pour in the canned tomatoes and stock (first rinsing the can out with the stock to gain all the tomato juice), bring to the boil then cover. Simmer for 20 minutes before adding the canned beans and seasoning to taste.
Meanwhile, make the cobbler topping by rubbing the butter into the flour, stir in the herbs and salt and add the milk. Mix together.Pour the tomato mixture into a 3 pint (1.7 lt) shallow ovenproof dish and spoon the cobbler topping over the surface in lumps, leaving a small space between each (they will spread slightly and end up just touching each other). Scatter the reserved small pieces of bacon over the top and then bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25 - 30 minutes until golden.

Final recipe today uses the cheaper chicken joints which normally are a bit boring. Cooked in the way shown below they end up wonderfully sticky and sweet. They can be cooked with potatoes (see variation below), or the chicken can be served alone with Oriental accompaniments (such as stir-fry vegetables etc).
Lemon and Honey Chicken: serves 4
3 lemons
2 oz (50g) butter
3 tblsp runny honey
3 sprigs rosemary, leaves only
salt and pepper
8 chicken joints (thighs, drumsticks, wings etc)
Cut two of the lemons in half and squeeze out the juice and put into a pan with the butter, honey and rosemary, adding seasoning to taste. Heat gently until the butter melts.
Arrange the chicken joints in a single layer in a roasting tin, then drizzle the lemon butter over the chicken turning so they are coated. Cut the remaining lemon into 8 wedges and tuck these between the chicken joints.
Roast the chicken at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 50 minutes (or an hour if the joints are large), turning and moving the joints a couple of times during this time. Check that the chicken is cooked, then serve them with a green salad, or in any other way you prefer.
additional extra:
Cut a 1lb (500g) potatoes into small chunks and place these round the chicken, drizzle the dressing on top, and turn the potatoes every time you turn the joints. When the chicken is cooked the spuds should be crisp and golden.

Turning out to be a pleasant day, so let's hope it stays like that, tomorrow can look after itself. Hope you can join me then. A reminder that I may be publishing slightly later as it will be Norma the Hair day, but hope you can join me for our usual chat (or should that be MY chat as there is no-one to interrupt me as I write). Even in 'real life' you 'd find it difficult to get a word in edgewise as I cannot stop talking! Poor Eileen, I bet she get fed up of hearing my voice when she visits me. TTFN.