Friday, October 19, 2012

Now and Then....

Now and then (and more often than I care to think about) I begin to doubt my abilities.  Problem with me I'm always far too eager to dive in at the deep end without thinking of the consequences.  Yesterday began to feel that I'd taken on too much re the 500 canapes (plus desserts), but I KNOW that I should be able to cope (and am determined to). 

Dealing with each type of canape is no problem, it is when I think of the sight of 20 large empty platters laid out on the conservatory table, waiting to be filled, most of the canapes having to be made up at the last minute before plating, each then protected, covered, packed into boxes, that I am beginning to find this a mite daunting.  Too much to do in too little time it feels to me, but am hoping that 're-organisation' of my lists will make it easier.

Have to keep reminding myself to think of only one 'canape variety' at a time, preparing as much as possible beforehand (filling piping bags - fitted with nozzles - with pate, cream cheese etc, the night before and leaving them in the fridge to use later).  I'll get it sorted, believe me..

Yesterday at least made a start.  I needed to order a mixture of game bird breasts and venison sausages from our local butcher, and - as the weather was good - decided to scoot down with Norris and arrange to collect them next week.  Also needed some chicken carcases to make stock.  What did I find?  The butcher couldn't provide me with the game birds because he'd have to buy the whole birds and then have to sell the rest once he'd taken off the breasts.  He didn't do venison sausages, and couldn't make me any either as he'd have to order more venison that he wanted.  He didn't sell quails eggs (expected that), and he didn't have any chicken carcases left over.

At least was able to buy a nice chunk of topside and he gave me a big piece of fat to cook with it so that I could make B some pots of real beef dripping for his toast.  B absolutely LOVES beef dripping and I'm only able to make it once a year because I normally don't buy a large joint of meat any more, always using the cheaper cuts.  
This piece of topside I cooked yesterday by the slow-oven method, first frying it on all sides for a total of 8 minutes in a frying pan on the hob, then transferring it to a heated roasting tin (oven temp 80C) and putting it in the oven to cook for about 3 or so hours.  Although I don't normally take the temperature when meat is actually cooking, decided to play safe yesterday and stick in my electronic (battery run) thermometer (the 'reading end' of the wire being outside the oven), so that I could keep an eye on the internal temperature of the meat as it was cooking.  It needed to be 65C when 'ready'.  Was watching TV as it cooke, but whenthe programme ended and I went into the kitchen to check, the 'reading' was exactly 65C.  How lucky was that?

Certainly, this slow cooking really helps to keep a joint from shrinking (as it can so often do when roasted at a high temperature), so the meat should be lovely and moist as well as tender.   I'd put the lump of fat in the tin in the oven set at a higher temperature before searing the joint on the hob, then poured off some fat, reduced the heat and sat the seared meat on top of the fat 'chunk' when it went in the oven.
Once the meat was put on a plate 'to rest', raised the heat again to get more fat from the 'chunk' and crisp that up (B loves to sprinkle salt of this and eat as a crunchy 'nibble').  Got one fairly large and one smaller dish full of dripping, so was well pleased.   Have warned B to treasure the flavour as once gone he won't have any more for months (maybe years if meat prices go up - the 'cheap' beef dripping sold in packs at supermarkets is clarified and not at all the same thing as the brown 'meaty' flavoured dripping that is made when fat is cooked with the joint).

Also bought a large chunk of frozen chicken livers whilst out shopping (butchers price £2.99 kg), which is (I think) a pretty good price.  Some I have put into the freezer for later (to add to the game pie) and the rest is being thawed in the fridge to make Chicken Liver Pate/parfait today or tomorrow. 

When I came home phoned Donald Russell and ordered their packs of Game Bird mix (on offer at the moment) and even though the order was small, was able to have free delivery (as this was part of the offer), unfortunately they can't send it until next Tuesday (if I had it this Saturday, would have had to pay £4 extra), but this will give me time to thaw the meat and make the game pie ready for the following weekend.  Venison sausages I can get from Riverford, so may order them tomorrow if the club still want them - as long as I know by tomorrow).

For some reason I keep thinking today was going to be Saturday, so was thankful when I woke and discovered I've gained a day as it is (still) Friday, so one day more to 'do things'.   Today will make the Florentines, and Cheese Straws, and (perhaps) some (or all) of the 'truffle dice'.   These 'dice' were a suggestion (by silly me), of presenting the truffles in cubes rather than in 'balls', each piped with dots on top and sides (but not the base) to make them look like dice (the social are calling this event a 'Casino' based evening).  They LOVED that 'themed' idea, so wanted me to make 50 truffles so that everyone could have one with their coffee at the end of the evening.  This on top of the other desserts (fortunately not 50 of each of these), and a bit fiddling to make, but not that difficult..  Truffles are filled with 'ganache' (mixture of cream and melted chocolate), will freeze, so can make these in advance.  May make some using a white 'ganache' using white chocolate, and pipe the 'dots' on with melted dark chocolate, and the rest vice versa.

Last night watched 'Wartime Farm', and it is strange how I'd now started to forget how hard things really were in those days, but when viewing this - memories come flooding back.  It really was as bad as that, but myself - being only 6 when war started - probably accepted it more easily than my parents did.   At least we hadn't got to the stage of eating that black bread made with grass, sawdust, etc. Although the 'National Loaf' (the only type sold during war-time) was very grey in colour and didn't taste very nice.

When we saw the P.O.W's working in the fields, wearing a large red diamond stitched to the back of their jackets, it wasnt' mentioned the other reason the 'markers' were placed there (the prisoners of war also used to have a 'marker' on their leg as well, which wasn't shown).  These markers were placed so they could be easily used as a target, so that if the prisoners tried to absond, they would be shot. The first shots to be aimed at the leg to stop the escape, and if this failed, then the prisoners were to be shot in the back using the marker there..  We treated the German and Italian prisoners of war so well I don't think any of them wanted to run away.   Do remember my parents having Italian POWs, helping in our very large garden (most of it laid down to growing fruit and veg of course - we also had chickens).  They had every chance to walk off into the sunset as I think they were just 'dropped off' in the morning and then picked up later to be taken back to camp, but they all seemed very happy to be working in 'English' gardens, and got on well with everyone. 

'Woolton Pie' (as mentioned by Eileen), was one of the best recipes to be 'invented' during wartime. Bascially it is a meat and veg pie, but without the meat.  The pastry wasn't THAT good in those days (not enough fats, and the flour a bir coarse) but certainly the pie was tasty.

Here is a recipe that orginated in those wartime days, although probably at that time the marg wouldn't be as 'nice' as it is now, the same with flour.  Not even sure what type of sugar would have been used, but although the recipe has been adapted to use 21st century (type) ingredients, this is still an economical cake to make, and still gives a flavour of times past.  Nowadays we are expected to be able to mix a cake using a mixer (or a handheld electric mixer), in those days the cake would be beaten by hand, using a rotary hand whisk, or just elbow grease and a wooden spoon.
'Kitchen Front' Ginger Cake: makes 14 - 16 slices
11 oz (300g) margarine
14 oz (400g) golden syrup
1 egg, beaten
4 oz and a bit (130g) plain flour
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
1 rounded tsp ground ginger
1 rounded tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
4 oz (100g) soft dark brown sugar
1 rounded tsp bicarb. of soda
6 fl oz (175ml) warm water
Put the marg. and syrup into a pan and heat gently until melted.  Remove from heat.
Put the flours, ginger, cinnamon, salt and sugar into a food mixer, run this at slow speed, then pour in the melted marg/syrup and then the egg. 
Dissolve the bicarb in the warm water, then pour this over the cake batter in the bowl, still with the  beaters mixing away.  Then when all combined, spoon mix into a greased and lined 10" (26cm) cake tin.  Level the surface and bake for 1 hour a 150C, 300F, gas 2.  Check it is cooked by inserting a skewer or cocktail stick in the centre.  If it comes out clean the cake is done, if not - bake for a further five minutes then re-test.
Turn out onto a cake airer to cool.

Second recipe today is not a wartime one, but certainly a useful one as an easy way to make 'something sweet' that the children will enjoy, not just to eat, but they could also make them themselves.  As it probably costs well under £1 to make the amount given below, this proves how very much cheaper it is to make, rather than buy them ready-made.  You can choose to colour the icing if you wish and omit the 'sprinkles'.
Even though using a mixer/processor is advised, the bread dough can still be made by hand, it just tae a lot longer...
Iced Buns:  makes 20
1 x 500g pack of white bread mix
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
1 egg
approx 10 fl oz (275ml) lukewarm water
12 oz (350g) icing sugar
hundreds and thousands (for sprinkling)
Put the bread mix and sugar into a food processor, or a table-top mixer (see above), and while the machine is running add the egg and enough water to form a soft dough (you may need less or more water).  Tip dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth - about 5 - 10 minutes (although if you have a dough hook with your mixer, let it knead the dough in the bowl for this time).
Put dough into an oiled bowl, cover with (oiled) cling film or plate, then leave in a warm place to rise.  It should have doubled in bulk, and takes approx 1 hour).
Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured board and 'knock back' with your clenched fist (this knocks out some of the air bubbles), then divide dough into 20 even-sized pieces - keeping them covered as made with a towel so they don't dry out.  Shape each into a 'sausage' and place on an oiled baking try. Cover with oiled clingfilm and leave again in a warm place to rise until doubled in size.
Remove clingfilm and put buns on the top shelf of a pre-heated oven set at 200C, 400F, gas 6 and cook for 8 - 10 minutes until golden.   Cool on a cake airer.
Mix icing sugar with a very little water (or you could use lemon or orange juice), to make a stiff but spreadable icing (add food colouring if you wish), then dip the top of each bun into the icing, place back on cake airer and sprinkle with hundreds and thousand.  Leave to set, then eat and enjoy.

 Have begun sorting the freezers, but still have to make more room - so that's my first job to do today, followed by starting to make Florentines, and maybe also the savoury choux bun cases.  The truffles can wait until tomorrow.   Once I've got room, the roast beef must also be sliced and frozen (possibly a few slices kept back for B's supper - call this 'cook's perks', only more a 'B' perk than mine).

Looks like it could be another good day.  Wished I'd been able to spend more time whilst out with Norris yesterday, but unfortunately the battery hadn't been 'trickle charged' for a few weeks, and as I noticed it was 'running down' rather too fast for my liking, decided once I'd got as far as the butchers (one of the first shops reached fortunately), decided I'd better return before I had to get off and push.  Luckily enough power (and more) for me to return, but won't go out again until Norris is fully charged.   Not even sure if I'll have any spare time to do anything much but prepare/cook until 'after the event'.

Hope the weather stays fair for you all this weekend.  With this autumn bringing a good display of leaf colour, perhaps a good time for a drive out in the country to enjoy seeing this before the wind brings all the leaves down.  Once these have left the trees, bare branches then will remind us that winter is not far behind. 

Spell check has let me down again and I reallly haven't time to scroll through and check for errors, so aplogies for any that have slipped past me.
Hope you can find time to join me some time this weekend, if so - see you then.