Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Rustic Living

Very heavy frost last night with a pink sky this early morning, so looking very wintry and quite pretty as I gaze out of the window. 
Myself and B are now full of cold (bad throat, chesty coughs), with B sounding really bad as he coughed his way through the night.  Myself am gradually catching up with him, got to the sneezing, rasping cough stage, and feeling it will get worse before it gets better.   Felt bad when I got up, but it's surprising how much better I feel after a cup of coffee, and reading through my emails and the comments you have sent in.   However, still feel I'll shortly go and get another hot drink, a bowl of porridge, then go and wrap myself up warm and put my feet up.

Pleased that you are finding your 'stocks' help to stretch your more expensive (meat etc) ingredients Jane, and am pretty sure we all fall into the trap of believing we should be eating a certain amount of meat almost every day. One hundred gs (100g = 3.5oz) of cooked meat is the recommended amount per person, yet many recipes (esp older ones) suggest using twice as much.  If we use other sources of animal protein (eggs, milk, cheese etc), we can use even less meat (or none at all occasionally), so by padding your meat out by using some of your stocks Jane, you are doing well.

Although, as readers know, I advocate buying the best meat we can afford, purely because the quality is so much better.  Well hung quality meat has such a powerful flavour (compared to the cheaper supermarket quality) that it makes sense to pay that little bit more and then use less that a recipe would suggest.   With good meat the cheapest cuts have even more depth of flavour than the more expensive 'quick-to-cook' cuts, so why bother with these, we should go rustic and slow-cook hot-pots and casseroles.

A good point made by Janet who finds she gets value from her butcher.  Even meat bones can provide plenty of flavour, the marrow in the bones helping to make a good jellied stock, and always the chance of gleaning flesh from the bones once they have been cooked.  For just the trouble of cooking said bones we can - as chefs do in the best restaurants -  end up with stock/gravy/meat for very little money.  The cost of food has really little to do with the end result as the more care, love and attention we give something we are making (even just a stock), we end up with THE BEST!  We home-cooks just don't charge for these/our 'skills' that we pay for when ever we 'eat out'. Just hope our families appreciate what is put before them.  All too often they can take what we do and the time we take to do it, for granted. 

Not sure whether I'd want to make beefburgers using pre-cooked mince Les.  Or am I misunderstanding your comment?   Although suppose no reason why it shouldn't work - at least the burgers would need only rapid frying to heat through (as already cooked) and possibly then would end up more thender than when cooked from raw (unless of course made with minced fillet steak).
Have now changed to first flash frying burgers (made with raw mince), then reducing the heat and covering the pan to let them cook more slowly and for longer.  This seems to keep them more succulent (got the idea from one of those Dinners, Diners and Dives progs where they put little metal domes over each burger as it carries on cooking over lower heat.

Today think I'll make a pan of soup using the beef stock left after slow-cooking the Beef Rib Trim.  this stock is full of flavour and tiny bits of beef that came away from the 'trim', and together with diced onions, carrots, celery, parsnip, potato and - perhaps - lentils, should make a nourishing soup for both myself and B.  My Beloved will probably prefer his portion blended (baby food!), but myself enjoy a more 'chunky' soup as it is more like a meal - I eat the veggies first and then drink the remaining liquid. 

Koftas (minced meat kebabs) can be made with almost any type of meat, but we tend to think only of using beef, lamb, or chicken, so these koftas made with bacon are worth making as - financially - packs of bacon offcuts work out cheaper, weight for weight, that the above mentioned meats.
Ideally, roughly chop the ingredients (as suggested) then put them into a food processor to chop them more finely.  If you haven't a processor, then just chop finely by hand (or use a mincer if you have one).  Don't over-process or the lot will end up more like a thick puree, although when used for something like meatballs, these are very tender and easy to eat once cooked (useful to serve to elderly people who have trouble with their teeth).

Bacon Koftas: serves 4
8 oz (225g) bacon rashers, roughly chopped
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
5 tblsp fresh wholewheat bread crumbs
1 tblsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
olive oil
Put the bacon, onion, celery, and breadcrumbs into a food processor, and whizz until more finely chopped. Add the thyme, W.sauce and seasoning to taste, tip in the egg and give a final whizz to make sure all is combined.
Divide the mixture into 8 equal portions, then taking 8 metal or bamboo skewers (soak wooden skewers in water for a couple of hours before using to prevent them burning when cooking the kebabs), and shape the mixture round each forming a long sausage shape.
Grill the kebabs (can also be barbecued) for 8 - 10 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden brown, then serve hot with a salad of your choice. 

Don't know if any readers have been watching the 'bakery' programme (every weekday afternoon, on ITV at 4.00pm).  A different region each day where three independent bakers compete with each other to see who makes the best. 
This programme I find enjoyable, but sometimes feel that if we try to follow their examples, too much is expected of us - or rather we don't really need to go to the extremes of presentation that we see.  However attractive several small circles of cake - layered together with fruit and cream - may look, it's almost impossible to eat without causing the lot to tumble over once the fork/spoon has made the first cut.   We could say this about any of the 'fine dining' servings put before us - lovely to look at but once tucked into can end up looking a right mess.   So let's not bother too much about making things look pretty (unless entertaining when it matters more), and serve our meals 'rustic style'. 

One of the easiest to assemble apple pies is to roll our a large circle pf short-crust pastry (doesn't have to be a perfect shape), then lay it on a baking sheet. Fill the centre with sliced apples (or other chosen fruit) and a sprinkling of sugar, then fold up the pastry sides back up and over to partly cover the fruit, sort of 'pleating' the edges of the pastry as it falls over towards the centre of the pie (and it doesn't have to meet in the middle).  Then bake.   Definitely 'rustic', but good to look at and even better to eat.

Strangely, we still have quite a number of apples still hanging from the tree even though all the leaves have long since gone.  No doubt they will have been frozen solid over the past days/weeks of cold weather, so best left for the birds, but they do make the tree look as though it has Christmas baubles hanging from it.   Wish that B had bothered to pick them when he gathered the rest, as the tree did not have THAT many fruits this year, and all the ones picked have now been cooked/eaten.

For those who may have been lucky to have a glut of apples, or even have some in the freezer, here is an easy recipe that would make another good addition to our Christmas Hamper of home-made goodies, especially as it has a good shelf-life of at least 6 months when stored correctly.
The best apples to use for this are the Granny Smith.

Apple Chutney: makes approx 3 lb (1.5kg)
1 x 500ml bottle cider vinegar
2 lb (1kg) crisp green apples, peeled, cored and chopped
2 onions, chopped
thumb sized piece fresh root ginger, grated
1 lb (500g) light muscovado sugar
8 oz (225g) raisins
8 cloves
1 long cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 tablespoon white mustard seeds
1 tablespoon salt
Put the cider vinegar into a preserving pan and add the remaining ingredients.  Heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then increase the heat slightly to give a gentle simmer, and cook for 45 - 50 minutes or until the chutney is thick enough to draw a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan and the chutney is slow to cover up the path made by it.
Remove pan from heat and leave contents to cool slightly before spooning the chutney into sterilised jars, either insert a skewer into each jar to work out any air bubbles, or tap jars firmly on the work surface to do the same.  Leave to cool completely before covering and sealing.
Leave jars in a cool dark place for at least 2 weeks before eating.  And it can be stored, unopened, for up to six months, also in a cool dark place.  Once opened, keep in the fridge and use within a couple or so weeks.

Beloved is still in bed, and I'm beginning to wish I was, so perhaps should follow my instincts.  But first must get that soup made and simmering on the hob or B will have nothing for his supper (he won't feel up to cooking something for himself).
Incidentally, having bought some canned soups to take to the food bank, it is surprising (or probably not) how little percentage of meat is used in (for instance) Scotch Broth, Cock a Leekie, and Beef Broth.  Barely a token grain of minced lamb, chicken, or beef.  Just shows how good our home-made soups would be compared to those on sale.  Even the expensive top brands contain little 'real' meat.

The same thing happens in 'ready-meals'.  Read the contents listed on the packaging and we will see the percentage of several of the main ingredients used, and when it comes to meat/fish, there is very little of it, and we would expect (say) a meat pie to contain well over 60% meat in the filling - but we are often lucky to get 10%, and that would almost certainly not be 'top quality'. 

There is a dividing line between cooks and nutritionists.  A good cook would wish to use only the best ingredients that can be afforded.  A nutritionist would look at the 'content', and - it has to be said - that even those 'slurries' of meat made from the bits that we would expect to be binned - when  formed into burgers, sausages etc (Jamie O has had his say re these) these could still contain a good amount of protein.   During wartime rationing, sausages were made from a lot of things we'd rather not know about, but gratefully received and eaten just because there was nothing better. 
Perhaps we are getting a mite too 'picky' when it comes to what we purchase - and myself am definitely moving towards Picksville with my insistence on buying the best meat and organic veg.  But if - for the moment - am finding I can afford to, then why not. However, the starving millions in the Third World would weep with joy when given a 'slurry' sausage or burger to eat so we maybe should be thinking more about nourishing our bodies and a little less about 'treating' ourselves..

If disaster struck this planet, we'd probably be out hunting for snails and slugs, maggots and caterpillars to provide us with necessary protein.  Today some countries consider these as delicacies, and serve them in their restaurants. " One man's meat is another man's poison" comes to mind. In other words, we should all eat the best we can afford (and according to culture), but if/when we have to move a lot further down the ladder of quality, and food is eaten then purely to keep us alive and healthy, then our enjoyment of a meal comes second (or even bottom of the list).

The point I'm hoping to make is that when we really have little money to spend on food, and a family to cater for, then does it really matter if we buy the cheaper 'value' protein foods.  What is more important is providing enough of the right nourishment, not fretting about wanting 'nicer' foods that we can't afford.   Sometimes I feel that in today's world almost every meal (or snack) is expected to be a 'favourite',  and we expect always to be served what we want to eat (my B certainly does).  In my younger days we were lucky if we had a daily meal that was really enjoyed to the full. Memories of overcooked veggies - all disliked - that we were had to eat or they'd be served up cold at the next meal.  Nothing then was wasted.  It all had to be eaten.

The hated dish of stewed prunes have come to mind (prunes have always been disliked, so to improve sales - for they are good for us -  the name is now being changed to 'dried plums' - which admittedly sounds more appetising.   The only good thing I remember about stewed fruits was the bit where I laid out all the stones around the rim of my dish so they could be counted: tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief.   Seems the more prunes I had (my mum always gave me at least seven of the horrid things) the worse 'man' I'd end up with.  And there was me always wishing to be served five prunes and end up marrying a rich man.

In an ideal world (and the world as it was when I was a child), food would be 'free-range' and organic.  Now we are fast going in the wrong direction - and downhill fast - but we also have to remember that if we cut out all the junk foods that our children seem to demand, we should then have saved money to spend on the better quality 'fresh' foods.  If the children want 'treats' then we can make them ourselves. Huge bags of sweet crunchy popcorn (made at home within minutes) cost pennies rather than the ££s when sold over the counter.   Biscuits too are cheap enough to make, and porridge oats much, much cheaper than the pre-packs of flavoured oats on sale.  
Home-cooking saves money, and if the  money saved can be spent to improve our meals, we still end up spending no more than we used to, but have raised out standard of eating enormously.

But I've said this all before.  So why do I keep repeating myself?  Perhaps because we need to see the whole picture and also beyond (thinking outside the box).  According to our finances (and abilities) we can choose where to make the first move, but always starting by providing necessary nourishment, then making this as appetising as possible.  Once we begin to do more 'cooking from scratch' we can then progress to shopping around both for bargains (saves money) and also for the better quality foods (on these spending only - or part of - the money we have saved).  Slowly - and this can take several years, we can reach the level of being both mean and miserly (like wot I am), but also able to provide good food for whoever we cook for.
Even as prices rise, if our skills keep pace, then we should never find that our food budget is never enough.  Mostly we find we can keep reducing our expenditure.    Perhaps, like the taxi-drivers in London, it is The Knowledge we need to learn.  How to get from A to B the quickest and fastest (and cheapest way) and usually without having to refer to books giving directions.
That's how our mothers/grandmothers/great-grandmothers used to cook, and the same way works just as well now.  So let's begin....

Honestly, I've rambled on far too much.  Must because this particular bee in my bonnet has been buzzing around rather madly over these past few days.  What with Foodbanks, hearing about young mothers who can't even boil water, and then seeing overly priced food on TV cooked and demonstrated as 'expected to be served' at Christmas, it's as though I'm scuttling back and forth between two worlds and not making much sense of either.

Perhaps better I stop now (or I'll be writing until tea-time the way I feel about thing at the moment), and hope you'll forgive my insistence on 'getting it right'.  At the end of it, we all do what we wish rather than do as we are told (or in my case 'suggest').  All I'm concerned is keeping our heads above water when it comes to feeding the family, and at the same time, improving the situation.  It can be done.

Enjoy your day.  B has just said he is feeling a bit better, so hope it won't be long before I do.  Hope you can join me tomorrow.  TTFN.