Friday, August 24, 2012

Likes and Dislikes

Well, the Hairy Bikers certainly managed that 2.5 stone weight loss they set to achieve in three months, and how good they looked at the end. Have to say their diet wouldn't work for me as they still seemed to eat loads, but then they did do a lot more exercise (cycling and walking etc) so expect that helped more than what they ate.

In one programme they showed how to cut down fat by using a pizza base mix to make a meat pie instead of using puff pastry. This is almost the same type of 'dough' we use when making a 'cobbler' topping for a casserole (similar to scone mix), but instead of cutting it into 'cobbles' (scone shapes), the H.B's used the pizza dough to cover the pie completely as we would do with pastry. Do we really need pastry anyway? Personally I'd just prefer to eat the filling (only more of it).
But then many people (esp men) do like a 'proper' meat pie with a crusty (pref puff) pastry top. As with any dish, we all have our favourites, our likes and dislikes, so we have to try to suit our palates even when dieting, or we never get to enjoy our meals. Perhaps that is what helps with many diets, allowing us only food we are not really fond of, so we end up not eating as much of that just because, so the weight drops off even faster. Must try that approach. Starting with celery.

Agree with you Eden V.M.. the Barefoot Contessa does come across rather bland. Initially I really enjoyed watching her as she seemed very relaxing compared to some of the more frenzied US cooks, also the dishes she cooks also more in the English style than the over-rich mountains of food normally served. Having now watched her several times she does seem to repeat her favourite expressions, and am rapidly going off her.
All the US cooks seem to use a horrendous amount of salt in their dishes, and considering the health implications, cannot understand why they still do this. Whereas we add a bare 'pinch' of salt (and often leave it out altogether), it is common to see a US cook add a tablespoonful, and often more.
Mind you, whatever the implications, a pinch of salt really does help to improve flavour, and certainly when cooking pasta this should be in well-salted water. It isn't as though the pasta absorbs all the salt, most stays in the water, but try cooking the same pasta in two pans, one with salt the other without and you really will notice the difference in taste.

Not sure about onion powder being the same as onion salt Margie as when I've seen it used in the 'Diners, Drive-in, Dives.' prog, they add about a pint of onion powder THEN throw in what looks like nearly the same amount of salt.
At one time in the UK we could buy packs of dried onions to add to casseroles and the like. Anyone know if these are still for sale for then I could grind up the onions to make my own powder? "Why buy powder if you can use the dried onions as-is?" I hear you ask. Well, onion powder stirred into yogurt or creme fraiche, then left to stand for an hour or two (covered and chilled), would then turn it into a well flavoured dip. Tried this once using dried onions and it did work well, but I didn't care for the pieces of onion. Powder would give flavour without the 'bits'.

Made a couple of dips yesterday for my supper, ending up with too much so ate only one, kept the other for today/tomorrow. Divided a tub of creme fraiche in half, and to one added a good spoonful of Korma paste and ditto mango chutney. Blended together these make a very good 'curry dip' which I ate with quarted raw chestnut mushrooms.
To the second I added almost equal quantities of tartare sauce, this ended up a bit bland (the tartare sauce would make a good dip on its own), so today may use that to coat some fish or chicken before crumbing (instead of dipping in egg), or thin it down with a little water and use as a salad dressing.

For some reason B wasn't bothered about supper yesterday. He knew I was making a Treacle Tart, so he said he'd have that, then get himself something else if he wanted anything. Think he is trying to lose a few lbs weight himself, but don't think Treacle Tart is the right thing to eat, especially as he ate half of it last night (baked in a 9"/23cm fairly deep tin).
Also made some cheese straws with the scraps of left-over pastry, these were intended for me to much along with my dip, but when B saw me making them he said he'd like some, I said there might not be enough for two but then he put on his sad puppy-eyed look and so of course I relented and said he could have them all "as I really shouldn't be eating them anyway as I'm trying to lose weight". Am a fool to myself when it comes to B.

At least this morning found my weight has dropped by three pounds since yesterday, so possibly my cuppa soup for lunch, and dip 'n mushrooms for supper did the trick. The cheesestraws might have made a difference in the wrong direction so well done B for being greedy.

Yesterday cooked a gammon to replace the two cooked the other day (which the club ended up having), and today must cook some (brown) bread. Probably cook a chicken dish for supper as B hasn't had any chicken for seemingly days (if not weeks). At one time I used to write down what was made each day so that B had a good balance with no two consecutive days eating the same meat, also try to give at least two servings of fish a week. Must start writing it down again.doing I suppose can look up my old lists and just copy them. B won't remember what he ate several months ago and am sure I jotted down any criticisms he made.

There is a new series on TV at the moment about Italian cookery 'like Mama used to make', and think this may be the one you mentioned Margie. Have only watched one so far - think this was on making different coloured gnocchi (for some reason gnocchi does not tempt me).

It is true the Italians seem to be a very healthy nation, often said to be due to the fact they use a lot of olive oil. But then have read that unlike our 'five a day' (fruit and veg), they normally eat at least 'twelve a day', so maybe that also has something to do with their good health.

Most Italian peasant food is cheap to make probably because (as in parts of France) much of this economy is due to the way the cook would go and gather wild herbage and fruits to make many of her dishes. In a warmer climate there is a lot more edible vegetation to gather than here in the UK, and also the Mediterranian countries tend to be more family orientated and the children - even now - still learn to cook at a very early age, and also learn what wild produce is fit to eat, and what isn't. Certainly in rural areas.
Here I doubt anyone is taught what herbage and fungi growing wild in the UK are edible, and only those really interested are the ones who now bother to find out.

Pasta in Italy was normally made at home, a;hough now more do go and buy it ready 'dried', but this is always the best quality and type for the purpose. Over here we are not so selective.
According to the dish being made we do need the right kind/shape of pasta to coat or hold the sauce served with it. Here in the UK we like to plonk pasta onto a plate then spoon the (spa.bol meat) sauce on top. In Italy the pasta is added to the sauce and folded together so all pieces of pasta get coated with the sauce, and this then means they don't need to use quite as much sauce. A good way to save money on the meat!

Pasta that has a shape that will 'hold' sauce is also good to use when serving with a looser sauce than that of (say) spag. bol meat sauce. So for this we should choose the 'spiral' pasta, or the 'shell-shaped'.
Although there are hundreds of pasta shapes favoured by the Italians, many are very similar, and serve the same purpose in a dish, so we don't really need to even remember names as most pasta is packed in transparent wrapping, so we can see which shape suits the dish we are making, and if it isn't quite the right one, am sure no British person would even realise this.

Myself tend to keep only a few shapes. Spaghetti, pasta penne, lasagne sheets, and fusilli (spiral shaped), also macaroni. Sometimes I buy the 'bows', and do have some orzo (Greek pasta that looks like rice). Cannelloni I sometimes buy but tend to use (softened) lasagne sheets to form tubes (wrapped around a 'sausage' of filling.
Myself would like to extend the range to include 'shells' and tiny pasta shapes to use for soups, but as B ALWAYS prefers to chop his pasta up before eating - even his spaghetti he cuts into inch lengths (never having mastered the art of winding the pasta round a fork to put it into his mouth) - well, not much point in being fussy about the pasta used.

The above has now led me to suggest some easy Italian dishes that we could make. Maybe some of us are already familiar with them, but all recipes today seem to have some adaptation to the traditional, so worth taking a look at least to see if you feel inspired to have a go at these.

First is a risotto made with mushrooms. Wild mushrooms suggested, but ordinary button mushrooms can be used. Chestnut mushrooms are my favourite at the moment as they keep far longer in the fridge than do the normal white 'buttons', and they are also firmer with more flavour.
When risotto is made in the Goode kitchen, chicken stock (home-made of course) is always used, but vegetarian stock is an alternative. White wine really does add to the flavour, but if we have none, then we do without don't we?
Shallot or onion, interchangeable in my kitchen, blue cheese if at all possibly, otherwise use any strong cheese you have. Parmesan traditional for garnishing, but there again I dry off mature cheeses (Cheddar or Red Leicester) until almost rock hard then grate on the finest grater and these make a good substitute for the Parmesan.
Butter - well no good substitute for this as it is all to do with the flavour, but you could omit it and add a drizzle more oil (this time pref extra virgin olive) to take its place.
Mushroom Risotto: serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
1 shallot or small onion, finely chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
7 oz (200g) risotto rice
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 'handfuls' mushrooms
1 glass white wine (about 350ml)
2 pints chicken or vegetable stock (boiling)
4 oz (100g) blue cheese, crumbled
2 oz (50g) butter, cut into cubes
salt and pepper
grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion over medium heat for a few minutes until softened, then stir in the garlic and fry for a further minute. Add the rice and thyme and stir to coat with the oil. Raise the heat then gradually pour in the wine, stirring until absorbed by the rice. Add the mushrooms and a ladle of stock, and stir and bubble until the liquid has been absorbed, then continue adding a ladle of stock allowing it to be absorbed before the next ladleful is added. Stir continuously until the rice is tender (takes about 20 minutes), then stir in the blue cheese and butter. Add seasoning to taste. Serve with a scattering of Parmesan on top.

Next recipe uses 'orecchiette' pasta - worth seeking as being 'ear shaped' it holds a sauce well. Shell shaped pasta could be used instead. At a pinch use 'fusilli'.
If you don't have rocket leaves, use watercress, mixed salad leaves, or - if nothing else - just shredded iceberg.
Pasta Salad with Tuna and Red Onions: serves 4
1 red onion, finely sliced
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tblsp capers, rinsed and drained
2 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
7 oz (300g) orecchiette pasta (see above)
2 x 185g cans tuna, drained then flaked
4 oz (100g) rocket leaves (see above)
Put the onions, lemon zest and juice, capers and oil in a bowl and toss well together. Add seasoning to taste.
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions, then rinse under the cold water tap, draining well.
Toss the pasta with the onion and lemon 'dressing'. Add the tuna and toss again. Cover and leave in the fridge until ready to serve. Add the rocket (or other leaves) just before serving to prevent wilting.

Bucatini is pasta that looks like spaghetti but slightly thicker and hollow with a hole running through the centre of each length. If you can't find this, spaghetti makes a good substitute.
Bucatini amatricaiana: serves 4
1 large onion, grated
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 rashers back bacon (fat removed) chopped
1 tblsp olive oil
dash Tabaso sauce
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
14 oz (400g) bucatini or spaghetti
handful fresh parsley, chopped
Fry the onion, bacon and garlic in the oil for a few minutes until softened. Stir in the Tabasco and canned tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes.
While the above is cooking, cook the pasta as per packet instructions, then drain. Fold the sauce into the pasta and sprinkle on the parsley. Serve immediately.

To prove how similar, yet how different a dish can be, here is another version of the above.
Speedy Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce: serves 4
10 oz (300g) spaghetti
1 can plum tomatoes
4 tblsp olive oil
7 oz (200g) diced bacon
2 - 3 cloves garlic, crushed
salt and pepper
6 oz (175g) soft, rindless goat's cheese (opt)
handful basil leaves, shredded
1 tblsp chopped chives
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions. Drain the tomatoes and chop up (the plum tomatoes have more flavour than the canned already chopped).
Heat 1 tblsp of the oil in a frying pan and fry the bacon until beginning to crisp, then stir in the garlic, the tomatoes, the rest of the oil and seasoning to taste. Heat through to simmering (if you wish for a looser sauce, then add some of the drained juice from the tomatoes).
Drain the cooked pasta, add the pasta to the sauce and toss until coated. Serve with crumbled goat's cheese (if using) and a garnish of the herbs.

Although a slightly more expensive dish than I normally suggest making, this next is typically Italian. A more economical version would be to turn it into 'British, substituting very thinly sliced ham instead of the 'serrano or Parma', Wensleydale instead of the feta cheese, and home-grown mixed salad leaves (or even iceberg lettuce) instead of rocket. As to the sourdough bread, up to use which type of bread we choose. We could even use Irish soda bread.
Italian Salad with Crostini: serves 6
1 sourdough loaf
olive oil
18 slices serrano or Parma ham (see above)
7 oz (200g) feta cheese (see above)
40 black olives
handful rocket leaves
1 tblsp runny honey
Slice the bread into 12 thickish slices and brush each with a little olive oil. Grill in batches until the outsides are crisp but still soft inside.
Arrange the ham on a large platter, then break the feta into chunks and scatter these over the ham. Add the olives and rocket. When ready to serve, drizzle over a little olive oil and the honey. Serve with the 'crostini' on a separate plate for everyone to help themselves.

Final recipe today is for a spag. bol. meat sauce. We all have our own favourite ways of making this, and although this version is not traditional, it is the way I choose as it is both tasty and economical with the meat. Nowadays I make an even speedier version by using pre-cooked mince that has been slow cooked in my 'crock-pot', but this recipe makes it from scratch.
Depending upon whether the traditional recipe comes from the South, Middle or North of Italy, spag. bol meat sauce is made with mince beef, or a mixture of minced beef and minced pork, or just minced pork. So we could use either or both meats according to what we have.

Normally hope to add a glass of red wine to this dish when cooking, and it is even better if the meat is put into a bowl, the wine poured over and left to marinate overnight in the fridge before frying (cook any remaining meat juices/wine to the dish when you add the other liquids). One Italian chef on TV recommends pouring the oil over the meat and working it through with the fingers to help separate the grains then frying it off in a dry pan. Said to prevent the meat 'clumping' together when fried. This does seem to work.

When I haven't home-made beef stock, then add a crumbled stock cube with water to the pan. If for some reason the meat sauce ends up too runny/slack, then stir in a teaspoon or so of Bisto beef gravy granules, this gives even more meat flavour as well as helping to thicken. Adding a handful of porridge oats will also help thickening, and as oats contain protein this is another way to reduce the meat content when counting our pennies. Haven't yet tried making a spag.blo 'meat' sauce with just veg and oats, together with plenty of well flavoured beef stock. It might work, it might not, but certainly worth thinking about when it comes to making a chilli con carne as the heat of the dish, tends to hide the flavour of ingredients used. More to do with texture in the mouth I suppose. Really must give that one a try.
Shirley's Spag. Bol. Meat Sauce: serves 4
1 oz (50g) butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely sliced
1 tblsp tomato puree
4 oz (100g) minced beef
5 oz (150g) minced pork
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
5 fl oz (150ml) beef stock
good dash Worcestershire sauce
good dash HP sauce
salt and pepper
handful button mushrooms, sliced or roughly chopped
grated Parmesan
Put the butter in a saucepan over low heat, then add the onion, carrots and celery. Stir until coated with the butter, then put on a lid and leave to saute (fry and steam in their own juices) for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the oil into a frying pan and add the beef and pork. Stir-fry until browned all over, then add the tomato puree and sauteed vegetables. Mix well to combine, then pour in the chopped tomatoes and beef stock, also stirring in the W. sauce and HP. Simmer, uncovered, over low heat until thickened. Fold in the mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes. Taste and add seasoning if necessary.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta as per packet instructions, then drain well and stir this into the meat sauce. Serve with grated Parmesan to sprinkle on top.

My Beloved has just come in with another mug of coffee for me (how kind), and says he'd like to have a go at making some of the recipes he's been reading that are in some very small booklets that I leave lying on my desk (he comes and sits here to play games on the comp but obviously reads my books too). He says if I gather the ingredients together then he will cook his own supper. Not supper for both of us (how mean) , but perhaps, knowing his lack of understanding of cooking procedures, perhaps better he practices on himself first.
Maybe today he will cook his own supper, that will leave me free to put my feet up and watch more Food Network.

Thankfully, yesterday managed to sort out all the plastic tubs, find lids to fit most of them, then B took the remainder off to the tip with other rubbish. The tubs are still in the corner 'carousel', but able to be fitted into two deep bowls on the bottom shelf, the rest of my (many) assorted sized mixing bowls, plus some small serving dishes, stored on the remaining lower shelf and all the upper shelf.
This has left space for me now to keep most of my baking tins together on an open shelf in the kitchen (the rest being stored in the cupboard under the cooking (cupboard door removed so tins now easily visible). How much easier now it will be to find what I want the moment I want it.

Time moves relentlessly by, so must now take my leave and get on making bread et al. Will be back as usual tomorrow and hope to see you then.