Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Measure Twice, Cut Once

A long time ago B (who used to work in the rag trade) said there was a saying "measure twice, cut once", meaning make sure you've got it right before you start - this then avoids costly mistakes.
This applies to almost anything, and especially cooking, although - as with cloth - we can usually turn our 'mistakes' into something else, often to our advantage. Take yesterday for example...

...After removing the meat from the slow cooker and disposing of the packaging, found the ox cheeks were extremely tender, so much so that they fell to bits when trying to slice them, so obviously should not have cooked them for so long (maybe cooking in the bag didn't help this either). On the other hand, as it broke up into reasonably small pieces, decided to make giant chilli con carne with it, and because the meat had already been cooked it didn't take that long (fried an onion, added the meat and its juices, plus a can of chopped tomatoes, a pack of Beanfeast Mexican chilli, extra water, half a sachet of chilli con carne 'mix', a bit of tomato puree, and a can of red beans). This made enough for 8 'B-sized' portions (which means it would probably be enough for 10 - 12!.

The mince beef turned our extremely well slow-cooked 'in the bag', and only a few prods with a wooden spoon broke it up without any 'clumpy' bits which normally are a nuisance when cooking mince beef the normal way. Left it to stand with its few juices, and - like all cooked meat 'allowed to stand', it reabsorbed the liquid. This I cooked in a similar way to the chilli...adding the meat to the fried onion, then a couple of cubes of (frozen) red wine, a good dash of Worcestershire sauce, a can of chopped tomatoes and a pack of Beanfeast Spag.bol. Enough to fill four freezer boxes, and later can be used in many dishes. Decided to add mushrooms when re-heating for serving as 'spag.bol. meat sauce'.

For B's supper cooked a 'mini-roast' (beef). This was not a 'proper' roast (topside type), more like brisket as it was rolled and held together with elasticated 'string'. It just needed the fat on top sprinkled with salt, and then put into a tin with enough water to halfway up the meat, then cooked at 160 for two and a half hours.
Silly me forgot the 'measure twice, cut once' and switched the oven on without checking the temperature. Going back to baste the meat after the first hour discovered I'd set the oven at 180C, and thought the best thing to do then was reduce the temperature down to 130C, and let the meat continue cooking for the rest of the time.
The joint ended up looking a bit shrivelled, and the water had all evaporated, but there was quite a bit of fat to drain off. Here is the 'useful bit'. This fat I used to fry some potato wedges in a frying pan (cooked a jacket potato in the microwave until almost cooked, then removed the skin and cut into wedges), and also use the melted fat to cook a couple of Yorkshire puddings. The rest of the fat was poured into a little container to sit by the hob and use for frying.
(Incidentally the meat was really tender and very tasty as the bits that were not under water - due to the extra heat - had almost caramelised, near black and a wonderful flavour - I ate a fair amount of it whilst slicing the meat!!).

This saving of fat from sausages, beef, bacon (best not mixed), really saves quite a bit of money as it is 'free', and not only that it adds a lot more flavour than cooking oil (we will ignore the fact it is saturated fat - it has never done B any harm, so I continue to use it - and as you know he loves 'greasy' food).
His total meal was 'roast' beef, 2 Yorkshire Puddings (I've frozen the rest of the batter to see if it will cook into Yorkies later), the potato 'wedges' and some Brussels sprouts, plus gravy. He later had the last of the fresh fruit salad I'd made a couple of days before (did say to him I'd have some fruit salad, and did he want me to leave him any? To which he replied "is there enough for two"? I said "not really, so you'd better go and help yourself first" at which point he dashed into the kitchen and served himself the lot. Not that I minded, I really don't enjoy going into the kitchen and finding B has left me about a tablespoonful (his idea of the amount I need "as trying to lose weight").

Forgot to mention the previous day's supper for B. He had requested fish, even the type of dish 'a risotto', then I suggested a Prawn Cocktail as we had an avocado left, so he settled for that. However, the avocado wasn't ripe enough, and as I'd just sorted the freezer and found one small pack of 'boil in the bag cod in parsley sauce', decided to cook that with a piece of salmon and make a fish pie.
Instead of poaching the salmon separately, decided to put it into the saucepan with the 'boil in bag' cod, leaving the salmon still wrapped tightly in the foil, and still frozen, and boiled them both for 15 minutes. This worked perfectly, so from now on with probably cook the salmon from frozen as though it was 'boil in the bag' (only now it will be 'boil in the foil').

I'd already picked some fresh parsley and chopped that, so after tipping the contents of the 'cod bag' into a dish, along with its sauce, broke the fish into chunks and carefully folded this, the sauce and parsley together. Not enough sauce! Instead of making more (using Bisto parsley sauce granules) instead added a tablespoon of creme fraiche (needed using up), and a couple of teaspoons of tartare sauce. This really made a creamy sauce with a lovely flavour.
The salmon was flaked and folded in, then the lot put into a small dish with mashed potato on top, plus a sprinkling of my finely grated Cheddar (like Parmesan). Really turned out well.

It was my Beloved's afternoon at the gym yesterday and on his return he said he'd been talking to a 'gym acquaintance' in the sauna who is in the business of making meat pies. I'd heard about him before, but this time, during their 'chat', the man mentioned that he would be on TV this week in the Hairy Biker's programme, showing them how to make meat pies. Not sure if this is one of their older (repeat progs), but believe it is their new one (Hairy Dieters). So will make sure of watching all of it this week (if not on at the beginning, as normally we switch over to watch one of the soaps for the second half hour).

Very interesting comments have arrived, thank you for these.
From the sound of it Kathryn, horses are very much like dogs (also children and men), they respond to kind words when being 'trained'. Didn't realise how much attention to the trainer a horse would take - or even understand. Even though I used to ride regularly when a teenager (my mum made me stop riding after a bad fall when I hurt my back), never did seem to have much 'rapport' with the horses ridden, perhaps because they were so many different ones and so no chance to get to know each other.

Did know about the Mormons and the way they are expected to keep at least 6 month's supply of food (ready for Armageddon, due to arrive any day according to their belief), an was asked to give a talk to one or two of their congregations on the best way to store some foods (at that time they used to keep a sack of dried beans under their bed and - as usual - after a few years they were so dry they were impossible to cook to tender so had to be thrown away). My suggestion was to still buy beans, but assorted in small packs, enough to last six months, but use these in their normal day-to-day cooking, just replacing all the time so they always do have the six months supply. Same with other things like long-life milk, grains, canned food etc. Buy enough of what was needed for six months (or even a year), then keep using and keep replacing.
The other problem was the need to have enough water for a year, so many Mormons had huge water tanks built in their gardens to store this water. Let us hope this was also 'used and replaced'. But at least if 'old' it could be boiled to make it safe.

Thanks Eileen. When reading the paper yesterday realised I'd made a mistake when Gary Barlow was mentioned (and why he was brave to attend), there was also another male singer there who was also 'brave' as he'd only just recovered from pneumonia or something.

It seemed so odd yesterday to get back to the normal TV viewing. Like most of the country both B and I felt things were now a bit 'flat', and - a bit like returning home after a holiday - it's almost as though it never happened and we all go back to carrying on as normal.

So you have more than one bathroom Lisa? Sounds very posh, although have to say nowadays t is becoming more common to have an 'en suite' in the master bedroom (but usually in the more expensive properties). In my youth most working class people (and some middle class) didn't even have a bathroom. The loo was always outside (chamber pots provided under the bed during the cold weather), and baths were taken in a portable tin bath in front of the kitchen fire (with a clothes horse draped with towels to give privacy).

Am sure you will enjoy (if that is the right word) challenging yourself to find how much can be bought for $5 Lisa. If nothing else, it does help to focus on the price of food, and usually leads to discovery some worthwhile buys that we might have ignored before.

Have not checked out the comparison website Jane. I know it exists, and certainly a good idea to find out what can be bought for low cost, yet for some reason I like to do 'hands on' when it comes to food. Seeing real food in front of me allows me to make better decisions, in the same way that the photograph of my £5's worth is almost 'as good as'. Seeing the food there I was able to then see what wasn't necessary (too much lettuce), and what should be there (porridge oats etc). Also it made it easier for me to see how many different dishes (and how much of them) could be made. But that's just me and the way I like to work.

When it comes to saving money (so that food can be afforded and stored), your suggestion Jane of buying clothes only when necessary, and preferably from charity shops etc (far better quality at rock bottom prices) is the way to go in this day and age. Having only once been in the recently opened charity shop at our local shopping parade was amazed at the beautiful clothes on sale there. If only they had been in my size!!
Also am very impressed by your mention of that table and stools from Freecycle. As long as something suits the purpose, does it matter what it looks like? A coat of paint can often work miracles, although your 'freebies' sounded perfectly good anyway. Metal legs are 'retro' so now in fashion (again).

Yes, Campfire, it was Ready, Steady, Cook, the TV programme where a bag of assorted ingredients was emptied in front of each of a couple of chefs, each having different foods to play with. Can't remember the budget, was it £1.50 per bag, or as much as £5. Not that it mattered much, they just had to make as many dishes as they could using all the ingredients in a set time (think half an hour). A great programme that ran for many years. Wish it would return.

Lsst night watched the first of the new series of Masterchef (this time using celebrities) and have to say the standard of cooking wasn't THAT good, but that was just the first four. Will have to see how the others fare.
Of course did my usual (now) switch on to channel 49 to take a peek at Food Network. Watched most of Sunny Anderson cooking a Chinese dish that had an odd name (sounded like 'airman' something or other. Good to see that chicken thighs were recommended to be used as 'discounted' (compared to chicken breasts) and anyway had more flavour.
Later watched a new series about Italian cooking. Really will have to try making gnocchi, for some reason it never looked particularly appetising, to me seemed more like tiny potato 'dumplings', but am sure it is better than it looks. Especially when coloured. Although the red gnocchi was coloured with tomato paste, myself might use beetroot juice, also I'd use spinach to give the green colour. Each to his own.

The mention of Italian food reminds me of one of the D.D.and Dives programmes where an Italian 'eaterie' was visited. Serving traditional foods 'like Mama used to make'. The diners loved the way the food was served 'family-style', this being - as far as I could see - just dumped on a plate without any of the cheffy presentation (and much the better to serve it 'rustic' in my opinion. B doesn't like 'cheffy' either, all those little blobs of 'jus', and more plate to be seen than food).
What I did wrinkle my nose up a bit was when the cook showed how he made Minestrone soup.
The usual ingredients, but he made it with water and then dumped in about a pint measure of 'chicken mix' which seemed dry powder and probably the same as stock cubes. Also added other 'dry mixes', then added ouzo and rice, so not quite what I would call 'traditional'. (ouzo being a Greek pasta). Why he didn't use chicken (or beef) stock I don't know. Oh yes, he also threw in about half a pint of salt as well. But he was making a large pan full to feed a room full of diners.

Most US cooks (especially the chefs in the 'Diners, Drive-ins and Dives prog) do seem to add a HUGE amount of salt to the dishes they cook, far more than us in the UK where here a pinch of salt is almost too much (because now we are supposed to avoid adding salt to anything for the good of our health). Perhaps more salt is added in the US because in some states the temperature is very high, and this is perhaps the only time we should take salt as this helps to prevent heat exhaustion.
Am sure eventually, salt will be removed from the 'forbidden products' in the same way as it is now alright to eat butter and eggs, even (dark) chocolate, when not so long ago we were told these were bad for us for us (but now of course they are not).

Our bodies do need some salt, and we probably get more than enough when eat eat certain canned and processed foods (more than enough when we eat ready-meals). Believe farmers han 'salt-licks' in the fields for their cows to lick when they feel the need (probably when the weather is hot). So presumably 'natural' for us animals (and we humans ARE animals) to feel the need to take in salt occasionally.

In the US domestic cookery programmes it is noticeable that the salt used always seems to be 'kosher' salt. Les recently said this was the same as rock salt, but I understand that kosher salt is slightly different. Cannot at the moment find my 'food dictionary' that explains more, but it was given a mention, and do know that all chefs prefer to use kosher salt more than any other kind. Believe it is a purer salt than other types on sale. One such type I have recently discovered, this is 'dendritic salt' that has star-shaped crystals, mainly used in manufactured seasonings, and for mixing with spices. This is made from purified brine in vacuum pans and 99.64% pure. Pickling salt is also very pure. Maybe one of these is what we call 'kosher salt'. Will see if I can find out more about it.

One of my 'research books' tells me that good sea salt is the best for cooking, and although I have both this and rock salt, for some reason I prefer the latter (the free running table salt we now keep to sprinkle on the slugs we find galloping across our living room carpet (and they seem now to appear in every room even the bedroom!). Rock salt 'tastes' saltier than sea-salt so less needs to be use, so for health reasons - and if using salt at all - then rock salt is probably the best one to choose.

Due to my renewed interest in cooking (I need to keep giving myself challenges to keep focused), and with my recent 'stock-take' of freezer contents, will now be making today's supper dish using chicken (as seem to have plenty of that). Also, as I've now taken my ice-cream maker from the top shelf and frozen one of the 'inner bowls' for the last couple of days will today have a go at making some strawberry 'ice-cream' made with some lightly whipped cream, the remains of the 'strawberries and cream' EasyYo, and some sweetened pureed strawberries. Perhaps even adding more flavour to the cream wby whisking in some strawberry Nesquick. That should keep B happy for a few more days.

Just time to give one recipe, this is the one I'll be using to make for B's supper tonight, mainly because I have all the necessary ingredients, and - being a casserole - can be kept hot in the oven as B may be out this afternoon and not quite sure about time of return. Because this feeds 4 shouldn't need to make as much, but as it freezes might as well make the lot and then divide into three as B likes larger portions anyway.

Casserole is not really suitable for a summer dish, but although the temperature is still fairly warm, it is cooler, and extremely humid. Went to bed last night and heard the rain pouring down. This has now stopped and it looks as though we might have a reasonably dry day, but tomorrow (and later in the week) more rain, all over the country is forecast. Thank goodness we had most of the Olympics held in glorious sunshine. We don't want visitors to this country to go back feeling they didn't like our climate, or they'd never want to return (and we need visitors from abroad to boost our economy).

Chicken and Bacon Hot-pot: serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
8 chicken joints
3 oz (75g) smoked bacon, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 tblsp plain flour
2 tsp tomato paste
1 oz (25ml) cider vinegar (or white wine)
1 pint chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 tblsp double cream or creme fraiche
salt and pepper
9 oz (250g) new potatoes, halved
6 mushrooms, quartered
chopped fresh parsley or chives
Heat the oil in a large flameproof dish and fry the chicken for 5 minutes on each side until well browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the bacon to the pan and fry for a few minutes until starting to crisp up, then add the carrots and onions, cooking for a further five minutes until they soften. Stir in the flour and tomato paste, and cook for a minute before adding the vinegar and stock.
Bring to the simmer, then add the bay leaf and cream. Add seasoning to taste then fold in the potatoes, and tuck in the chicken. Spoon everything together so all is coated with the sauce, then place a lid on the dish and transfer to the oven set at 200C, 400F, gas 6 and cook for 40 minutes before adding the mushrooms. Keep the dish covered and and continue cooking for a further 2o minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and tender.
Serve garnished with a sprinkling of herbs.

That's it for today, and today is one of those I look forward to as expecting a delivery from Lakeland. The usual re-stocking of freezer bags, plus some new jam jars and lids (for the social club preserves - they pay for these) also have bought a 'sausage making kit' (new product) and this I will enjoy using as the price of good sausages has risen like all other meat products. Home-made should work out much cheaper. Will let you know more about this after my first attempts.

B has gone out for several hours, so need to be free to answer the door when the above delivery arrives (it's bound to come when he is out). So will wind up this blog for today, and while the mood is still with me hope to have more hints and tips to pass on to you tomorrow. So watch this space! TTFN.