Monday, December 03, 2012

Canny Cooking

Bit of a late start again today, mainly due first reading several emails, one from the Foodbank. All needed replies. Seems the Foodbank had almost depleted their stock at the weekend, so many more people are perhaps now having vouchers supplied by the 'social'.  Read yesterday that some soldiers who have fought in Afghanistan, and now 'demobbed' (presumably) are also having to resort to Foodbanks as they cannot get work.  This is disgraceful beyond measure.  What is happening to our country and the care of its own.  Too much money being given to asylum seekers and also all those who enter our country illegally.  Seems they have to be given a roof over their heads, and benefits they have done nothing to earn, whilst others who have paid their way in the past and earned our respect are pushed to the back of the queue.

The Foodbank is in dire need of canned foods, esp canned meats (having almost run out last weekend.  Perhaps this is because canned meats are the most expensive to buy, so people tend to donate cheaper foods.  Canned meat at least can be eaten safely when there is no fuel to cook anything, and one way to get protein into the body.

Think Tesco were doing a nationwide 'donation system last week for the Foodbanks in all areas of the country Sairy.  Believe another supemarket will be doing the same this coming week, and hopefully another next week.
I will be able to meet up with at least one of the Foodbank organisers for this area this Wednesday and hope to get a bit more info on the living conditions (and also cooking ability and facilities) of those who are receiving the donated food. There are many times I wish I was a 'fly on the wall' when it comes to the domestic life of those in need.
What I do need to know is exactly what foods are needed.  It is easy for me to work out what to do with certain foods, but not everyone has the knowledge, and I need to make sure I'm not expecting too much.  Keep everything as simple (but as nourishing) as possible is the name of the game.

Good idea Carol about covering the pan when heating water over tea-lights, same goes when heating anything on a normal hob, the quicker something boils, the less fuel needed to get it to that point.
We can save even more fuel when we soft-boil eggs for 1 minute, then cover pan, turn off the heat and leave them for 5 minutes in the hot water (eggs continue to cook even when the water is hot but not boiling).  To hardboil eggs, boil  for 4 minutes, then turn off heat and leave them to stand (in covered pan) for 12 minutes before removing.

I've even cooked rice and pasts within a very few minutes.  If we soak long-grain rice in cold water for several hours (1 measure rice to 2 measures water), then bring this to the boil, it will have already absorbed some water and begun to soften, so should be tender in just four minutes of boiling.  If not, replace lid, turn off the heat and leave it to cook on in its own steam for a further 3 - 5 minutes.
Pasta that has been boiled to not quite 'al dente' stage, will also continue to cook/absorb more water when again the pan has been covered and the heat turned off.  Leave for five more minutes and it should be ready.
As 'a penny saved is a penny earned',  using less heat means less (fuel) money will be spent.

Good to hear from you again Frugal Queen.  How interexting that someone actually SAVED a copy of my low-cost Christmas meal (demonstrated by me on Pebble Mill at One in 1982).  I haven't kept my own copy, but can remember some of the food displayed on the table.  It was on a day when 'the Mill' had an electrician's strike, and there was panic stations as the food display couldn't be lit from above as would have been normal.  They had to make do with a Christmas tree at the back lit by fairy lights (using an ordinary wall plug and extension flex) plus a table lamp (same way of connecting to electricty) at the side.
In a way this was MUCH better, for it gave a very traditional Victorian 'glow' to the table, the low lights made me look quite pretty (esp as that day I'd had the best ever make-over by the BBC makeup girl - readers will remember me mentioning it, then driving home fast, dashing in to B and saying he should take me out for a meal as 'I don't want to waste this' ('this' meaning me looking good).

Do remember the well-known chef at that time (now the late...) Michael Smith was also at the Mill that day, and he was so complimentary about my attention to detail.  I'd used some of my pastry cutters that were alphabet shaped, and cut out 'HAPPY' around the top of a large mince pie, and 'XMAS' around the bottom of it, so the pie had a pastry top with the mincemeat visibles through the gaps formed by the letters.   The cut-out pastry letters had been arranged on top of another pie that had a complete pastry lid, and also looked good.

I'd also made some gingerbread biscuits in 'slab' shapes, and pressed in 'EAT ME' with the cutters (a bit like the biscuits in Alice in Wonderland).   Another 'special' on display was a HUGE box of home-made sweets (like three layers but placed side by side instead on on top of each other).  We'd saved the box when we were give the chocs a year or two previously, and so I filled all the spaces in the plastic 'pre-form' inside the box with an assortment of 'home-made'.  These were tiny cubes of fudge, or turkish delight, or marzipan, doubled-dipped in melted chocolate.  I'd also dipped some halved no-soak apricots, and also glace cherries to make more chocs.  Remaining melted choc was mixed with chopped nuts to make more sweets.
Then I took a slab of marzipan, divided it into three, left one half plain, then worked in some red food colouring paste into one, and green into the other.  Rolled these out and layered together (the pale one in the centre, and cut these into squares and slabs to dry out a bit and put into the box.  The scraps were rolled together to make multicoloured balls, these also placed in the box.
There were other sweets made as well but can't at this moment in time remember what they were.

The 'Mill' table was loaded with Christmas fare, but again cannot remember what, no doubt the list was on the fact sheet sent to F.Q.  The cost then would be far less than it would be now, but even so, we can still cut costs if we make as much as we can ourselves instead of buying so much ready-prepared.

The Christmas dishes, and everything on display would have been costed out at home, and also made at home to be taken to the Mill, with the typed list given to the producer who would then arrange to have it photo-copied to be sent out to all those who asked for it.  Not sure if it was that particular programme (I was on Pebble Mill many times) but do remember once they said they had been snowed under by requests - they had six huge mail bags stuffed full of letters requesting for my fact sheet for that particular week  - pretty sure it was the Christmas one as they had to get extra staff in to get them sent out so that everyone would receive them in time. .  

When I had my first ever TV appearance (on Indoors, Ourdoors) demonstrating 'Party Food for 20p a Head (or something like that), normally this programme had an average of 2,000 requests for fact sheets for each weekly episode.  When my 'spot' was shown, they had 36,000 requests.  So they asked me back again, and the same thing happened.  Another 36,000 requests!  Just goes to show how even in those days (food was much cheaper then)  many people really did want to know how to spend less when it came to feeding the family.

It was cold again last night, but think the temperature must have risen a bit as there has now been rain and there is no sign of frost on the lawn.  We didn't get the snow showers as expected (I was very disappointed, just seeing a few flakes would have brightened my day), and with the wind now coming more from the south and west, probably we won't get snow now for some time.  Other than perhaps the very north of Scotland that seems to have its own climate.

Oh, I've just seen a robin, now that really makes me think of Christmas.  I love these little birds, they are so friendly, and when I was younger helping my dad in the garden, a little robin would often come and sit on the handle of his spade when he had sat down for a rest from digging.

Yesterday watched a new cookery prog.  Think it was on 'More 4' (anyway freeview channel 14) and called 'ottolenghi's Mediterranean Feast'.  Particularly appealed to me as this episode was set in Tunisia (where I once spent 2 weeks), and the food he showed (and cooked) looked extremely appetising (which is more than you can say for the food served to me when there - at that time being mainly couscous with spicy meats and not a lot else).   One chef in the programme (think in a Jewish cafe) used pureed (probably first cooked) pumpkin to use as a 'stock' when slow-cooking beef.  He said as the pumkin was sweet this gave the beef and gravy extra flavour, and think this is an idea that would work well for us.  He probably added extra liquid to puree the pumpkin down as it looked quite 'runny' when poured over the meat.

Pumpkin and butternut squash are interchangeable, so here are a few recipes where you can use either.  The first being a spicy soup, perfect for cold days (a recipe for an easier soup - less ingredients - follows)
Spiced Pumpkin and Coconut Soup: serves 4
1 large (approx 2 lb/900g) butternut squash
1 onion, chopped
3 tblsp sunflower oil
2 - 3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp grated fresh root ginger
1 tsp coriander seed
1.75pts (1ltr) vegetable stock
2 tblsp Thai fish sauce (opt)
1 x 400ml can (14fl oz) coconut milk
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper
Peel the squash and cut into chunks.  Put into a pan with the onion and 2 tblsp of the oil, cover and fry gently (saute) for 10 minutes until softened.
Mix together the garlic, chilli powder, ginger, coriander, with the remaining oil to make a paste.  Add this to the pan and stir-fry for a minute to release the flavours, then add the stock, bring to the simmer, and cook for 10 minutes.  Add fish sauce (if using) and 3/4 of the coconut milk.  Continue cooking for a further 5 minutes, or until the squash is very tender.
Add lime juice, cool slightly, then blend in a liquidiser, or use a hand/stick blender, until the mixture has turned into a smooth puree.  Reheat, adding seasoning to taste, and serve with the remaining coconut milk drizzled on top.

Cream of Pumpkin Soup: serves 4 - 6
2 lb (1kg) orange-fleshed pumpkin
2 tblsp sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped
1.25 pints (750ml) vegetable stock
14 fl oz (400ml) milk
good pinch freshly ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
4 fl oz (100ml) cream
1 oz (25g) grated Cheddar cheese
Peel pumpkin and cut flesh into chunks.  Put into a large pan with the oil and saute over medium heat for 10 minutes until beginning to soften.  Reduce heat to low, push the pumpkin to the sides of the pan then put the onions in the centre, and continue cooking until these too are beginning to soften.
Add the stock, milk, nutmeg and seasoning to taste, bring to the simmer, cover the pan, then cook for 20 minutes.  Cool slightly, then blend in a liquidiser (or use as stick blender in the pan) to turn the veggies/stock into a smooth puree, adding a little water if too thick.
Reheat, stir in cream, then serve immediately with the grated cheese sprinkled on top.

Bacon and pumpkin/butternut are a marriage made in heaven, so here is an easy and speedy lunchtime or supper dish.
Sauteed Pumpkin and Bacon: serves 4
1.75lb (800g) pumpkin, peeled and chopped
2 tblsp olive oil
4 shallots, thinly sliced
8 rashers smoked streaky bacon, diced
1 oz (25g) butter
juice of half a lemon
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
Put the prepared pumpkin in a pan with the oil and saute over medium heat until nearly tender and turnin gold.  Push the chunks to the side of the pan and add the onions and bacon and continue frying for a further 5 minutes, or until bacon is golden and shallots are tender.
Add remaining ingredients to the pan, and stir everything together for 1 minute, making sure the butter has melted to help coat everything with its lovely flavour.  Serve immediately.

A tip for those who don't like to waste anything.  If you peel your squash really thinly (easily done when using one of those 'Y' shaped veggie peelers), the either spray or brush the peel with oil and bake in a hot oven (180C) for several minutes until crispy.  Cool and eat like potato crisps.

Save the seeds from pumpkin and butternuts.  Remove any flesh and strings attached, and to 4 oz (100g) of the seeds, wash well, pat dry with a clean towel, then place on a baking sheet to dry.  Leave for 24 hours then toss seeds in a mixture of celery salt, half a tsp paprika, 1 tblsp olive oil, and season with a little freshly ground black pepper.  When thoroughly tossed/coated, spread the seed out back onto the baking tray and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 10 minutes, turning halfway through.   Store in an airtight tin, where the seeds will keep for several weeks. 
A perfect time to make these ready for Christmas and New Year nibbles.

That's another day's blog written and ready to publish.  Today I'll be making cakes for the Foodbank, and - if time - biscuits also.  It's really nice to have a reason to cook again (if my Beloved isn't reason enough).  Yesterday - being a very cold day - B had another beef casserole (this time made with pre-cooked Beef Rib Trim from the freezer), plus some steamed kale as his 'greens'.
For his 'afters' I made the classic French dish that I'd seen made on H.F.W's 'take three ingredients' cookery comp.  I'd already got some organic pears (from Riverford) these being perfectly ripe but not over soft, and had bought a tiny bit of Gorgonzola (or was it another similar, can't now remember but it was the right one), to crumble over the quartered pears (the pears still with skin on but topped and tailed).  Then drizzled over a little honey, and added some chopped walnuts.  A toss together then left to serve an hour or two later (because I wanted to watch the repeat of Nigel Slater's prog, and B could reheat his casserole, and kale himself).
B turned his nose up at it a bit - it did look a bit strange when he is used to something like trifle. "Can I eat it with cream?" he asked.  "No" I said firmly.  Eat it as it is.
Have to say that after he had eaten it, he said it was really lovely. So a very easy 'afters' to prepare, an this would probably also make a good 'starter' when entertaining if a little less honey was used.

Today B will be having fish for his supper, probably a chunk of 'fresh' salmon that has been frozen (it thaws out as good as new).  Not yet sure with what, but can sort that out later. 
As I said, I must now go and begin my baking, so that's my lot for today.  Hope you will be able to join me again tomorrow.  TTFN.
p.s. excuse errors, spellcheck is not working and can't be bothered to read through it all again and even if I did I'd still miss the mistakes.  So live with it!