Sunday, September 16, 2012

Aiming for Perfection

Was so pleased with my veggie box that I've ordered another for this coming week, adding a few more items to be included. As Stephanie mentioned, there are (many) other foods that can be added to the 'set' box if required.
Not sure if I will order a box each week, as some weeks may order a larger box if this includes the more unusual vegetables (celeriac, khol rabi, fennel) that I would like to tray. Then would not need to order for another couple (or so) weeks. Orders are taken as and when required, and am not obliged to have a delivery each week if I don't wish to.

Your mention Stephanie of a Chinese cleaver knife reminded me of one I used to have. It was SO useful, fairly small, very sharp, and I could use it for any purpose that I would use a normal kitchen knife for. Unfortunately gave this away to my grandson and now wish I hadn't. I do have a very heavy 'butcher's cleaver that is no use for anything other than chopping through a meat carcase.
Many foods sold in catering sizes (here I am thinking the various Chinese sauces etc), could be - once opened - decanted into smaller containers and frozen. I've done this with Teriyaki sauce, and Sweet and Sour sauces etc.

When I make that leek and bacon/ham dish again Sairy will follow your suggestion and use less cheese with the sauce. That cooking bacon sounds a worthwhile buy if you can get three meals out of it for 75p.

The sailing club desserts Jane, were an oblong Black Forest Gateau, a Tropical Fruit Cheesecake, a Summer Pudding (made in a ring mould for easy slicing) and a Treacle Tart. According to Beloved, all eaten and enjoyed

For once I took a bit more time over making the above desserts as when I cook for others, try to aim for as near perfection as I can. In a way am finding that the contents of the veggie box served with the D.R. meats together are also improving the quality of the meals made for B (and for myself), so am taking extra care with these when I cook. Perhaps soon the level of my cooking will be slightly more than 'domestic level'.

One good thing about making the Summer Pudding and the Treacle Tart is that the one and a half loaves of (bought) sliced white bread used for these desserts gave me a huge pile of crusts. Half of these I dried out in a low oven then ground them up to use for coating 'things' when frying. Other crusts I've just crumbed and frozen so that they can be used when fresh crumbs are called for (then frozen). Some of the white (crustless) crumbs have been bagged up and frozen, these can be used to make bread-sauce (or another Treacle Tart).

When making the Summer Pudding, put a punnet of hulled strawberries, a punnet of raspberries and a punned to blueberries into a pan with some sugar and about a quarter of a pint of blackcurrant cordial (Ribena type). Simmered these until the fruit had softened slightly, the strained the lot through a sieve. The fruit was spooned into a ring mould that had been lined with strips of sliced white bread (one side of this first dipped into the reserved juice), and when topped with more bread put a weight on top to press it down as it chilled overnight in the fridge (forgot to mention had previously lined the mould with cling-film for easy removal).

The remaining fruit syrup (and there was quite a lot) I boiled down until it thickened slightly, then left it in the pan to cool - whereupon I found it had set to virtually a seedless jam. So reheated it with a little more water, brought it to the boil then turned off the heat and poured it into a hot sterilised jar to be later served as fruit 'coulis'. Even then it was a bit 'jellified', but a quick stir with a spoon loosened it up and on licking the spoon have to say it tasted GORGEOUS. Must make some more of this 'fruit syrup' to pour over semolina pudding, ice-cream etc.

It is a good idea to continually keep using up your stocks Jane as you do sound as though you have now amassed a considerable amount. The danger when 'stocking up' is that it can become habitual (sometimes almost an obsession, and believe me I've been there, done that), and unless we are very strict with ourselves we find although we do use what we have bought, each time we end up buying more than we have used until we are knee deep in purchases.
However, as - at the moment - you and a million others are finding that it costs more to keep a roof over our heads, thus leaving less money to buy food, you Jane, are in a great situation where you should be able to live of your stores for many months, just buying only the fresh (milk, eggs, butter, cheese etc), and when it comes to anything else - wear blinkers!
However good a bargain may be, we don't HAVE to buy it if we have other food we can eat instead.

You are all going to get absolutely fed up of me talking about the contents of veggie boxes, and the quality meat that I buy from DR (fish from the Smokehouse etc), but it does seem to me now that I've made a start with the veggies (having already bought the meat and fish from money saved through my normal 'cost-cutting') that the 'Goode Life' has suddenly risen to gourmet level.
It is true that it will cost me more (and possibly at least double what I would normally spend on veggies) and add that to the 'quality' meat, the overall payout would seem to be unnecessarily high, especially when supermarkets can provide similar (but not as tasty) for far less.
Yet, what is seeming to happen now is that I'm finding now no need to purchase anything from the supermarket for possibly months - other than getting B to bring in some milk which is ridiculously cheap from the supermarket I'd be silly to buy it from elsewhere, at least for the moment. Cheese, butter and eggs also from the supermarket (but Riverford do sell these, but at the moment too high a price for me to consider).

What thrills me is that I can see (almost KNOW) that despite the higher prices I will be paying, over time I SHOULD end up paying no more per month for meat, veggies, plus the milk, eggs etc) than I do now when ordering a month's supply of just about everything from Tesco. Early days yet to be sure, but this is my aim. If I can make it work then it will truly be Shoestring Gourmet. So watch this space.

Managed to watch the last half of 'Wartime Farm' repeated yesterday evening (having had to miss it the first time round). This did give a good idea of foods on ration, especially how the butchers would end up giving more bone than meat (unless you were a favoured customer).
How lucky people were who lived in the country for they could supplement their rations by foraging the wild produce growing in the rural areas. People in towns had to rely only on the basic rations, and although quite a few foods were unrationed these were is such short supply that you needed to queue for hours on end in the hope you would get some, and often the supply ran out before the back of the queue even got in sight of the shop.
People who went out to work (munitions factory etc) had little time to spend queuing for food. The only other way to supplement rations was to buy through the Black Market and you needed to be fairly wealthy to be able to afford those prices (it was illegal anyway).

It was good to see the old fashioned 'hay-box' being demonstrated/used. Myself have found that one of those strong polystyrene boxes D.R. sends the frozen meat order in is perfect as a modern day 'hay-box'. I put extra padding (old crunched up blankets, jumpers etc) on the base and round the sides, then put my big pot of boiling stew inside, stuffing more 'filling' around it so it is cosily tucked up. More padding (maybe a cushion) goes on top, and then the lid placed over with a weight to hold it down. Believe me this will cook a stew overnight as good as any slow-cooker will. l

Have been thinking more about Shayna's party (with her friends with an assortment of allergies or food dislikes). Think the best suggestion would be to serve a buffet that can cater for all (but not all needing to eat the same thing).
A plate of assorted dips surrounded by 'crudites' would be attractive. Those who can take dairy foods could be given a choice of a yogurt/creme fraiche/cream cheese based dip (add flavours you want), the non-dairy eaters could have hummous (chickpea, butterbean, beetroot etc).

The 'crudities' should be as colourful as possible, my suggestion being carrot sticks, celery sticks, strips of red, yellow, orange bell peppers, sugar snap peas (mange tout are too floppy), halved chestnut mushrooms, strips of baby courgettes, ditto cucumber....
You could also serve bread sticks and tortilla chips (the latter, if corn based may be gluten free, check the wrapper it should say).

A mixed leaf salad always looks nice, and for the meat-eaters a platter of cold roast beef, ham, chicken, maybe chorizo would be good. For vegetarians serve veggie sausages.
A platter of smoked salmon strips (offcuts) mixed with ribbons of cucumber is an alternative to meat and another 'fishy' idea would be to make a smoked mackerel pate and serve this with crispbread or toast. Gluten-free bread could be toasted.
In Morrison's have seen 'gluten-free' produce on shelves at one end of an aisle, so worth taking a look to see what could be provided - remembering that everyone can eat gluten-free, not just those who have to.
Salad dressings can be on a help-yourself basis - mayo or French Dressing etc.

Believe that some people who cannot eat 'dairy' are able to eat goat's cheese, so this is another food worth thinking about.

Desserts are easy if you stick with Fresh Fruit Salad (serving cream in a jug so those who wish can help themselves). Or perhaps a Fruit Sorbet (recipe given below). For something more 'substantial', maybe a Pavlova topped with jelly instead of cream, and fruit piled on top of that.

This recipe is very definitely for adults, but no reason why you can't juggle around with the ingredients and use another spirit. One of my favourite mixtures is Strawberry and Babycham (another idea is to make up a strawberry with Babycham !). For non alcholics you could make this sorbet with ginger ale and pineapple juice.
Gin and Tonic Sorbet: serves 6 - 8
14 oz (400g) caster sugar
14 fl oz (400ml) water
14 fl oz (400ml) tonic water
4 tblsp gin
zest and juice of 1 lime
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 egg white
Put the sugar in a pan with the water and heat gently until dissolved, then raise the heat and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and leave to cool for 5 minutes then pour into a bowl. Stir in the tonic water then place in the fridge to chill.
When quite cold add the gin, the zest and juice of both the lime and lemon and pour into a container and place in the freezer. Remove after 2 hours (no longer) and scrape the just frozen mixture from the sides to the middle, breaking up the lot with a fork. Immediately beat the egg white to just frothy then put this white AND the broken-up sorbet into a food processor and give it a quick blitz to bring together. Move fast on this to prevent it melting.
Pour the sorbet back into the container and freeze until solid. If you wish you can drag a fork through it once or twice as it freezes to make it 'granulated'.
Serve scoops of this sorbet in individual glasses. A garnish of a half slice of lemon or lime makes it look extra special (these slices can be prepared earlier and frozen if you wish).

A fairly busy day for me again - much tidying up has to be done, but at least managed to get all the washing up done (and believe me there was a LOT yesterday). Some laundry has to be put on the airer (this being washed whilst I wrote today's blog), and do want to catch the repeat of The Great British Bake-off (11.30 this morning) as missed this last week due to B wanting to watch footie or something.

Have also to prepare supper for B (using more veggies from the box), so need to keep my wits about me as my aim now is for 'perfection' with all my cooking in the future. Well, at least home-made from 'quality' ingredients. Maybe more 'Rustic Gourmet' than Michelin starred, but who knows what can happen when I get the bit between my teeth.

More on the Goode Life tomorrow, and hope you can join me as per usual. See you then.