Saturday, December 01, 2012

It Makes You Think!

Next week I'll be taking some food to the Morecambe Food Bank for distribution, and it certainly made me think about meals in a completely different way.   Firstly the food donated is given out to people who may be able to cook, but because they have no heat/ovens etc, have to rely on eating only cold foods.  Others have not learnt how to cook, previously relying on canned and processed foods, take-aways etc. 

So making up my own 'food parcel' to take, I'm having to think 'outside the box' so to speak.  What can be eaten that is cold but still nutritional.  Canned meats and fish, canned fruits.  Even I have eaten cold baked beans directly from the can - a mention of this causing a reader to call me a 'chav').

Then again, what about fruit and vegetables?  Not sure whether the Food Banks do distribute these fresh, but am buying and including some canned carrots, peas, sweetcorn and potatoes with my 'selection', as well as baked beans, chopped tomatoes, and canned fruits, and suppose these are suitable to be eaten cold.   But eating cold food this weather, the thought alone makes me shiver, so how much worse it must be when there is no choice but to do just this.

There are a lot of Food Banks now being set up in many towns, so whenever possible we should all try and donate at least something if we can.  I haven't done this before, but then I didn't realise how bad the problem was, and - in a way - my own almost daily 'shivering' because of the colder weather has made me think twice now about how much worse it could be if we had no heating.   At least I can trot into the kitchen and heat up a can of soup, without even having to bother about whether I can afford to do this or not.  Now I'm beginning to feel guilty when I think how lucky we are compared to hundreds of others just the other side of town. 

But then - in the early days of marriage - I too had to struggle to feed our children, especially as I too had not really learnt to cook properly.  But in those days it was mainly meat and two veg type meals, food was fairly cheap, and I could just about manage to get a healthy meal on the table, although myself tended to have to rely on eating 'left-overs' from the plates as my meal as I often couldn't afford to feed all of us at the same time.   With B being out of work quite often, and the 'dole' money barely covering the mortgage, I too know what it is like to have to last a week or more without any money at all, and thankfully did have a few 'standbys' in the larder to at least keep the children fed.
It was many years later when I again ran out of money completely (my fault this time), that I had to teach myself how to cook from scratch, and this led me to where I am now.  So perhaps I shouldn't feel too guilty about our now very comfortable life-style if I can share the hints and tips I've learnt along the way to pave a more comfortable path for others to tread.  Or does that make me a 'do-gooder', and someone not nice to know.  All I want is to be USEFUL in my old age.  While I still can.

Thanks for comments.  Good to hear you are now having a Riverford box delivered Sairy, but you may find you don't need one each week.  I thought I would, but after checking the cost, found two things - firstly that I didn't use ALL the produce in the one week, even though it was a small box. Secondly, buying a larger box, although the delivery charges are 'free', it did work out cheaper (weight for weight, plus more variety) to buy a larger box and less often. 
At this time of the year most of the veggies delivered have a fairly long storage life, so worth taking a look at what is on offer each week, and then decide which box to buy.  Riverford are quite happy for me to order as and when I want, there is no pressure to order regularly.
I'll put up some seasonal veggie recipes today, and if you have a vegetable that you wish recipes for, then let me know and I'll give a few recipes using it.

That Thai dish you mentioned Margie (the expensive work-lunch), it sounds similar to one I make for B, and is very quick to prepare.  To make at home it should cost well under £1 per portion. This just shows what a rip-off some of these 'ready-meals' are.

Here are a few recipes using seasonal ingredients.  The first uses kale (this came in our last week's veggie box), and is a classic Italian soup.  Canned haricot, or similar bean could be used instead of the one given.  Remove the stalks and any thick rib up the centre of the kale leaves before using.
This soup is traditionally served with thick slices of ciabatta bread that has been drizzled with a little olive oil and then toasted until golden before being placed on top of the soup with the parsley sprinkled on top.  You can omit this and just serve the soup with crusty bread if you wish.
Ribollita: serves 4
1 x 400g (14oz) can cannellini beans, drained
2 tblsp olive oil
3 ribs celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
11 oz (300g) kale leaves, thinly sliced
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
3 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
boiling water
salt and pepper
Roughly mash the beans and set aside.  Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and fry the celery, carrots, and onions for 10 minutes until softened, then stir in the garlic and fry for a further minute before adding the sliced kale, the tomatoes, and most of the parsley.  Cover with boiling water, add seasoning to taste, then stir, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes, then add the mashed beans (you may need to add a little more boiling water if the soup is too thick).
Serve soup with the remaining parsley sprinkled on top.  Good eaten with crusty bread or toasted ciabatta (see comment above recipe).

Next recipe uses a cauliflower, and once you have removed the floret to use for this recipe, don't discard the stalks, core and those pale green inner leaves.  Chop them all up (or grate in a food processor), then simmer in milk until tender.  Season well and blitz to turn it into a cauliflower soup. Adding the left-over rind of a piece of Stilton cheese will add even more of a 'luxury' flavour to the soup.

This pilaff is a meal in its own right, but if you wish for a more 'meaty' curry, you can always add some chopped left-over cooked meat (beef, lamb, or chicken), adding this towards the end of the cooking time - but making sure it is well heated through.
Cauliflower Pilaff: serves 4
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tblsp sunflower oil
2 tblsp mild curry paste
7 oz (200g) basmati or long-grain rice
3 oz (75g) peas
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 x 400g can brown or green lentils
1.5 pints (900ml) vegetable stock
Blanch the cauliflower florets in boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain and set aside.
Put the oil in a saucepan over low heat and add the onion, stir then place on a lid and leave the onion to 'sweat' until softened, but not coloured, then increase heat to medium and add the cauliflower. Stir for a minute before adding curry paste and rice, stir so the rice is coated with the paste/oils before addng the peas, tomatoes, lentils and most of the the stock.  Give a good stir so that everything is mixed together, then bring to the boil and cover. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes, giving an occasional stir.  Check after 15 -20 minutes, and if the contents look too dry, add the remaining stock.  When the rice is tender, most of the stock should have been absorbed, but the pilaff should be moist.

The other week had a red cabbage in our veggie box.  This I pickled for later eating, but am hoping to get another so that I can cook it as a side dish as it eats well with roast beef, lamb, pork and game.  I've made it in the past and it does freeze well (reheat to serve).
Braised Red Cabbage: serves 4 - 6
1 red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 oz (50g) butter, melted
1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 tblsp demerara sugar
2 tblsp wine vinegar
freshly ground nutmeg (a good pinch)
salt and pepper
2 tblsp water
Put the cabbage, onion, and butter in a pan over low heat, giving it a stir, then 'sweat' for about five minutes or so until beginning to soften but not colour.  Add the apple, then stir in the sugar, vinegar, nutmeg, seasoning to taste, and the water.  Bring to a gentle simmer then cover tightly and simmer for 1 hour, giving the contents of the pan every 15 minutes.  Add 1 - 2 tblsp more water if the cabbage looks a bit dry.  Check seasoning before serving.

Parsnips are one of B's favourite vegetables.  They are sweet and just a little adds a lovely flavour to a home-made vegetable soup.  After peeling I normally remove as much of the centre core as possible from the older/larger parsnips as this is tough and takes much longer to cook than the more tender outside flesh.  The cleaned peel and cores can be simmered with other root veg trimmings to make a vegetable stock.
However, this recipe appears to leave the core intact and slices the parsnip across into rings, the longer cooking time allowing the core to become tender, and if you have only small, thin parsnips, all the better, don't bother about the number, just work to the weight.

This next recipe can be served as an accompaniment to roast beef, on its own it also makes a lovely supper dish.
Parsnip Gratin: serves 4
4 large parsnips (approx 2 lb/1 kg) see above
14 fl oz (400ml) milk
4 fl oz (100ml) cream
4 fl oz (100ml) vegetable stock
3 tsp Dijon mustard
half tsp ground nutmeg
2 oz (50g) Cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) grated Parmesan cheese
Peel the parsnips and thinly slice (see above), then blanch in boiling water for 1 minute.  Drain and pat dry before spreading over the base of a shallow ovenproof dish.
Mix together the milk, cream, stock, mustard, nutmeg, and grated Cheddar, adding seasoning to taste, then pour this over the parsnips.  Sprinkle Parmesan on top and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 30 minutes, or until the parsnips are tender and the top is golden brown and bubbling.

The veggie boxes often contain vegetables that are more uncommon, such as Romanesco, Jerusalem artichoke, celeriac, kohl rabi.... so if you have any of these and not sure how to cook or what to make with them, then I'll hunt up some recipes for you.  That's the good thing about these veggie boxes, they give us much more choice than we might find in the local grocers or supermarkets (and of course MUCH fresher - not to mention being organic).

That's it for today, and with a clear blue sky and lots of sunshine (despite frost still on the lawn), just seeing it makes me feel warmer.  The forecast is snow showers in the north (including our area) so it would be good to at least see a bit of snow fall, but hope (for the sake of others) it won't last. The odd thing is, once snow is falling and it lies on the ground, it makes me feel warmer.  
How I used to love waking in the winter and 'hearing' the complete stillness, knowing this meant snow had fallen.  Then hearing the crunch of the tyres on snow as the milkman was the first to drive his milk-float over the snow-covered road in the early morning (our milk used to be delivered as early as 6.00am).  I couldn't wait to get out of bed and take a look at the wonderful view.  How peaceful it all looks when deep snow has fallen.  Will be get much this winter (if any at all)?  Will have to wait and see.

The start of the weekend and the start of December today.  It's all getting quite exciting - at least for some.  Must now start concentrating on my own 'festive fare', and make sure I've bought (or made) all the things that B will expect to make his Christmas one worth remembering.  
Everyone will probably be a great deal busier from now until New Year, but do hope you find time to send a comment now and again, it's always good to hear from one and all. 

Gill will be phoning tomorrow (she missed last week due to being away) so my blog will either be early (as I hope to publish before she phones at 9.00am) or it will be later - nearer noon.  Either way I'll be writing something.  So hope you can join me then.  TTFN.