Sunday, September 23, 2012

;More Work for the Wicked!

When Gill didn't phone usual time this morning, checked my mobile (left in the other room) to discover a text from her.  She had gone on holiday last week (coach trip Mon to Fri) to Scarborough and half-way through got food poisoning.  Really poorly for several days,  but hopefully better to go to her son's (Ipswich) at the end of this coming week, so won't be speaking to her for two weeks now.  Probably may go back to writing to each other again by snail mail (Gill has a comp but not on the Internet so cannot email me).

This means I can start my blog earlier than expected today, .not that there is much to write about other than my personal 'Goode life' and that mostly about food, and have to say that the more veggies from the 'box' that are being eaten, the more both B and I realise that fresh food does have the flavours we remember, and myself - although finding my mums cooking a bit plain and boring (this mainly because we knew each day what we would be given - every Monday the same dish, Tuesday different to Monday but still the same each Tuesday (based on the weekend 'roast') and so on through the week.  But memories are no flooding back that the fresh produce (always seasonal and much of it home-grown) then had LOADS of flavour.  

For the last half century flavour has got less and less when it comes to fresh produce, sometimes disappearing altogether due entirely to the producers who (to suit supermarkets) now grow produce that LOOKS good and all like clones, but the flavour has been bred out.  Well, isn't that what food is about, flavour?

Yesterday B was at the club's 'training day', and do ready for a good meal on his return.  I'd packed up three containers of the slow-cooked Beef Rib Trim, leaving 6 'fingers' to use for the beef casserole he had chosen.  There was loads of really rich 'stock/thin gravy' left in the slow-cooker, some of that packed with the meat, some used for the casserole.  Still have one pint left, now chilled with a solid layer of beef fat on top (this 'dripping' will be removed and use for frying) and a thickish 'jelly' beneath full of 'snowflakes' of beef that will be decanted into small tubs and frozen.

Decided to cook some potatoes and carrots to add to the casserole so after washing and peeling the organic carrots, cutting them into fairly thick slices put the two veggies in the one pan to boil expecting to take the spud out first and leave the carrots to cook on.  Supermarket carrots nowadays seem to take ages to become tender - at least half an hour, but these organic carrots were tender almost before the spuds were.    Fried an onion in a little oil, then added the beef trim and some of its 'gravy', thickening it a little bit with Bisto Best granules, then added the carrots and spuds.  Turned off the heat, put on a lid and left it to reheat later. 
For the 'greens', shredded a bit of the 'pointed cabbage', and steamed this with a handful of the string beans, and both had loads of flavour.   B mentioned how well flavoured the carrots were (as well as the greens), so it's not just me that realises how much superior the produce in the veggie box is compared to that sold in the supermarkets.

Whether there is any difference in the vitamin content between organics and non-organically grown veggies is up for debate.  It is said there is no difference, but what DOES make a difference is the time between harvesting and the time the produce is eaten, the less time between the two the more vitamins left in the veggies, especially the leafy ones.  So supermarket 'organics' will still have less vitamins than those delivered in a veggie box (at least from my source) where they are harvested either early in the day of delivery or the day before.   Certainly the taste of said veggie box produce is way above any that I've eaten the last half century.

Even when growing a few of my own veggies, can't say that I've noticed much improvement in flavour, and this could be the variety grown.  So maybe the 'organic' veggies are the best of the flavoured bunch (who cares about the shape - but so far they have all looked pretty good).  My only gripe is that the organic tomatoes don't have the superb flavour of those my dad used to grow, but they are still better than those bought from the supermarket.

Yesterday also made some pots of (ox) liver pate as I discovered a pack of D.R. ox liver in the freezer (must have had it nearly 2 years - several packs were sent as the 'freebie' that come with some of their offers - this time the freebie was a pot of their 'special seasoning', and once I had a few freebie packs of beef fillet 'tails', perfect for making several Strogonoffs!).

Couldn't find one of the pots of the pate this morning (as wanted to freeze it), and B said he eaten one whole pot last night, spreading it on toast.  He loved it.  Still have another couple of pots left (plus one of chicken liver pate in the freezer) so that should give him a few 'meaty' snacks over the next few weeks.

Not sure what I'll be cooking today, maybe make B a dish of 'Singapore Noodles' (a favourite take-a-way) but this time made by me (using organic veg of course, and a chunk of already-cooked belly pork that will be refried in teryaki sauce).  Am hoping to make a 'tarte au citron' (lemon tart to you and me) as this will be refreshing and almost 'posh nosh' when given its French name.

B's club will be hosting a 'Gourmet Buffet evening' along with one of their 'do's' (end of October), and they are hoping I'll come up with suggestions.  The 'tarte au citron' would make a good dessert, and am thinking canapes as starters, with toppings such as Smoked Mackerel Pate, Liver Pate, Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese, Caviare (the cheap kind) on Blinis...., cubes of Spanish omelette/Frittata on sticks, then maybe platters of wedges of melon wrapped in Parma Ham, and/or slivers of Smoked Salmon with cucumber ribbons.  Bowls of green and red olives.  Maybe platters of cooked meats (roast beef, ham, turkey, chorizo, salami, tongue....), vol au vents, quiches.... and that's just a start. Haven't yet planned desserts (other than the lemon tart), but am aching to get started even if only writing lists on paper, as it won't be held for another month.  Have to wait to see what the committee choose as their final choice (and maybe provide some of it themselves).

Now then, because I seem to be obsessed with cooking just 'meat and two veg' these days (well more than two veg but you now what I mean - my supper yesterday was a giant coleslaw made with grated raw kohl rabi, carrot, shallot, cabbage, bell pepper, lettuce, apple, all bound with low-fat mayo and balsamic vinegar), this doesn't mean I'll be shoving rice and pasta to the back of my cupboard.

Myself am very fond of pasta dishes, and although tend to store the most commonly used varieties: spaghetti, penne, macaroni, lasagne sheets, do occasionally venture into the world of the 'fussili'(spirals) and the 'wheels' (self explanatory).
Different shapes and colours of pasta can make a meal look more interesting than when using the 'basic' shapes, and when an inexpensive dish looks more appetising, it can also look more expensive (useful when entertaining), so here are a few more varieties worth looking keeping in the larder, many come in different flavours and colours:
creste: an excellent all rounder, resembling macaroni with a fin along its back.
cannelloni: big pasta tubes that when stuffed and baked (under a sauce) makes a very satisfying main course.
farfalle: these look like bow ties and come in many colours and flavours.  A popular pasta used by many food stylists as they are very decorative.
farfalline: smaller version of the above, these mini-bows used  to give body to soups and stews.
torcetti: bigger than macaroni tubes that are ridged and twisted, look for the darkish brown mushroom flavour.
filini: these are thin pasta noodles (look like flat matchsticks), and great to use in soups as broths as they give body.
tagliatelle: large than above, these pasta ribbons are the basis of many dishes. Normally sold as spinach, egg and whotewheat. The mushroom tagliatelle is dark, tasty and very versatile.
pappardelle: wider ribbon noodles
conchiglie: pasta shells, sold in various sizes (some huge) each with a slightly different name but all beginning with 'conch'. A great pasta for serving with just a simple sauce and Parmesan.

When wearing my cost-cutting cap, would say that as far as I'm concerned, pasta is pasta is pasta, so no need to keep a wide variety in our cupboards.  The same goes for rice.  Long-grain can be used for most savoury dishes, but basmati is better with curries, and certainly the shorter Arborio (and similar) are necessary when cooking a risotto.  There is even a special rice for cooking Paella. Other than appearance and texture there would probably be no nutritional difference between varieties, but we cooks do like to be as authentic as possible when cooking 'the ethnics', and if the ingredients cost only a few pence more, then why not?  Rice stored correctly keeps for ever, and so does dried pasta (at least for a year or two - or more).
With the above in mind, here is my choice for today's recipes....

First recipe I've chosen as my supper as it will use up some of the spinach and mushrooms from the veggie box.  The rest of the ingredients I already have (the thyme will be home-grown but dried). My lasagne is dried, so this will be 'refreshed' in a frying pan of boiling water for a couple of minutes, then dropped into cold water to stop cooking, finally 'dried off' between clean kitchen towels.
Spinach and Mushroom Lasagne: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp thyme leaves (see above)
8 oz (225g) mushrooms, sliced
7 oz (200g) spinach,
300g tub low-fat cream cheese
4 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
6 sheets fresh lasagne (see above)
Put the oil and garlic in a frying pan and cook for 1 minute, then add the thyme and mushrooms and cook for a few minutes until they are softening.  Stir in the spinach until the heat wilts the leave then remove pan from heat and stir in the cream cheese - this will begin to dissolve to make a 'sauce'. Add 1 tblsp of the Parmesan and seasoning to taste.
Put a quarter of the above mixture in the bottom of a medium sized baking dish, lay a couple of pasta sheets on top, then repeat the layers until all the pasta has been used and finishing with the last quarter of the spinach mixture.
Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the top and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 35 minutes until the pasta is tender and the top golden.

Just because Spaghetti Carbonara is traditionally made using spaghetti pasta doesn't mean we can't make it using another pasta shape.  We could make this dish using the ribbon noodles (tagliatelle) and I often make it with pasta penne.  Use what we have.
Here is a slightly different version of the traditional dish, and lower in fat makes it slightly 'healthier' but with no loss of flavour. No reason why we can't include a few more 'extras' such as chopped red bell peppers or mushrooms to make it a more substantial dish.
Lower fat Spaghetti Carbonara: serves 4
2 oz (50g) grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
8 oz (225g) frozen peas
12 oz (350g) spaghetti (see above)
1 tblsp olive oil
4 oz (100g) lean back bacon, snipped into small pieces
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
handful snipped chives
black pepper
Put the eggs into a bowl and beat.  Put the peas into another bowl and cover with boiling water, then set aside.
Cook the spaghetti as per pack instructions, and while this is cooking put the oil in a frying pan with the bacon and cook until the 'snippets' are turning crisp.  Stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute then add the drained peas and keep warm over low heat until the pasta is ready.
Drain pasta reserving some of its cooking water, then add the pasta to the pan of bacon/garlic/peas, stir most of the cheese into the eggs (leaving back a little for garnish) then pour this over the pasta and quickly stir with tongs or a fork so that everything is mixed together and gets coated with the egg mixture (the heat from the pasta will cook the egg). Add some pasta water to help create more of a 'sauce' in the pan.  Serve immediately with a sprinkle of Parmesan and chives on top, plus a grating of black pepper.

Have just been told from B that sailing today will start this afternoon (due to the tides) and so he is not sure what time he will be back for supper.  Although (so far) a sunny day, the weather is chilly and will be even colder when on the sea (or at least in the Bay), so will change B's supper from 'the Oriental' to a good old British casserole again, but not beef.  Maybe pork or chicken.  That can then sit happily keeping hot in a low oven (or on the hob) ready for B's return.

Only a week to go before October, and then maybe (just maybe) will start putting the central heating on for an hour in the morning and a couple of hours at night for even B is now having to wear a 'fleece' over his jumper when he settles down to sit and watch TV in the evenings (me still clutching a 'hottie' and covered by a crochet 'throw' and on top of that a thick patchwork quilt.   Am sure our living room (esp where I sit) is haunted because the room is very cold all year round whilst the rest of the house is warmer (but also gets more sun during the day and double glazed which the living room is not).
Incidentally, we are not allowed 'free' cavity house insulation, due to not owning all the house. The whole house has to be done, not just our half and 'upstairs' would have to pay for theirs.  As well as that much of the lower brickwork needs repointing before any insulation could be done, and B won't do that as it would cost too much.
Actually we don't really need insulation as on the east side of our house there is only one end of the conservatory and back door that isn't protected, plus a small strip over the bathroom window. The rest of that side of the house has brick sheds against it.  Our bedroom faces south and with the gas boiler in there, plus double glazed windows is never cold.  The dining room (where I am now) faces south and west and being wood panelled (also double glazed) tends to keep any heat in.
The kitchen has no outside walls other than those covered by the conservatory, so again usually warm.
The 'upstairs' tenants would be the ones who gain from any roof insulation.  Maybe they have it, maybe they don't, but not our problem.

Thanks to Catriona and Eileen for their comments re the British Cup-cake Wars (noticed tht was repeated yesterday at 4.30), think really the judges voted the way they did because they were not familiar to the way we like our flavours and also the way we display our food, ending up choosing the person and display that were more 'American'. 
Didn't get to see the 'behind scenes' episode of the 'Cup cake Wars' and wished I'd seen it, but good to know the 'left-over' cakes were able to be eaten, not wasted.

Hope you get another lap-top soon Jane, but hope you can catch up with at least some of my blogs via your mobile (or whatever it is you use). 

Watched 'Rain Man' late last night and found it a really good film.  Dustin Hoffman should have won an Oscar for his portrayal of the autistic brother.  Blow me if I didn't nod off at the end, so don't know how it finished, can anyone tell me?
Must go as want to watch repeat of British Bake Off.  Hope to meet up with you tomorrow. TTFN.