Saturday, December 08, 2012


Have come to the conclusion that men are (generally) very self-centred.  Yesterday B was sounding as though ready to take to his bed,  later croaking to me that he only wanted a tiny bit of supper "couldn't face any more", but when I served him up a supper of a 6" square of belly pork that I'd laid on top of some boiled-then-fried potatoes and onion, with a good helping of stir-fried kale, plus some lovely gravy (put in the oven on a plate to keep warm whilst I roused him from sitting in his chair feeling sorry for himself), he - within seconds of reaching the kitchen, flew back into the living room where I'd just sat down, asking where the 'meat' for his supper was.   I told him it was on the plate with the other veggies "Is that all I've got" he said (it was his usual meat platter almost full), and I reminded him he'd told me he didn't want very much.  He must have forgotten!

He suddenly felt a lot better around 9.00pm (the time he always sets off for the social club), but came home a bit early (11.30 instead of 12.30) as he said he 'felt out' as the other men there were talking about Facebook and Twitter, and as neither B nor I have any truck with those (a complete waste of time in our opinion - but obviously not everyone's), be was not able to join in the conversation, just had to sit and listen.  At least I now know that it isn't just me he doesn't care to 'just listen to'.  B likes to be the one that does the talking, but always to others, rarely to me. still that keeps our home quiet and peaceful as neither of us say very much other than (me: 'what would you life for supper tonight' - and 'your supper's ready'.  B probably would say 'is there anything you want from the supermarket' before he leaves the house, and "I'm off to bed". And that's about it. .  
I appreciate that Facebook and Twiter are probably of interest to a lot of ladies, but amazed that men also seem to feel the need to 'indulge' in them.  But then many of B's 'sailing mates' are retired, so suppose they now have nothing better to do.  In my opinion a waste of what time they have left on this earth.

Considering that Twitter (I believe, never having seen it) is used as a 'diary' by millions, who - apparently - like to let the world and his wife know exactly what they are doing every hour of every day (and who flippin' cares?), am reminded that - in a way - this is what I myself do, every morning write down what has happened the day before, but always hoping that I also give some useful cookery info (hints, tips, recipes...) as well.  So who am I to criticise?

After B had gone to bed, I watched a film, then was myself about to go to bed when I heard B coughing and spluttering,  so waited a bit, then he continued hawking and sneezing, so rather than sleep in a room full of germs, decided to spend the night tucked up in my easy chair, part of the night reading an excellent book that B had brought from the library that day (he was well enough to go out and do that).  This was all about English food both regional and traditional.  I've nearly finished it so will let you know the title and author (and for Les who complained I don't give full details of things I talk about) will also give the ISBN (?) number, publisher and price.  Or shall I be mean and force Les to find these out for himself via the Internet? 

Like you Jane, I was 'self-taught' when it came to cooking, having missed the opportunity of being taught by my mother as war broke out and there was no food to spare to practise with.  My school did not teach cookery, and anyway rationing continued for several years, finishing about a year before B and I got married.
When it comes to cookery books, the tattier the better in my opinion.  My friend Gill - who does voluntary work at 'Mind' - says they throw out cookbooks that are even slightly marked.   Even pencil notes inside an otherwise pristine book is chucked on the rubbish pile.
A  second-hand cook-book that still looks 'new' to me means it isn't worth having, as it's obviously only been 'looked at' then confined to a shelf never to be used again.    Now, a cookbook that has grease spots on some pages, page corners turned down, the covers almost falling off - now THAT'S going to be worth having because it obviously contains recipes that are so good the dishes have been made again and again.

Thankfully, Gill manages to retrieve some of the discarded books before they get collected by whoever uses old paper, and she has brought me some really interesting ones. 
This reminds me - our daughter went to an art gallery in Manchester the other day and she was entrance by the display there - all sorts of different things from collages to three-dimensional images, all made with paper taken from tatty books (you can see the words still on the paper).  She brought home a book from there that had many photos of things made with pages torn from tatty books, and it is incredible how the printed words on a page can be used to such great effect, and easily too.

Campfire and Lisa both share with me the problems of living with a man who is feeling a bit under the weather.  A 'bit under' to a male is more like six foot under in their eyes.  Perhaps we should take a leaf out of their book and leave them to their own devices, if they complain - we should tell them we are only following their example when they are ill - so it's obviously what they expect should happen.  But we women really can't seem to stop cosseting the men in our family.  Am sure mothers fuss more over sons than they do over daughters ( we love them all, but 'fuss' is something different).  We just seem to want to spoil the lads, and always (whatever their age) treat them as though they have never grown up (or perhaps we never wanted them to - at least not our sons. Our partners we do wish would be strong and responsible and caring - like our fathers always seemed o be). 

Bet you'll have fun using your knitting machine Kathryn, and however much you love knitting by hand, it really speeds things up.  When I got mine I was able to knit an adult sized long-sleeved jumper in an afternoon, and although the ribs (cuffs, bottom of jumper, and around the neck) can be done on the machine, I preferred to knit these by hand as they fitted better and made the whole garment look 'hand-knitted'.  
Your 'horse-hats' sound fun, but not sure whether these are intended to be worn by horses  (keeping heads warm in cold weather or flies off in hot), or whether for the riders.  But whatever, something 'quirky' like that will go down well with the riding fraternity I'm sure.

Pleased to hear your OH has a job Kathryn, albeit temporary.  As you say, things are getting 'tighter' these days (and that's not only our belts).  Even though you grow some of your own food (did you get an allotment or are you still on the waiting list?) this years atrocious weather probably ruined a lot of it. 

"A penny saved is a penny earned" is an old (traditional) saying.  I have it printed on a small wooden box that has a roomy slot in the top to save said pennies.  As the box is Victorian (or maybe even older), pennies in those days were larger and thicker than they are now.  And you could also buy thing for 1p.  (In my youth you could go to a sweetshop and by a farthing's worth of sweets, all packed for me in a small, triangular paper bag to take home - but probably all eaten before I reached our front gate).

The above quotation came to mind when I heard this week about a family that is going to be evicted from a rented property because they hadn't the money to pay for the rent.  Apparently the husband has a seasonal job (coach driver) so works less hours 'out of season'. 
Yet the lady of the house had previously been talking about some new cushions she'd bought, then realised they didn't match the rug, so she bought a new rug, then decided the wallpaper (or painted walls) needed changing to match the rug.....
Now - normally the family wouldn't be evicted, but almost certainly this time as they had been threatened with eviction the previous year as they were (then) short of money.  You would think they would have learnt a lesson from that and not spent money that should have been saved for rental, on all the new 'decor' that seemed to be essential.

The above reminded me of the time when I used to make things to sell in craft shops, one 'craft' being the making of men's ties.  B used to bring home (free) bags of remnants from the warehouse where he worked (he was a sales rep for a fabric company), and as well as these sometimes being large enough to make skirts, blouses, even dresses for our girls, the small pieces were often good enough to make 'kipper ties' as they were called in those days.  Cheap and easy to make, and not expensive to buy, the ties sold well, and I made loads of them, all different.
We were in the process of having a couple of rooms in our house decorated at that time (I'd just finished the TV series so could afford to pay for this), and the decorator saw me sewing the ties, and took a fancy to one bright green one, it had some sort of pattern on it.  He bought it from me, and a couple of weeks later called in to say how much he loved it, and so had bought a suit to go with it (his wife was not amused I understand).  Well, if you can afford it - why not?  It's what happens when we want something and CAN'T afford it that causes problems. 

The other day we had our gas and electricity meters read, and I was stunned when the statement came for the gas.  This time it had a sort of bar graph on the back of the bill to show how much gas we'd used this year against how much for the same quarter last year, and - surprise, surprise - we seemed to have used less.  Perhaps last year I didn't sit and shiver clutching a 'hottie', I probably put the heating on more often.
The previous statement showed we had a credit, and this quarter has about the same amount of credit to add on to the previous one, so together they should pay for the next three months of winter heating, so am really, REALLY, pleased about that. 
Even if the weather gets bitterly cold, I won't feel so guilty about putting the heating on during the day because as we pay a set amount each month by direct debit, it should all balance out at the end of our 'fuel year' (this starts at the beginning of July as this is when we moved here).
The 'leccy' bill also has a smaller (but large enough) credit, and as we don't seem to use more electricity in the winter as in the summer - not sure why - those bills never give us cause for concern.

My bank balance is looking even healthier and the reason for this seems to be my change in food purchases - more 'fresh foods' (DR meat offers and organic veggie box delivery etc), also I've reduced the supermarket shopping by umpteen percent.   Obviously some of my over-loaded larder shelves are now looking a bit 'roomier' as the stored items are used up (and not yet replaced), but still have plenty to go at and hopefully these will last through the winter and beyond. 

Today am planning a 'baking day' - Saturday always seems the right day to do this, perhaps it is traditional - so must now go and sort out my freezers (the chest freezer done, and also the two drawers in 'Boris', but still have the frozen veggies and some 'not sure what' containers (that are stuffed together on three shelves) to sort out, then will have space for my baking and the 'home-made ready meals' that I intend making next week.   Hopefully then can concentrate on Christmas fare, and maybe allow myself a trip to Morrison's to enjoy the displays of festive fare, even if I don't buy any (or more likely - many).

However much we aim to spend less, at this time of the year our purse strings are pulled open more often, so it's a great help if we can serve a vegetarian meal several times a week - as almost certainly we'll be eating more meat (turkey, ham, beef....) than usual over the Christmas period.  Or at least some of us will be able to do so.   Mary Berry has the right approach, just serve a normal portion of food at Christmas, there is no need to stuff ourselves sick, and no waste either.  This can work out even cheaper as the traditional Christmas meal has a bit more on the plate than 'meat and two veg'. Turkey is normally served with sausages, stuffing, roast AND mashed potatoes, plus peas, carrots, bread sauce, cranberry sauce and other things I 've probably forgotten.  This doesn't mean having to munch through a huge plateful, it just means being served a little portion of each instead of the normal larger portion if there was less choice. 

So here are a couple of (almost) vegetarian recipes that could be served in the run-up to Christmas, and also in the following months for - as you will see - at least one dish can be assembled then frozen to be cooked later. A couple of the vegetables in the first recipe are - admittedly - more 'summer-seasonal', but like most veggies these days are on sale all year round in the supermarkets.  If you wish to use different vegetables (for we should always use what we have and not go out and buy more) use those and similar in texture - once cooked - to those shown, butternut squash instead of aubergine, frozen green beans instead of courgettes etc... the choice is yours.
We often see canned chopped tomatoes used in recipes, and worth remembering that the canned 'plum' tomatoes have a much better flavour and easily chopped up when decanted from the tin (or can be blitzed in a food processor if you wish to turn them into a passata).
Tomato and Chickpea Casserole: serves 4
1 aubergine, cut into cubes
1 onion, chopped
2 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes... half a can of cold water
2 tsp dried oregano
ground black pepper
7 oz (200g) cherry tomatoes, halved
1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 slices white baguette
3 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
Fry the aubergine and onion in the oil for 5 minutes or until softened, then stir in the garlic and fry for a further minute before adding the chopped tomatoes and water, 1 tsp of the oregano, and a grind of pepper.  Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 8 minutes.   Stir in the cherry tomatoes and chickpeas and bring back to the simmer to cook for a final 2 minutes before spooning into a shallow baking dish.
While the above is cooking, brush the bread with the remaining oil.  Mix together the Parmesan and the oregano, then sprinkle this on top of the bread.   When the vegetables have been placed in the baking dish, place the bread on top, then bake for 15 - 20 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until the bread is crisp and golden.
If you don't want to use the oven, as long as the vegetables in the baking dish are really hot, and the bread ready to place on top, the finished dish could be place under a pre-heated grill to 'toast' the bread and cheese.

Final recipe today is almost meatless - well, at least the 'meat' is bacon lardons, and if a cheap pack of bacon offcuts has been purchased, this will keep the cost down.  There is nothing quite like the smell of bacon frying to start us salivating.  
Agree that not everyone will keep a packet of bread mix in the cupboard, and maybe not semolina or cornmeal (but plain flour could be used instead of this grain). However, this is a good recipe for this time of the year, not expensive - it can feed up to 8 - so worth filing away for when we do have the necessary especially as it can be frozen to be cooked months later.
Caramelised Onion and Bacon Tart: serves 6 - 8
5 oz (150g) bacon lardons
5 large onions, thinly sliced
2 tblsp olive oil
5 sprigs fresh thyme (or 2 tsp dried thyme)
1 tblsp brown sugar
half a 500g pack of bread mix
2 tblsp semolina, cornmeal, or plain flour
5 oz (150g) ricotta cheese
salt and pepper
1 large egg, beaten
4 oz (100g) hard cheese, pref Gruyere, grated
Put the lardons into a large and cold frying pan, and place over a low heat. Cook the bacon very gently, giving an occasional stir, until the fat is melting and the lardons are beginning to brown and crisp.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside, keeping all the fat in the pan.
To the heated bacon fat, add the onions, oil and half the fresh thyme (leaves only, or use half the dried thyme), then cook over a low heat for 20 - 25 minutes until the onions are very soft and just changing colour.  Stir in the sugar, raise the heat to medium and and cook for 5 more minutes until the onions are golden brown.  Then tip these into a bowl and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, put the bread mix into another bowl, add half the remaining thyme (leaves or dried) and make up following pack instructions (remembering to use half the given amount of water as you'll be using half the pack of bread mix), but when mixed together to make the dough, don't knead it or let it rise.
Scatter the semolina (or other grain) over a 30 x 40cm shallow baking tray and roll the dough to fit.
Season the ricotta with salt and pepper, then spread this over the dough leaving a small border.
Mix the onions with the bacon, add the egg and cheese and fold together, then spread this over the ricotta, sprinkling over the remaining thyme.  (At this point it can be frozen: pop into the freezer and leave for a couple of hours, then wrap well in cling-film and freeze for up to 3 months)'
To cook immediately it has been assembled, bake for 40 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until the base is crisp and golden.  (To bake from frozen, bake for 30 mins at 170C, 325F, gas 3 then increase temperature to 200C etc and continue baking for 15 - 20 minutes).
This 'tart' can be eaten warm or cold, cut into slices or squares and serve with a green salad or what you will.

That's it for another day.  Apparently, after a couple of days when the temperature is supposed to rise (there was frost last night), next week we should expect really cold weather again.  So remember to wrap up warm when you go out (or even stay in if you heating is not on). 
Enjoy your weekend and - if you can find time - send a comment, for we all love to hear from as many of you as will take the trouble.  Maybe a later start tomorrow as Gill will first be phoning (and as I have to catch up with my sleep, doubt I'll be up early enough to write and publish before she phones).  TTFN.