Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Trials and Tribulations...

One of the problems with 'experimental cookery' is that occasionally it doesn't turn out as well as expected, and with our economic climate it is almost a sin to waste food, so more care has to be taken so that any - let's call them 'mistakes' - can still be eaten. As B says (once in the mouth) "it all goes down the same way".

Fortunately, at the moment my 'trials' are fairly successful and so I continue. Today am having a go at making some different flavoured 'nachos' (these to me are almost the same as tortilla chips). Flavouring some with paprika, others with herbs etc. So very cheap and easy to make that they should be made more often (the recipe has been given in the past).

Yesterday B had chilli con carne (and home-made 'ready meal' from the freezer), with some bought tortilla chips. For myself used some cream cheese, blended with some creme fraiche with a teaspoon of Korma curry paste and two teaspoons of home-made mango chutney. This always makes a really tasty dip and with it I had some 'sticks' of cucumber, red bell pepper, celery, carrot, with some small raw cauliflower florets and quartered chestnut mushrooms. Plus a handful of tortilla chips. This was surprisingly satisfying, probably because 'dips and crudites' take quite a time to munch through, and it is said that after 20 minutes of eating, our brain tells us we have had enough. One reason why a Chinese meal eaten with chopsticks can make us feel full (even when we haven't eaten THAT much - it takes some skill and quite some time to pick up rice with chopsticks).

Possibly, for those on a diet, eating any food with chopsticks is a good idea for it will always take more time than when eating the 'Western way' using a knife and fork. Unless of course we do it the Oriental way (as I do), when eating a 'Chinese', fill a small bowl with rice, topping it with the
chosen chicken, meat, fish (and sauce), then holding the bowl up to the chin and using the chopsticks to scoop the food inside the mouth, rather than picking it up bit by bit.

Enjoyed my 'dip 'n bits' last night so much will be having it again tonight. Not sure what B will have, will sort that out later.

Thankfully it is cooler now, with far less humidity, so back under the duvet again at night, and because I had nodded off in my chair (as per usual), B having already gone to bed, woke at around 4.00am, so decided instead of staying awake and starting chores early in the day, would at least grab 3 or 4 hours sleep in bed before rising.
About three hours later woke up and wondered why it was still dark, my bedside clock showing he time was less than it was when I went to bed. Had a really strange feeling I'd somehow got into a time warp, then realised that I'd misread the clock in the living room and it wasn't around four in the morning, but twenty-past eleven the evening before. That's the problem with having clocks where it is difficult to read the numbers and the hands are both the same length!
So missed the programme I'd hoped to watch later that night, but at least had a reasonably good night's sleep.

As expected, I am now (almost) becoming addicted to the Food Network channel. Well, sort of, although it does seem that many of the programmes have US cooks demstrating their dishes, and watched only for interest as doubt I would ever make anything shown as the food tends to be either over-fatty, or over-sweet. Most enjoyable to eat no doubt, but only in small quantities and not that often. Am not surprised that the US has an obesity problem if that is the normal type of food eaten.
Did catch part of a prog. called (I think) 'The Hungry Cook'. The cook showing how to make lower calorie foods. Still not quite as low-cal as I hoped. She did show how to make what she called 'pigs in blankets' (they looked exactly like what we call small sausage rolls), but used frankfurters (and having read recently what goes into them would never touch them with a bargepole as the saying goes), and the pastry was some chilled low-fat pastry that was sold in a cardboard tube and came out pre-marked in triangles. At one time we used to be able to get pastry to bake into croissants sold this way - and very good it was too - so wish we could still get this as myself have had no success (so far) in making and baking a good light flaky croissant (this 'pastry' being a cross between bread dough and puff pastry).

So far have seen only one programme on that channel with an English cook (and she was demonstrating Mexican food), and as our TV guide doesn't show all the Freeview channels (at least not the Food network one), I don't know what to expect when I switch over to it. Perhaps the Internet will give a listing so that I can pick and choose my times (at least when the Olympics are over).

So far we don't seem to be doing as well as expected in the Olympics, having not yet won a gold, but as we Brits say - 'it is taking part that matters, not winning'.
There has been an awful lot of griping about the empty seats at most of the venues. The organisers desperately trying to fill them up with servicemen and school children, but then the schools don't want to send children as they don't have enough teachers to chaperone them. Empty seats all the fault (they say) of thousands of tickets sent abroad and also to organisations here who haven't bothered to use them. They are now being asked to return them so that the public here can make use of them.

A lot has been written about the truly remarkable opening ceremony, which - unfortunately - was not always understood by those who live overseas, but to us it was the historical progression of our society. It was good to see the Pearly Kings and Queens of the East End of London (still around even now), and also the parade of our Suffragettes (from the Edwardian times). The way the scene changed from rural to the towering and smoking chimneys in a very few minutes was short of miraculous.
I just loved the 'doves' (men cycling furiously round with their lit-up wings flapping behind them), and if I had a gripe at all it was that there was too much 'pop music'. But as this was part of our culture, then it needed to be included.
The lighting of the Olympic torch was most unusual and unexpected and 'beat that' I say to the next Olympic hosts.

There was a feature in the newspaper about the women's cycle race and the beautiful English scenery that was shown as they rode through. Think it was the same route as the men's race, but do hope that overseas viewers managed to watch this as it did give a splendid view of what England (countryside and town) really is like, especially during the summer months with all the flowers and foliage (ignore the rain).

Was that a 'State Fair' that you went to Lisa, or a more local one? It sounded worth going to, especially the handicrafts sections/tents. Much the same as we have here I suppose, but most of our country fairs also have live-stock competitions. Best bull, or sheep, pigs etc. Often a dog show and usually some show-jumping. Plenty of tents showing local food produce (for purchase and tasting), and the usual handicrafts and cooking competitions.

From books I have read believe that a blue rosette is given to the winner, a red to the second. Here in England it is normal to have a red rosette when we win, and a blue for second (not sure about third, this could be yellow).

Do you knit socks with wool or man-made fibres Lisa? Am sure you are unusual in that you knit socks at all, doubt that many in this country still bother to do that. Remember trying to knit these when a teenager and never managing as had to use four steel knitting needles, the stitches held on three, and one to work with.
We used to knit gloves too in much the same way, but generally I knitted fingerless mittens as these were much simpler to do.
With knitting being an almost lost art (although plenty of older people still knit, or at least know how to), anything 'hand-knitted' - like most 'hand-mades' - can cost a fortune when bought from a shop.

Have not come across Jenny Cogan books Jane, but will look out for them. It's a sign of the times when a book such as 'Fifty Shades of Grey' has become a blockbuster, especially as it is said to be badly written. Must be the shocking content that people are buying it for, not the beauty of the prose.

Regarding coffee, have to say I cannot really get a taste for the 'good stuff'. Too strong for me, and also B, both of us preferring Nescafe Original 'instant'.
What bugs me is the way that coffee comes in so many different guises, each with a fancy name, and when we first came to Morecame with a view to living here, we were taken to the Midland Hotel for morning coffee. I was asked by a very snooty girl what type I wished for and I said 'just coffee with milk, please', and she looked down her nose and said "do you mean cafe latte." and although I knew it was the same thing, I said 'no, I want just coffee with milk thank you, none of your foreign stuff." Well, I wasn't happy about moving anyway, so was wearing my 'awkward old woman' hat, and - have to say - enjoying wearing it.

Think the coffee was brought to me in a tall glass (or was that another type drunk by B?) but not how I believed coffee should be served. Doubt in the 1930's (the Art Deco style of the hotel), coffee was drunk in tall glasses, and probably only then offered 'With or without milk or cream, Madam". Then poured directly into a cup in front of you from two pots, one holding coffee, the other hot milk, cream served separately in a jug, with demerara sugar lumps and a pair of sugar tongs to lift them with. Those were the days.

Am almost tempted today to serve myself an English tea of cucumber sandwiches with the c rusts cut off, scones with jam and cream, and a slice of Dundee cake. Trouble is, hate wasting crusts (so would have to dry them off in the oven), the scones would have to be freshly made (and although do have home-made jam, don't have any clotted cream), also have no Dundee cake, and anyway - nowadays don't eat or drink anything at tea-time. How un-English is that?

One way to make a sliced loaf go a bit further is not to make two 'rounds' of sarnies (using four slices of bread) but to stack the fillings between three slices, this making what we call a 'club sandwich'.
We could do this when making a BLT (bacon, lettuce, and tomato), but here is a much more satisfying version that turns it into more of a meal. Instead of cooked chicken or turkey, we could also make similar versions using cooked roast beef or ham, in which case omit the bacon and mayo and substitute horseradish sauce or mustard, and add a few thin slices of cooked beetroot (opt) .
Chicken and Bacon Club sandwich: serves 4
12 slices bread
quarter of an iceberg lettuce, finely chopped
8 tblsp mayonnaise
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper
8 rashers of bacon, cooked and crispy
8 ripe baby plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
7 oz (200g) cooked chicken breast, thinly sliced
Lightly toast the bread and keep warm. Put the lettuce into a bowl with the mayon and lemon juice and seasoning to taste, then mix together and spoon onto 4 slices of the toasted bread, top each with 2 rashers of bacon, a few slices of tomato, and some of the chicken. Place another slice of toast on top and repeat the layer, end with the last pieces of toast.
Cut each into triangles, and hold the layers in place by stabbing through with a cocktail sticks. Serve immediately.

According to an Italian (TV) chef, fish and cheese do not go together in one dish. Possibly not traditional to the Latins, but myself have found they make happy room-mates. Here is a recipe for (yet another) fish cake, and if lucky enough to have some fresh cooked salmon, use this, otherwise use canned salmon. Or - if you prefer (and that's all you have) use cooked white fish, or canned tuna. Instead of broccoli, include some lightly mashed (or whole) frozen cooked peas or double-skinned cooked broad beans. In fact you could include other veggies such as diced and blanched finely chopped red bell peppers (or if you like spicy some Peppadew), as this adds extra colour as well as flavour.
As with anything that is 'egged and crumbed' for frying, we could use crushed cornflakes, crisps, or instant polenta as a coating instead of breadcrumbs.
Salmon and Broccoli Fishcakes: serves 4
12 oz (350g) mashed potato
2 oz (50g) grated Cheddar cheese
1 - 2 tblsp chopped chives or parsley
salt and pepper
2 salmon fillets, cooked and flaked (see above)
3 oz (75g) broccoli, chopped into small florets
plain flour for dusting
1 egg, beaten
3 oz (75g) dried breadcrumbs (see above)
Put the potatoes into a bowl with the cheese, herbs and seasoning to taste, and mash together. Fold in the flaked fish and broccoli, then shape into 4 cakes. Chill for at least 30 minutes - or to save time these can be made up to 2 days ahead, kept chilled in the fridge until ready to fry.
To cook: Dust the fish cakes with flour, then dip into the egg and then the breadcrumbs. If you like a really crusty coating, dip again into the egg and again into the crumbs (called 'double-dipping'. Fry in shallow oil for 4 minutes on each side, turning once, until golden and hot through. Serve with a watercress or rocket salad and sweet chilli sauce.

Next dish is what I call 'variable' as it could form the base of a chilli con carne (adding spices and beans), also a spag.bol meat sauce. In this instance it is more veggies than meat, with cheese adding extra protein. As with any dish such as this, use more veggies, less meat or cheese (or vice versa), according to what you have and what you can afford.
If you haven't any beef stock, either use a stock cube dissolved into hot water, or use some gravy granules (I use Bisto 'best' beef gravy granules) with water (if the latter you can omit the cornflour).
Cheesy Mince 'n Jackets: serves 4
2 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 large carrots, finely diced
3 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 tblsp olive oil
8 oz (225g) minced steak
3 tblsp tomato puree/paste
2 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
half pint (300ml) beef stock (see above)
salt and pepper
2 tsp cornflour (see above)
4 baking potatoes
9 oz (250g) Cheddar cheese, grated
Put the vegetables and oil into a pan and fry for 8 minutes until tender, then add the mince and fry this for 4 minutes, stirring, until the meat has browned. Add the tomato paste and W. sauce, and the stock. Simmer for half an hour then add seasoning to taste. Mix the cornflour with 2 tsp cold water, stir this into the mince and cook for 1 minute until thickened.
Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in the microwave for 15 minutes on full power, then remove, split in half and fill the gap with the vegetables and mince. Top with the grated cheese and - if you wish - pop under the grill to melt and bubble up the cheese. Serve with green veggies or a crisp salad.

Drop scones (aka Scotch pancakes) have always been a favourite in our family, but as one batch makes a lot, used always to make these when the children lived at home. Now there is just B and myself, haven't made them for ages, although they do freeze, but are always best eaten freshly made and still slightly warm.
Here is a recipe that uses drop scones with fruit as a dessert, and not a million miles away from Crepe Suzette's, although this is far more 'rustic. Make the drop scones normal size (for a family of four or more) or make them larger if serving only two or three.
If using frozen drop scones, then thaw and reheat in the butterscotch sauce after the apples have been cooked.
Although the recipe does suggest cooking the drop scones before making the sauce and cooking the apples, no reason why - once the apples are put into the sauce to cook - the pancakes should not then be made, as they should henF end up both cooked and warm at the same time.
Drop Scones with Apples: serves 4
7 oz (200g) self-raising flour
pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten
7 fl oz (200ml) milk
sunflower oil for frying
9 oz (250g) soft brown sugar
4 oz (100g) butter, pref unsalted
2 tsp lemon juice or brandy
4 large Bramley apples, peeled, each sliced into eight
Put the flour in a bowl with the salt, then make a well in the centre. Pour in the egg with a little of the milk, then beat until smooth and lump free, then beat in the rest of the milk to make a batter.
Heat a large non-stick frying pan or griddle/girdle and pour in a little oil (just enough to barely coat the surface of the base of the pan). Using a tablespoon (or small ladle) pour in the batter to make four 'pools' of batter, spaced well apart. After about a minute, when bubbles form on the surface and start to break, flip each pancake over using a fish slice, and fry the other side for half a minute, until golden and puffed. Slide onto a wire rack, covered with half a tea-towel, then cover with the other half of the towel so the scones stay moist and keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter.
Put the sugar and butter into the frying pan over low heat. When melted, let it bubble for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the lemon juice (or brandy), then the apples. Cook for about 7 minutes until the apples are softening, then serve by stacking the apples between the pancakes and pouring over the butterscotch sauce.

Final recipe today is very useful as it can be prepared and chilled a day ahead of cooking. A really good recipe to serve for a summer 'al fresco' lunch, and great for an evening snack whilst watching the Olympics. The bread to use for this is a big fat baguette, or bloomer loaf.
If no mozzarella (that's the Italian bit), use grated Wensleydale, Feta, or mild Cheddar. Instead of ham you could use thinly sliced salami or chorizo.
Hot Italian Stuffed Loaf: serves 6
1 x 800g bloomer or 2 x 400g baguettes
olive oil
2 tblsp tomato puree/paste
9 oz (250g) mozzarella cheese, grated
5 oz (150g) sliced ham
1 tsp dried oregano/marjoram
salt and pepper
Split the loaf lengthways, evenly through the middle but not quite through, leaving a 'hinge' at one side (like opening a book). Remove most of the crumb from inside, leaving an even layer around the crust (freeze the crumbs to use with another meal), then drizzle the internal surface with a little olive oil.
Spread the tomato puree over both of the insides, then layer the mozzarella, ham, and a sprinkle of herbs, with seasoning to taste, piling it high to fill the gap in the top crust.
Carefully close the 'sandwich', and squash down to flatten and become more compact. Wrap tightly in foil. Once wrapped in foil it can be made and kept (chilled) up to a day ahead.
To cook: still wrapped in the foil, place the filled bread directly onto an oven shelf and bake for half an hour (at room temperature) or for 5 minutes longer when chilled.
Unwrap, and cut into thick slices. Good served with small cocktail onions and tiny gherkins - or if made using Cheddar cheese, some pickle or chutney.

And another blog done and dusted. Tomorrow is Norma the Hair day, and now she has altered the time she arrives, am hoping to get my blog written before she comes, otherwise it will be close to noon before I get a chance. The rest of the week might mean short blogs (or maybe a day without a blog) if I am asked to provide plenty of baking for this coming Sunday. Still have not yet heard what is needed, so this could mean a lot of cooking will need to be fitted in towards the end of the week. But will let you know in good time if I 'disappear' for a couple of days.

Off to the kitchen to make gingerbread for Saturday - this at least improves with keeping - so one thing out of the way. Might make two large ones as B can always eat what is not required, and saves (fuel) cooking it twice if it IS needed by the club. Will also make up a batch of scone mix ready to just add the liquid as know that at least a dozen scones are needed (Saturday) and once the 'mix' is made, it will store for several weeks in the fridge for later use (B loves scones, and baking just a few when the oven is on cooking something else is easily done when the 'mix' is ready and waiting).

Weather looks set fair, although cloudy the sun might even manage to break through. It could be a lot worse (and could be a lot better), but then we never know in this country what to expect. A week's notice is about as good as it gets, and often then the forecasters don't get it right.

Hope to meet up with you again tomorrow. Until then - have a good day. Or should that be 'have a Goode day?' Bye for now.