Friday, December 21, 2012

The Shortest Day

Have already been up a couple of hours and it is not yet 8.00am.  No sign of dawn as I look through my window (although having the light on in the room maybe hides any sign of light out there),  but then today is the shortest day and - thankfully - from now on we gain a little more daylight each day until mid-summer.  From tomorrow it will be almost as though a new year will have already begun. 

The weather has been dreadful again, not so bad here, but we have had high winds and quite a bit of rain.  A lot worse in other parts of the country where there are now 300 flood warnings, some trains have been cancelled and many roads closed.  We saw a car (TV news) sitting on a flooded road with water right up to the roof, what was amusing (an under the circumstances shouldn't have been) was that we could just see the tips of the windscreen wipers still working!  The car occupants had had to be rescued as the flooding happened so suddenly.

Hampshire seemed to get the worst of the flooding where - it was said - a whole village had to be evacuated as the river close by was about to burst its banks.   So it's not going to be a very happy Christmas for many residents in the UK, especially as more rain is forecast, although mainly on the eastern side of the country, and especially Scotland where they will also have snow.  It couldn't come at a worse time of year (Christmas shopping, family travel etc...). Let us hope by Monday there will have been much improvement in the weather, to allow last minute shopping and travel to be done comfortably and safely. 

Loved reading about your craft ideas Sarina.  There is so much we can make ourselves - quite easily - that would cost a lot to buy.  So as well as making for ourselves, am sure many of us could make a bit of 'pin-money' by selling some as well.   One good way to get a shop-keeper to be interested in our 'home-crafts' is not to ask them to buy them from us, but let them have them on 'sale or return'.  That way they don't have to pay up front, just receiving some commission for selling (less 'profit' for them, but more for the person that makes) this is almost guaranteed to get them to put 'our' goods on sale as no loss to them if they don't sell.  If any DO sell well, then the shopkeeper would probably give an order for more and pay on delivery - any unsold would not then be returned.

Was interested to read that you have German origins Sarina, and bet you miss quite a few of their traditional 'bakes'.  Germany has a good reputation for making bread of many different kinds, also wonderful cakes and gateaux.  The one traditional German food that I've never quite taken to is 'sauerkraut' - although it has to be said I bought it in a jar, and so it probably was not at all like the 'real thing'.
I'd always wanted to visit the German (Christmas) market that used to be held in Leeds every December (think it was there for about a month). Each year B promised he would take me to see it, but he never did.  Until the year I pleaded with him (almost every day) and when he eventually 'found time' (he was retired), when we got there discovered it had closed the day before and everything was being taken down.  So I never did get to see it.   These markets are held in various parts of the country, so anyone who lives close enough, do hope they get a chance to visit. 

Home-made chocolates are quite fun to make, and can look very professional if you have the moulds, but still look good even made 'free-hand'.   I used to cheat a bit by buying a pack of fudge, then cutting each square into four, dipping each into melted chocolate.  Did the same with Turkish Delight.  Marzipan squares (or balls) also dipped in chocolate.  You don't need much 'filling' to go inside a chocolate, esp. if 'double-dipped'.

Kneading a little peppermint food essence into some white fondant icing, then rolled very thinly and placed on top of a thin layer of chocolate (spread on baking parchment), to be covered with more chocolate, then left to set before being cut into squares or fingers is a way of making our own 'After Dinner Mints'.
Glace cherries, pr halved no-soak apricots, Brazil nuts, chopped nuts, all can be dipped to be included in a 'box of chocs', or piled up in dishes for guests to help themselves. 
Lakeland do some lovely silicone chocolate moulds, they also sell good chocolate, so a good idea to get some (or ask for some as a present) so we can already plan (if not yet make) some of next year's gifts.

Have made a note of the book you mentioned Sairy, and will ask B to see if it is the local library, if not he can request them to get it for him.  This is the good thing about libraries, as they have a central library that holds almost all the books published, so a request for a book can be asked for by a local library and it will be sent to them by 'central'.  Well, it used to be like that, and as B has already requested a book the 'local' didn't have - and they got it for him - presumably 'central' is still there.

Did not realise that my books were available in America Lisa.  Are they the three BBC books, or is it the Penguin book you have?  We can buy American cook-books here, but as the weights and measures are not the same as ours, not easy to convert the recipes.   More recently published cook -books now often give both metric and cup measurements.

Do hope that having your OH sleeping through the day (due to shift work) does not mean that you have to walk around on tip-toe and cannot play music, listen to the radio....  We used to have a neighbour (she lived in the other side of our semi-) who had a husband 'on nights', and she told me in no uncertain terms that we were expected to be to be quiet and certainly not let our dog bark during the day whilst he was asleep.  But then she was that sort of neighbour!!! Very dominating.  Myself just liked to keep the peace.
When I had spent a week keeping myself and dog extremely quiet, suddenly saw through our front window (about noon) the neighbour's husband walking their dog down our street.  And there was me believing the man was fast asleep in bed.  So from then on I took no notice of what she requested and lived my life as I wished. 

Couldn't believe what you said Jane (Willis), about mince pies being thrown away.  Why on earth do people buy so much food (of all types) when they must know they can't get around to eating it all?   We see a lot of this done in TV programmes, binned food that has just reached its 'use-by' date when everyone knows that one more day won't hurt (especially when kept in the fridge).   Some people are paranoid about dates, and this is why many dates are now being removed and just a 'sell-by' date left - although when it really matters, the 'use-by' date will still remain.

Even if we do have too much food left, we should always be able to make something with it that can be frozen.  There are many foods that can be frozen 'as-is', so there really is no excuse for waste of any sort. 
We should never feel that we are less fortunate having to 'scrimp and save' just because we use what others would chuck out,  for we are the lucky ones.  Why?  We spend so much less so end up with fatter purses. 

Dawn has broken whilst I wasn't looking, it's surprising how quickly this happens, in less than 45 minutes it's from dark to now light enough outside to walk around (and probably drive around) without the need for any torches or headlights.  It would be even lighter if the sky wasn't so overcast with heavy grey clouds.  Think the rain has stopped, but for how long?

Anyway - have a busy day ahead of me.  Already I've made a batch of chicken stock (overnight in the slow cooker), also made overnight a litre of 'peaches and cream' EasyYo yogurt (that's now in the fridge).  B and I ate some roast chicken portions for supper last night (B had his with roast spuds, string beans and gravy - I just had the chicken).  Have to say that roast chicken is SO much tastier than when 'poached'.  Perhaps it is the crispy skin, this seems to have such a sweetness about it.
Anyway the roast chicken bones were added to the crock-pot to cook with the rest of the chicken, and these have given the stock much more depth of flavour.   Today will boil it down to reduce by at least half so that it will take up less room in the freezer.

The ham has also been soaking overnight (in two changes of water) and have to decide whether to cook it on the hob, or roast it in the oven. Perhaps a bit of both (ending with covering the fat of the cooked ham with glaze then finish by roasting it).

Have to make three quiches today, partly prepare the trifle, make a cheesecake, and tomorrow must make a Tiramasu.  Or might do all today, or some today and the rest tomorrow morning.  Have to see how I get on. 
Having just remembered that is is Norma the Hair day today (change of normal appt. time due to run-up to Christmas), and she is coming mid-afternoon, that leaves me only this morning to do most of the above.  So once I've written up today's recipe then will take my leave.

This recipe for little tarts/cakes is useful in that it can make use of many 'bits and bobs' that are left-overs (cake crumbs, pastry...) and oddments left in jars (nuts, jam).   As with most recipes, using the full amount of ingredients means using a bit more than 'oddments', but not too difficult to make smaller amounts to use up what we have.   Experienced cooks will realise that these are similar to Bakewell tarts, but not quite the same.
The tarts can be frozen before baking and can be baked from frozen for the same length of time as when freshly made.  Useful when we are cooking something in the oven and have a spare shelf.

Plenty of ways we can change the recipe - use puff pastry or short pastry, a different jam, different (plain) cake crumbs.  Also omit the icing 'drizzle'.
Almond Tarts: makes 12
1 x 375g pack puff (or short) pastry
3 oz (75g) self-raising flour
12 tsp cherry jam (or flavour of your choice)
3 oz (75g) Madeira or sponge cake crumbs
4 oz (100g) butter, softened
3 oz (75g) ground almonds
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
half tsp almond essence/extract
1 oz (25g) flaked almonds (opt)
4 oz (100g) icing sugar, sifted (opt)
Roll out the pastry very thinly on a floured board, then cut out 12 x 9cm circles using a scone cutter (pref with a fluted edge) and place each circle into the hollow of a 12-section tart/bun tin.  Spread 1 tsp of the jam in the bottom of each.
Put the cake crumbs, flour, ground almonds, sugar, and almond essence into a bowl, then add the eggs, and beat together until smooth.  Then divide this between the tarts, making sure to spread it (with the back of a teaspoon) so that it covers the jam.  Scatter the almonds on top (if using).  At this point the cakes can be open-frozen in the tin for 2 hours, then wrapped in cling film and can be frozen for up to 2 months.  To bake from frozen, first heat the baking tin in the oven (180C, 350F, gas 4), then replace the frozen cakes in the sections, cover loosely with foil and bake for 30 - 40 mins, removing foil half-way through cooking time.
To cook from fresh - cook tarts in tin - again covering with foil as above, then (in both instances) cool slightly before drizzling with icing (if using)..
To make the icing: add a few drops of water to the icing sugar to make a runny icing, then drizzle this over the tarts and leave to set before eating.

Really have to trot off now and get on with my culinary activities.  Hopefully will have completed enough to allow me to return tomorrow morning to write more blog, bit if I 'disappear' you will know I've had problems.  Should be OK though, in which case how we all manage to 'meet up' again tomorrow.  TTFN.