Friday, July 13, 2012

Taste of Things To Come?

Suppose I should be concerned about the recent spate of computer/broadband/connection problems that seems to be happening at the moment. Not just on our doorstep, but globally (all computers/mobiles etc are now 'globally' thanks to satellite).
First we had the problems when the Westminster bank and its satellites were not able to continue business until their 'computer' crash had been sorted - and the Ulster bank (part of this group) still hasn't got working properly My daughter who lives in Ireland is not able to draw out any money in the normal way, cannot use her credit card, and her wages are not shown to be 'paid in' to her account, so she is having to live on the very small amount the bank will allow to be drawn out. But for how long?

The day before yesterday O2 crashed. My mobile and computer broadband are connected to O2 but fortunately we were not one of those many thousands who were cut off. At least not yet. From details read in the paper this 'crash' was not local to this country but also covered all areas of our world. Believe BT also had a problem for a while. Could this be a fault with a satellite or some human 'gremlin' putting a spanner into the works? Or is it anything to do with sunspots (excessive this year)? Hearing about UFO's being seen by (I think) policemen, the other day might even have something to do with it. Little green men disrupting our 'communications' so we cannot unite together to defend ourselves against them? Or maybe teaching us a needed lesson. Interesting thought.

When something happens more than once, although twice might be 'conincidenc', if anything else similar occurs, then we could be entering a real difficult time as due to our great technological advance, every business seems to rely on computers, either for communication or paperwork. When the plug is pulled then everything falls apart. Oh for those days when we could go to the bank and deposit or draw out money and it was written up in ledgers right in front of our eyes. We could go to shops and pay for our purchases with 'real' money with the shopkeepers having no need to use more than their brain (or a bit of paper and a pencil) to tell us how much we owed them (which we had worked out mentally in our own brains anyway). Thankfully I can still do that, proffering the correct money even before the electronically controlled till has informed the sales person how much I owe. It even says how much change is to be given when paid too much (in notes), that's also been worked out by me!

Dread to think what would happen if more 'communications' failed. No planes and probably no trains as all are controlled nowadays by computers. People on holiday abroad could not get home. Buses, cars, lorries not able to be used after a few days as petrol pumps are also computer controlled. No money through cash-points, and great difficulty in buying food (at least through the supermarkets). The small shopkeepers and farmers markets would do a roaring trade (but only able to be reached by cycle, on horseback, or 'shank's pony'), although anyone still able to trade would probably put up their prices as they have a captive audience.
It is probably wise for us to keep plenty of stores in our cupboards just in case. No cause for gloom and doom, it could end up quite fun. Almost wish something like that would happen. It might make us think a little bit harder about the way we live now and perhaps return to some of the old ways

Mind you, I would find a breakdown of communications amusing if I wasn't writing a daily blog. Just when hints and tips of 'how to cope' would be useful then none of us could share our thoughts. We would each have to manage as best we could. Our ancestors coped without any of the technology of today, so am sure we should be able to follow their example. Us older ones certainly would because we were born in the times when people were more self-sufficient, and relied on themselve more and less on what others now provide.
When money is not available we can always start 'bartering'. That could be even more fun.

As it was a lovely day yesterday, went into the garden to 'have a sit' at around 11.00am, and didn't come back indoors until 4.00pm . At first I sat with a shawl round my shoulders (as wearing a sleeveless top), as there was quite a cool breeze and although the sun was shining, this was through high thin 'streaky' cloud. Late the clouds went away and the sun was hotter, so off came the shawl and I leaned back against a closed large sun umbrella (the folded cover making a soft cushion for my back) and had a 'nod off'.
When coming back indoors, felt really 'glowing', just as though I'd come off a sunny beach on holiday. Not often I feel so good. Didn't even bother to make any supper, asked B to fetch a Chinese take-away, although I did manage to make several pots of chicken pate to eat/freeze for later. Two packs of chicken livers (total under £1) made loads. I put these into my food processor with one onion, one slice of brown bread, a bit of butter, some Cointreau, seasoning, and an egg then blitzed the lot together. Put this into a loaf tin, covered and stood it in a 'bain marie' to cook for 1 hour at 180C. Let it cool for a while in the oven (whilst I ate my supper and watched a couple of 'soaps') then ran it through my food mill (Mouli-mill), worked in some more softened butter, then potted it up. It has made enough for at least 12 individual helpings that works out very cheap for what it is.

Do hope your husband appreciates the care you are taking over his meals Jane. They do sound appetising. He is a very lucky man. Hope that the weather stays fair for your Scarborough holiday. We can but hope.

You mention picking your tomatoes before they are completely ripe Lisa. As with most fruits, we only get their full flavour when picked ripe off the plant (this is why all supermarket fruits have little taste as they are picked 'early' to allow time for them to be transported and displayed). Don't know if you have tried netting your tomato plants, or covering them in some way to keep off the birds/squirrels. In this country some people erect netting 'cages' over their fruit bushes, suppose we could do something the same if we used the metal frames that come with our plastic greenhouses, usually the cover rots after a few years (or blows away in a gale/tears etc), the frame is still useful.

Kale is a winter crop here, one of the best (healthiest) 'greens' to grow. Grown and eaten a great deal in olden days when there wasn't much else around at that time.
In the UK if we sow kale outdoors until June, we can harvest the mature plants from December through to April. However, if we carry on sowing until September we will also get a good supply of baby leaves. The recommendation is to extend the kale harvest by picking a few leaves from each plant as required. Cutting off the crown of the plant in December sill encourage it to grow new (and fresh) side shoots.

As you say Margie, weather conditions can play havoc with our food crops. It doesn't really matter what part of the world we get drought or floods, with so much food being imported from abroad these days, we are usually able to still get what we want, although the price usually rises when there is a shortage somewhere. Well food prices rise anyway, so this year - with the global weather going hay-wire - we could be facing even higher prices.

But, as always, we should be able to find cheaper foods to eat that - nutritionally - our body needs. Perhaps, due to food being cheap enough (until recent years), we haven't bothered to try different veggies/grains/fish/cuts of meat....or even foraged for edible wild herbage and fruits. With the sea virtually on our doorstep we still have a supply of free fish (once I've got over the problem of handling maggots and taking the hook from the mouth of wriggling fish), so possibly luckier than those who live inland.

Recipes today are varied, some are 'interesting', some are unusual, all are inexpensive and easy to make.
The first recipe uses the same ingredients (other than liquid) that we would use to make 'chowder' (a fish based soup). So when making this soup we could also cook a little extra and make these fishcakes to eat another day. They can be frozen, and if only just thawed before frying (in other words still well chilled) they stay firmer and less likely to break up when being turned.
The coating for these cakes uses cream crackers. This pleases me as these are the least favourite of the cheese biscuits that come in mixed packs, so I always have them left-over. However other 'crunchy crumbs' could be used instead, crushed cornflakes, crushed potato crisps, crushed dried breadcrumbs etc.
Chowder Cakes: serves 4
4 tblsp milk
1 lb (450g) cod fillet (or other fish of choice)
1 x 200g can sweetcorn kernels, drained
1 shallot, grated OR 4 spring onions, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1lb 10 oz (750g) cooked potatoes, mashed with butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
12 cream crackers, crushed to crumbs (see above)
Put the fish and milk into a frying pan. Bring to the boil, cover, lower heat and poach for 4 - 5 minutes (depending upon the thickness of the fish - it should flake easily). Set aside until cool enough to handle.
Put the mashed potatoes into a bowl and stir in the sweetcorn, onions and seasoning to taste. Remove skin from fish, flake the flesh and fold this into the mash mix, taking care not to break up the flakes too much. Divide into 8 and form into round flat 'cakes'.
Put the beaten eggs into a shallow dish, and the cracker crumbs into another dish. Dip the fish cakes first into the egg, then into the crumbs. For a really crispy coating, dip again into the egg and then again into the crumbs (called 'double-dipping').
Place in the fridge to chill for half an hour, then heat a little oil in a frying pan and fry the fish cakes, four at a time for about 3 minutes, then carefully turn and fry for a further 3 minutes until crisp and golden.
If frying partially thawed fish cakes, fry for a good 5 minutes on each side to make sure they are heated through.
Serve with a salad and tomato ketchup or tartare sauce.

We normally expect a salad to be served cold, and a hot meal to be served - well, HOT! But there can be an in-between, and a warm salad can make a lovely meal for a summer's day, and as this uses vegetables in season at the moment, worth making.
If you have no chickpeas, then used canned red or white beans (not baked beans). If you haven't all the herbs use at least one or two, and if only one, pref the parsley).
Warm Chickpea Salad: serves 4
1 red onion, cut into wedges
2 courgettes, thickly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeds removed, cut into chunks
12 oz (350g) ripe tomatoes, halved
salt and pepper
4 - 5 tblsp olive oil
juice of half a lemon
3 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (chives, parsley, mint..)
2 x 400g cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 oz (100g) feta cheese, cut into cubes
Put the onions, courgettes, pepper and tomatoes into a roasting tin, season with pepper and drizzle 2 tblsp of the oil over the top. Toss well together then roast for half an hour at 200C, 400F, gas 6, turning halfway through, until the veggies are tender.
Meanwhile make a dressing by mixing the lemon juice with the remaining olive oil and add seasoning to taste, then stir in the herbs.
Leave the roasted veg to cool for 5 minutes, then put into a bowl with the chickpeas, cheese and the lemon/oil dressing. Toss gently together and serve immediately with pitta bread or other bread you choose.

Here is a recipe that can be served in several ways. Either make 'n bake to eat as 'nibbles' or serve as a 'side' (instead of potatoes) with cooked smoked haddock, or hot or cold smoked mackerel. Can be served with a crisp green salad with the tomato sauce (recipe for this also given), or as a hot meal serve with cooked broccoli or leeks and (again) the tomato sauce.
The success of this depends on the size of the eggs. Best to keep back a bit of beaten egg as it may not be necessary to use it all. The mixture should drop reluctantly from the spoon in a thick ribbon. If to 'runny', just sift over a teaspoon more of flour and beat this in.
Herby Choux Cheese Puffs: serves 4
3 oz (75g) plain flour
pinch dried mustard powder
3 oz (75g) butter, cubed
4 fl oz (100ml) water
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, grated
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tblsp chopped fresh mixed herbs
Sift the flour and mustard powder together. Put the butter and water into a pan and heat until the butter has melted, bring to the boil then tip in all the flour in one go, remove from heat and - using a wooden spoon - beat to a smooth paste. Beat in 3 oz (75g) of the cheese. Leave to cool for five minutes, then gradually beat the eggs into the mixture.
Drop spoonfuls of the mix onto a baking sheet dry-lined with baking parchment, forming them into an 8" (20cm) ring but keeping the 'balls' slightly apart. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25 - 30 minutes until well puffed up and crisp. While they are baking, make the tomato sauce (recipe below). When the Cheese Choux Puffs are ready, serve as 'tear 'n share' (breaking a couple of Puffs off the ring for each serving), placing them on a plate with the chosen accompaniment (see suggestions above).

tomato sauce:
1 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tblsp tomato puree
seasoning to taste
Put all the ingredients into a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer/stir for 10 minutes until thickened. Serve with the above Puffs.

Next recipe is useful in that it can use up watercress (this not having a short shelf life at best of times). Basically this dish is 'pasta with pesto', but this time the pesto is homemade, using watercress instead of basil. But any type of pesto could be used, as can any type of pasta I suppose. So no excuses not to make this.
Fettucine is what I call flat 'noodles', although 'noodles' are usually Chinese and not always flat.
Have found that walnut halves are sometimes cheaper than buying the packs (same weight) of walnut pieces (these being the broken bits would have assumed they would be cheaper), so best to check the price before choosing which to buy.
Fettucine with Pesto and Walnuts: serves 4
12 oz (350g) fettucine (or other pasta)
3 oz (75g) watercress
4 oz (100g) walnuts, chopped
2 oz (50g) grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, crushed
zest and juice of 2 limes (or 1 lemon)
4 fl oz (100ml) olive oil
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions, meanwhile putting the watercress, 2 oz of the walnuts, the Parmesan, garlic and citrus zest into a food processor. Blitz to make a paste, and while the motor is still running, gradually pour in the olive oil. Add seasoning to taste.
Drain the pasta and return to the pan, stirring in the pesto and remaining walnuts. Serve immediately, and eat as-is or with a side salad and some Italian bread.

The ingredients for this final recipe are very similar to the ones used when I make my own pork pies, but with no pastry and a crusty topping have this time turned into a meat loaf. 'Meat loaf' to me (and maybe to everyone in the UK) is traditionally an America (US) dish, we don't seem to serve it much over here (and in the US is probably made with beef). So let's start cooking and eating 'meat loaf' starting with this recipe. Pork being cheaper than beef makes sense to use it, and we could also use chicken or turkey mince instead of the pork to make a change.
Myself find the loaf easier to remove if the tin has been lined with kitchen foil before filling (leaving some foil overlapping), then all that needs to be done is use the overlap foil as a handle to lift out the contents, then cool slightly before peeling the foil from the sides.
Pork and Herb Meatloaf: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 rashers smoked streaky bacon
1 lb (500g) pork mince
5 oz (150g) fresh breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
good pinch salt
2 tblsp tomato puree
1 tblsp dried mixed herbs
2 oz (50g) Cheddar cheese, grated
Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion for a few minutes until softened, then put into a bowl. Chop up 2 of the bacon rashers and add to the onions along with the pork, 4 oz (100g) of the breadcrumbs, the egg, salt, tomato puree and herbs. When well combined, press into a 1 lb (450g) loaf tin. Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour at 180C, 350F, gas 4.
Meanwhile, make the topping by dry-frying the remaining 2 bacon rashers until crisp. Remove from the pan and replace with the breadcrumbs, frying these in the bacon fat for a couple of minutes until golden. Tip into a bowl, and add the cheese and crumble/crush in the bacon.
Five minutes before the meatloaf is cooked, sprinkle the topping over the uncovered surface of the 'loaf', then return to the oven to cook for 5 minutes to allow the cheese to melt. Remove from oven and leave to stand for 15 minutes, then loosen the sides away from the side of the tin using a knife and remove from tin (or use the tip above). Serve sliced with new potatoes and salad.

The 'press preview' (advance copy) of the latest Lakeland catalogue arrived through our letterbox yesterday. Was very taken with their new range of 'cheese making' equipment. Knowing that we can make our own 'feta', 'cottage cheese', 'mozzarella' cheeses ourselves is very definitely something we should all try to do. Lakeland also have a small cookbook that tells us how. Certainly something I will be ordering.

Lakeland also have a new and comprehensive range of food flavourings/extracts. Was thrilled to bits to see these until I discovered they still haven't included the 'violet' essence, this being something I desperately needed as I now make a lot of macaroons. Violet essence is also used for flavouring sweets and I see they also have a new range of 'mats' that can be used to make 'filled' chocolates. Even a mould to make chocolate 'spoons'. Whatever will they come up with next. Am still hoping that a conical sieve will enter their range. Also a small sieve useful for sifting icing sugar over cup cakes etc. More use to me that a sous-vide!

Not sure what I'll be making today. B has eaten the last of those rather gorgeous soft baps made a couple of days ago, the fruit cake has also been finished, so will have to come up with something else for his 'snacks'. Still one bag of popcorn left for him to munch (only because I hid it away). When next ordering on-line from Tesco MUST get several more packs of popping corn (it has a shelf life of many, many years), as it is certainly turning out to be a very cheap 'snack', and as I've been experimenting with several sweet and savoury 'flavours', it could turn out to be a very 'Goode' idea to keep on with the popping.

Believe today is expected to stay fairly warm, dry and even sunny in our area, can't say the same for the Midland and further south, they will have more rain. May decided to leave baking until the weekend (traditionally the time for baking), and spend time in the garden, but not 'basking in the sun', but doing more 'work', like filling the many tubs with the geranium (and other) plants that arrived the other day. Yesterday only made sure their soil hadn't dried out, knowing then they would survive the heat, today they will need more attention.

But first must do the washing up. B keeps saying it is he who ALWAYS does the washing up, yet for the past weeks it is me that has got to the sink first as I can't always be waiting for him to clear the decks of dirty pots and pans. Kitchen work I like to get done before noon, and for me the earlier the start the better. Sometimes I've even got the washing up done before B has risen from his bed.

Of course neat and tidy people wash their supper pots and pans before retiring to bed. We leave them until the next day, unless I find I need to spend the night cooking for B's social club, when I tend then to wash up everything before I start and continue washing up as more bowls and dishes, jugs, mugs, knives, spoons and forks, mixer 'beaters', saucepans and baking sheets get dirty as used (because I need to use them all again, like within minutes). Oh for those days when many families employed a scullery maid to do all these menial jobs. Bet professional chefs don't do the washing up. TV cooks even have 'helpers' weighing and measuring all the ingredients before they start (and even cooking the 'ones made earlier). No wonder cooking LOOKS easier but is a darn sight more labour intensive that it first appears.

As I said, MUST get on or nothing much will be done today (story of my life). Hope that something useful will get accomplished so that I have something worthwhile to write about tomorrow. Have to wait and see, but worth joining me again tomorrow to find out. See you then.