Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Can Things Get Worse?

What dreadful weather we are having.  Yesterday, half the country (midlands upwards) had a month's rain in 24 hours leading to massive flooding, blocked roads, cancelled trains etc.  Floods worse than usual due to our wet summer, the ground was already sodden so the extra rain water was not able to be soaked up.  A lot more rain forecast today, so heaven help the lot of us.

The wind seems to have dropped although yesterday we had gales.  It seemed very cold so in the end I gave in and put the central heating on later in the afternoon, only for a few hours and believe me, within very few minutes the room warmed up and it was so, so comfortable.
I've sat down with pen and paper and worked out my finances, hoping to rob Peter (food) to pay Paul (rising fuel costs).  Given the choice of eating or keeping warm, at the moment I'd choose the latter but perhaps only because I have enough extra calories on my own body that I could live off for a while.

Anyway, it does seem, now that I've slowly built up a stock of 'dry goods', and with meat and fish in the freezer, and the occasional (but regular) delivery of that veggie box, it does seem that I'll now be able to spend less on food over a month than formally, and these savings should then offset the extra warmth if we need to have the central heating on for longer (in past years it would be the end of October before it was switched on, and off again mid-April - this year it was off for the summer a month later, and now seems it will be a month earlier it goes back on).  It's almost as though our seasons are changing, and autumn starts mid-summer, winter mid - autumn, spring late winter, and summer late spring, with the 'real' summer not really arriving at all - well at least not this year.

Took a look at the Westmorland Gazette yesterday to see what it had to say about the unmanned boats drifting off in Morecambe Bay (Cheesepare's comment yesterday), and this seemed to imply there were two dinghys floating in the Bay that had come adrift at Carnforth.  Both the same make (Fireball?), and perhaps two other boats that had slipped their moorings, not the two that capsized during B's club's sailing race, one of these was a 'Fireball' (if that is the correct name) the other being a 'Blaze'.
These were eventually recovered by the coastguards after a few days, and although they had drifted out to sea almost together, once in clear water the currents and winds separated them, one being found at Fleetwood (is that near Liverpool?) the other heading for Ireland. Towed back to the closest moorings their owners were notified and presumably have arranged to collect them.

Watched a bit of the Food Network yesterday, am now discovering most of them are repeats, but did see one I hadn't seen before (Sunny Anderson cooking 'salmon en croute' - only she didn't call it that), think I'll do that for B's supper tonight as spinach was an ingredient and want to use up what I have of it).   Sunny also made a side salad using a 'salad leaf' that I haven't heard of before, she called it 'arugala' (well, it sounded like that), and I couldn't make out from the close up whether it is a leaf we use under a different name, or one that doesn't reach our shores.  Maybe one of our Amercan readers can let us know.

Had to miss Nigella's new prog 'Nigelissima', due to B wanting to watch Corrie (well, if truth be told, so did I), but know I can pick it up later either on iPlayer, or watch the repeat that will probably be on Saturday morning.
Doubt anyone will be interested, but the Food Network keeps repeating the British 'episode' of the Cup Cake Wars, and see it will be on again this coming Saturday at 4.00pm.  I get this channel on Freeview 49 (but see it is sometimes advertised as Freeview 48 due perhaps to the recent prompting to retune - which I haven't yet done - but so far can still get it on 49). I'd be interested on what other readers (some have already said) think of the British 'winning' cupcakes.

As ever, still keen on Gordon Ramsays 'Ultimate Cookery Course', and am warming to the man.  Now he is alone, without anyone to yell obscene words to, he comes across as a really good teacher.  Yesterday was all about baking, and B wants me to make the chocolate cake that Gordon showed, so maybe that is something I'll be making today.

Yesterday made a bit pot of chunky vegetable soup using mainly organic veg, plus a couple or so non-organics that I wanted to use up.  Together the carrots, parsnips, celery, onions and potatoes made a really good potful, and once diced and sauteed in butter, added condensed (home-made) chicken stock and some water, then let it simmer until ready.  A slight error when seasoning.  I lifted the lid on the little pot of pepper to shake it through the holes in the lid, but lifted up the wrong side and the pepper fell out through a wide hole (the lid being divided), so overdid the pepper by LOADS.
However, this didn't do THAT much harm, just made the soup rather more warming that normal, and as it was a cold day, and I had some for lunch, found it hit the spot - so to speak.  B had a large bowlful for his supper, and I then finished off the last for my own meal.

With the soup B ate the wonderful pork 'crackling' that I'd made using the skin and fat that I'd removed from the gammon once it had been cooked (in water on the hob).  I scored the skin - this now being soft and moist from the cooking, rubbed in plenty of rock-salt and then put it into a small roasting dish, skin side up at 200C to see what happened.  Some hour or so later found loads of fat had melted from under the rind, so poured this into a small container to set (this then will be used later when frying), and as the skin still seemed soft, returned it to the oven to continue roasting. Eventually it was crispy both underneath and on the surface, in fact crispy right through, and even I was tempted to have a crunch. Normally I find crackling a bit too hard for my old teeth, but this time it was delightfully 'tender', almost like eating potato crisps, and was well pleased.  So another use for something we might normally throw way - not only do we get extra cooking fat, but also wonderful crackling.

B's pudding was a bit of a mish-mash.  I called it a 'Bread and Butter Pudding' - which it was in a way, but it ended up - when cold - a bit like a cake.
Found a bag of 'fresh' bread crusts in the fridge (meant to dry them off to grind down to make more dry breadcrumbs but had forgotten about them), so decided to break these up into little chunks and use instead of sliced bread.  Put them into a baking dish and poured a little melted butter over them.  Decided to give the pud a bit of an 'interesting' flavour, so dropped on a couple of good dollops of Nutella, and mixed that in a bit, then added a sliced ripe banana, then finished by pouring over a 'custard' made by adding hot double cream to a couple of beaten eggs.   After letting it stand for a while to allow the bread to soak up the 'custard', baked it in the oven for about half an hour at 160C, it had then risen up and almost 'souffled'.  Looked very good, but later it sank back into the dish.
B had some reheated in the microwave for his pud - with more cream of course, but I didn't ask him what it was like.  Am sure it was OK.

This morning the remaining B & B was on the kitchen table (I'd made enough for three helpings), so I cut myself a thin slice just to see how it tasted, and it was like very moist cake, but with such a wonderful flavour that I cut myself another slice, and then a third.  At least enough left for B to reheat for himself (unless I get to it first. Perhaps if I made him that chocolate cake today he will let me have the last of the B & B).

The cream used for the pudding was 'free' (brought back from the club by B as it had reached its use-by date, although yesterday it had past that, but still tasted 'fresh'). To be on the safe side, and because there was too much for me to use in one day, I boiled the cream using some of it to make the 'custard'.  The rest I may reboil today, adding chocolate and rum to make a 'ganache'.  Possibly use it to make something else as well, I cannot bear to throw it away even though it was free.

Managed to do a lot of clearing up yesterday, and with the heating on later, also got all the laundry dry (the damp cold air has prevented the washing on the airer in the conservatory to dry properly, especially as this is open to the kitchen, so any steam in there drifts over to the washing).  Am hoping now that we will be able to have a little more heat about the house (even if on for only a few hours it really does warm the house up, and once the large thick curtains are drawn, this keeps the heat in our living room. As good as double glazing once the windows are covered), from now on can dry the washing over or near the radiators then can put the airer into the cupboard until next year.
Problem with our extending airer, I usually end up getting in a mess tryng to lock the bottom rung into the notches and more often it collapses back with my fingers trapped between the rungs. Ouch! So will be very happy to have a few months without painful digits.

As I'm not ordering a veggie box for this week, am wondering what the heavy rainfall will do to the more 'leafy' crops.  Other vegetables (potatoes, onions etc) may also be affected.  So will have to wait until Saturday to find out what is in next weeks box.  

It is at this time of the year I would expect to be picking my autumn raspberries, but so far none to speak of, certainly none now as the branches look sodden and the leaves don't seem as luxurious as in previous years, so that's another crop that has bitten the dust (or maybe mud would be a better word).  Despite having several healthy- looking strawberry plants, only one had flowers and this didn't end up as fruit as it was too wet for them to ripen properly. 
At least can see a few pears hanging from our small tree, and B has brought in a bowl of apple 'fallings', with a few more apples still on the tree, so have to make the best of those.

It was so amusing yesterday (at least I thought so, B didn't).  I'd heard B come home, saw his car in the drive and knew he had gone into the garage, but being at the back end/working end of the kitchen was busying myself cooking and not able to see outside.  Suddenly thought I heard my mobile give a 'bleep' - and as I'd left it in the living room, this meant walking down a short a passage, across the lobby, to get to the living room (door nearly closed) wasn't sure it had rung but went to take a look. The mobile was flashing so thought I'd had a text.  It turned out I'd had a few 'voicemails' and discovered two were from B, the last a couple or so minutes earlier.   Took me a while to sort out how to listen to said messages (as hardly ever get any), but eventually reached the latest one from my Beloved. 
Turned out he was phoning me from our garage.  The wind had blown the door back down and the outside bolt had dropped into the slot below ground level so B couldn't get out.  He'd rung me several timesfor help, and I hadn't heard his call, and he had begun to panic.
Anyway, put on my plastic 'crocs' and went out in the pouring rain (no hat on but Norma the Hair will be coming tomorrow), lifted the bolt and the door and then B was set free.  Should have taken the opportunity to say "I'll set you free only if you first promise to treat me to a meal out!".

We are supposed to get severe winds again today according to the weather forcast but seeing the map on the TV, think we are in 'the eye of the storm' as we have little wind at the moment, but still getting the rain. It is SO dismal outside that I'm almost glad there are no windows in the kitchen to see our atrocious weather, but this does mean I now have to keep the kitchen ceiling lights on (we have loads of the little circles set in the ceiling), when I want to work at the table.  Expect this will add more to our fuel bill.   

Have to say that as long as I have enough 'savings' to cover the extra cost of fuel, then I'll not worry too much about any rise in fuel prices.  The government may increase our pensionable fuel supplements this November, but doubtful during the current recesssion.  Just as long as we get something extra, then am grateful.  We are all in the same boat, and those who have 'real' fireplaces that can burn smokeless fuel, logs etc, either as an open fire or in a closed stove will be the more fortunate ones.   We have so many books and papers we don't want or use, logs stored in an outhouse, and old clothes etc, not to mention meat bones, and anything else that would burn successfully, that I wish we could have an open fire again and use these for fuel. 
In fact there is an 'open' fireplace in this dining room, at the moment covered by a gas fire, believe this must have an open flue to get rid of fumes, and have seen a chimney on the roof top (the one chimney left on this large house - the rest being remove), so maybe it could be opened up again so we could heat the room with a 'real fire' again.

We used to have an open fire in Leeds and one of the things I enjoyed doing (don't know why) was clearing out the clinker and ashes each morning, ready to relight the fire.  Think, deep within me, there are ancient (maybe genetic) memories of being a serving girl and maybe also a cook as there are certain chores that I delight in doing (although only a few because - as you know - housework is not my strong point).

My quest for recipes using mainly vegetables never seems to cease these days.  Wonder why.
So for those who are like-minded, here are a few more that can make the most (or should that be 'make the best') of the veggies we have.

First recipe is a speedy alternative to the spag.bol. meat sauce and often accepted by children who otherwise refuse to eat the veggie served in the normal way.  To give this more of a 'meaty' flavour, I'd stir in some Bisto Best beef granules, or use a beef stock cube instead of the vegetable stock cube, but that's up to the cook.  If you wish to keep it purely vegetarian then just stay with the recipe as given.
Vegetarian Bolognese Sauce: serves 4
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
3 carrots, finely diced
1 courgette, finely diced
4 mushrooms, chopped
5 oz (150g) red lentils
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 vegetable stock cube
1 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tblsp tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
water as necessary
Put the onion, garlic and oil into a pan and fry over low heat until just beginning to soften, then add the carrots, courgette and mushrooms and stir-fry for a further minute, then stir in the rest of the ingredients, adding just enough water to cover.  Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for one hour, but checking every 15 minutes, adding a little extra water if the mixture becomes too dry (the lentils will keep absorbing water).  Aim for a thickish 'bolognese sauce' texture at the end.  Check seasoning, and then serve with pasta or use as you would an ordinary spag.bol meat sauce.

One reader I know has bought carrots by the sack, and others too may have a 'glut' of this vegetable, and although there are many recices using this veg, here is one more unusual.
This semi-sweet bread eats really well with cheese, ham, or chicken salad, and possibly when toasted would be delicious spread with pate.
Carrot Bread: makes 1 x 1kg loaf (16 slices)
14 oz (400g) carrots
2 challots, grated
14 oz (400g) strong white bread flour
5 oz (150g) wholemeal flour
2 tsp salt
1 sachet easy-blend dried yeast
4 fl oz (125ml) milk
4 fl oz (125ml) warm water
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 egg, beaten
Grate half the carrots as finely as possible. Dice the remaining carrots and boil these until soft, then drain well and mash to a puree.
Mix together the flours, salt and yeast. Mix together the milk and water, and add the pureed carrot and oil, then stir together and tip onto the dry flours etc., mixing together to form a dough, then turn this out onto a lightly floured surface an knead for about 10 minutes until smooth.
Place dough in an oile bowl and cover, then leave in a warm place for about an hour, or until doubled in volume.
Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knock back and flatten slightly, the sprinkle the grated carrot and shallot over the top, then fold over or roll up and knead and fold for 2 - 3 minutes to get the veggies spread evenly into the dough.
Shape dough into a round and place on an oiled baking sheet, cover lightly with clingfilm or a tea towel and leave for about 45 minutes to rise, then brush top of loaf with beaten egg and bake for 30 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 or until the loaf is golden and the base sounds hollow when tapped.
Cool on a wire rack.

Some readers I believe make their own wine, and having discovered that carrots can make a very good 'wine' (sometimes called carrot 'whisky') feel that this might be well worth making.  Only problem is it takes a year to mature.  Can you wait that long? 
Carrot Wine: makes 6 x 75cl bottles
4.5lb (2 kg) carrots, grated
2 oz (50g) piece of fresh root ginger, grated
1 cinnamon stick
8 pints (4.5 ltrs) water
4.5lb (2kg) sugar
juice of 2 lemons
juice of 2 oranges
1 pack wine yeast
Put the carrots and ginger into a pan with the stick of cinnamon, and add the water.  Bring to the boil and cook for 20 minutes.  Strain through clean muslin into a spanking clean bucket or container.
Whilst still hot, add the sugar and fruit juices and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Cool to blood heat, then add the yeast.  Cover with a cloth and leave to ferment for 24 hours, then pour through a funnel into a demijohn, fit on the air-trap, and leave until the fermentation stops - this could take 2 - 3 weeks. Add a campden tablet to the wine and allow the yeast to settle, then when clear, filter into bottles, cork and leave for a year to mature.
(Some bottles have screw caps, but any drink that is made using yeast may still have some left in causing it to continue to 'fizz' and build up pressure, causing a tightly capped bottle to explode, so always seal with corks).

Well, that's taken me to my 10.30 cut-off time, so will wend my way back into the kitchen to do more cooking. 
A reminder that with Norma arriving at 9.00am tomorrow, this may mean my blog will be later - unless I get up early enough to write (this is doubtful as a warmed-up bedroom makes for a very comfortable not-wanting-to-get-up feeling in the morning).

Do hope that readers are managing to escape the worst the rain has thrown at us, and look forward to hearing from as many as possible tomorrow.  Don't forget if you have any 'foodie gluts' then given them a mention so that I can hunt out useful recipes to use them up.  TTFN.