Saturday, March 31, 2012

Be Prepared!

Didn't take long did it, for a lady to set fire to herself when decanting some petrol from her jerry can? Mind you, who would do this at the side of a lit hob (as apparently she did)? But even so... This just goes to show how - when we listen to bad advice - and can cause people to panic, and then all common sense flies out of the window.
Personally, I don't think there would have been a strike anyway, but then what do I know?

Being Friday yesterday - one of my favourite days as B is out during the evening - I was able to 'potter' (an easy supper made, chilli con carne with salad) - and had a wonderful time watching TV as with one EastEnders between two 'Corries', followed by Benidorm and THEN the first episode of the new series of Twenty Twelve (this one a bit like Marmite, you either like ir or hate it, but myself been at similar 'board meetings' (Consumer Council) have to say this programme has got it exactly right. It was just like being back there again. A lot of talk and nothing gets done!!!
In the couple of years I was on this 'board' (this meant travelling down to London each month - all expenses paid), there were several times I was offered a chance to get a 'consumer club' member to promote the organisation on TV, but the answer had to be instant. This I couldn't do as always had to wait for the next monthly meeting for the chairman and senior board members to mull it over and then give their agreement, and of course by then it was always too late and what could have been a wonderful opportunity to promote had been missed. I asked to have the freedom to take up such opportunities when they arose (a member of a local group would be on TV, not me), but "we have rules", so in the end I gave in my resignation, and in all that time absolutely nothing HAD been done by any board member over other decisions made, despite them saying they were 'going to'. There was always an excuse. What a waste of time and money!

It was good to hear about your Approved Foods order Jane, and hope that other readers will find this company's site worth taking a look at. They certainly have great bargains, but much depends on how many of them we would normally buy. With a group of people giving orders, then everyone should find something they really want, and this is probably the best way to go, rather than have a single order by one person.
Not that there is anything wrong with that, as long as the foods ordered are used within a sensible time. Fortunately b.b. dates allow for much longer storage (but not dried pulses as if too old they will never soften when cooked). Anyone with a large freezer (and room within in) could store things like dried milk, nuts, instant potato etc, or opened packets of 'dry goods' (scone mixes, crumble mixes etc) that are in large packs and it could be a few months before used up after opening. This gives them a much longer storage life.

One of my favourite uses for suet (other than sweet and savoury puddings) is to use this to make dumplings to pop onto a stew. Same proportions as pastry: 2 parts flour (pref s.r.) and one of suet. I also add a pinch of dried herbs and some salt and pepper. Mix with water to make a very soft (but not too sticky) 'dough', then roll into small balls (size of a golf ball) and pop onto the top of an almost cooked casserole. Lid on and leave them for a good 20 minutes to 'steam' and they will almost treble in size and be lovely and fluffy. Serve with the casserole, and - the dumplings being carbohydrate based - you could omit spuds from the dish (which saves a few pennies).

Campfire, if you are depressed then certainly you need to treat yourself. If you have enough petrol in your car to drive there and back home again (to visit your sister-in-law) then why not? Don't miss the opportunity. Only wish I could go and stay with my friend Gill, I'd just love to do that but she says she doesn't like having visitors "too much trouble". Doesn't stop her coming to stay with me for a week at a time - in the old days, often! But it takes all sorts. I love having visitors, she doesn't. We don't all have to be the same.

At the moment am not quite sure what to do next re my 'deliberate' saving. It's slowed down a lot since ;my initial rush, but that's normal for me. I get very enthusiastic for a couple of days and then it wears off rather too rapidly, but am still doing 'something' each day, even though it is - at the moment - mainly sowing seeds, transplanting etc. This is a form of 'saving by growing' but the benefits will only happen when it is time to harvest my 'crops'.

Must give another mention to that 'hay-box'. This is a way of 'slow-cooking' that has been around for centuries I believe, although almost lost in the mists of time until the last World War (or even the First World War) when it was used as a way to save fuel. Like anything else, fuel was (sort of) rationed. People with cars (and there weren't many) had 'petrol coupons' that allowed them to buy only a small amount of petrol each month. I believe coal was also in limited supply, and electricity and gas too. Almost everything we can think of was in short supply or had disappeared for the duration of the war - and for many years after (it was almost 10 years after the war ended that rationing ended).

I do remember - after that dreadful blitz in Coventry (where we lived at that time), we had not gas, electricity, or even water for several days after due to the pipes and sewers being smashed by bombs. We all had to have injections against typhus (or was it typhoid?).
My parents took in some 'refugees' for several days (their houses had been bombed flat) and my mother had to cook food over a coal fire in our front room. Don't think she manage much more than to make porridge, or a watery stew. My mother had only rations for our immediate family, as those sharing our house had lost their ration books, and with six more mouths to feed don't know how she coped. But she did, bless her.
My dad - being the 'Captain Mainwaring' of our local Home Guard had an idea of what could happen, and a couple of days before the blitz advised my mother to fill up our bath with cold water and use this for cooking purposes 'if the worst happened', so at least we had water for a while. After that Dad used to go and collect rain water from the garden butts and he would filter this through sand and Mum would then boil it to use for cooking purposes. In those days there was no 'acid' rain. Rainwater was pretty 'pure' and soft, and Mum always used it for washing my hair.

But that was yesterday, and this is today where - at this present time - we are blessed with having all the necessary fuel and water we need (if you ignore the drought and the 'possible' fuel strike, and the rising prices). So we should be grateful. On the other hand - never take such things for granted. This way we are more likely to 'be prepared' rather than get caught short.

Let's now 'chat' about something far more pleasant. Like food!!
Sweet Chilli Sauce seems to be becoming very popular (or should this be 'fashionable'?) as it crops up in many recipe. I love this, but tend to buy it and it can be expensive, but having found a recipe to make my own will now be doing so.
As I normally don't buy chilli peppers (those long red 'hot' ones) I use the sweeter, not-quite-so-hot Peppadew (bottled chilli peppers) in the following recipe, If you choose to use the 'proper' chillies you can either de-seed or keep the seeds according to how hot you wish the sauce to be. The bottles of Peppadew contain a liquid that is slightly 'peppery' and also sweet, so this could be used instead of all (or some of) the sugar and maybe just a dash of vinegar. With a recipe of this kind it is more a 'make it to your taste' rather than follow it exactly.
This does not freeze, but will keep for a few days in the fridge in a lidded jar.

Sweet Chilli Sauce: serves 4
2 long red chillies, very finely chopped (see above)
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
4 fl oz (100ml) rice wine or white wine vinegar
1 tblsp soy sauce
4 fl oz (100ml) water
Put all the ingredients into a small pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes until thickened. Blend in a food processor/liquidiser if you want a really smooth sauce, or leave it as it is. Store in a sterilised jar in the fridge.

suggestions for using the above sauce:
a dip:
blend equal amounts of the Chilli Sauce and mayo together. Good for dipping in fried or oven-baked chicken 'gougons'.
as a 'topping' or filling for a 'wrap':
mix together 2 tblsp of the Chilli Sauce blended with one of creme fraiche, then fold in some chopped cook prawns. Use as a topping for jacket spuds, or spread over a tortilla, add some watercress and fold to eat as a 'wrap'.
as a stir-fry sauce:
to 2 tblsp Chilli Sauce add a further 1 tblsp soy sauce and one of honey (plus juice of 1 lime - optional). Spoon this over stir-fried noodles or beansprouts etc.
as a salad dressing:
add a few tablespoons of the sauce to shredded cooked chicken, ham or beef, and toss together. Pile this onto a salad of mixed leaves, cucumber, radishes, spring onions etc, toss again and serve.

Often we find bananas softening up faster than we can use them, especially if you live alone, so this recipe is a good way to use them up. It takes only minutes to heat up in the microwave, so an almost instant dessert.
Most of us probably won't have a banana flavoured yogurt, but the normal 'natural' yogurt will do. Myself find 'Nesquick' a useful powder to keep in my larder. With this I can flavour cream or milk to make ice-cream, blancmanges, and yogurt.
Hot Banana Pud for You: serves 1
3 tblsp plain flour
2 tsp soft brown sugar
pinch cinnamon
pinch salt
half tsp baking powder
1 banana, half mashed, the other half sliced
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 heaped tblsp banana yogurt (see above)
1 small egg, beaten (or use half a large egg)
2 tblsp water
Mix all the dry ingredients together then mix in the rest. Put into a large coffee cup (or similar microwave proof container - whatever you use it should be not more than two-thirds full). Sprinkle over a little extra sugar and microwave on High (100%) for 3 minutes, by which time it should have risen and be sticky and bubbling. It will also have risen above the rim of the container - but it will sink (so no need to panic, you have done nothing wrong).
Remove from oven and leave to stand for 5 minutes before eating. Serve with the sliced banana on top with an extra dusting of sugar and cinnamon if you wish.

An early finish today as our B has gone to take our daughter shopping and they are returning here for lunch, so must go and 'be prepared'.
Light clouds today so probably no chance of rain, and it has turned much colder, think the weatherman mentioned the possibility of a little snow on the top of the Pennines! Well that's Britain for you, hotter than Jordan one day, and snow the next. No wonder our weather is the main topic of our conversation.

Before I sign off, MUST mention a programme I discovered last night (having half an hour with nothing to watch between Eggheads and Corrie. This I found on one of the Freeview channels and it was called 'Man v Food'. My goodness me - the gynormous amounts of food they serve as a matter of course in many of the America diners made me almost faint, let alone the extra portions the presenter tried to eat his way through to prove he could eat the most.
Even seeing a huge amount of very thick strawberry 'sauce' poured over what should have been a deletable and fairly simple strawberry gateau, made me realise that the American way of eating is not the same as us Brits. It just seems that what would be too much (for us Brits) would not be enough when it comes to 'eating out' in America. It's good that the 'helpings' are so generous (we are pretty mean about this over here) and presumably fairly inexpensive compared to over here, but not when it (obviously) brings on obesity with all its health problems. The man in the above programme I feel won't live to a ripe old age if he carries on doing this series. It's not even funny. The amount eaten (and served) is almost obscene (well at least to me).
But then I should remember that a programme such as the above does not always represent the American way of life. Just one part of it. Yet - having eaten 'Sunday breakfast' in New Jersey once (apparently this is what everyone does there - eat breakfast 'out' on a Sunday), was served with a plateful so 'mixed' (lots of bacon that was more fat than lean, fried eggs, and a lot more I can't remember, but on the same plate at the same time was also a pile of pancakes (like our drop scones) with maple syrup poured over, and a lot of other things on the plate and have to say after eating all that (yes I know I didn't have to eat it all, but I abhor waste even if it isn't mine - we've paid for it anyway!) have to say that for days after I was in agony with heartburn. It was like being served a whole day's meals on one plate so can you wonder?

Anyway, must go. Weekend is now with us so hope you all get time for some relaxing, or perhaps having a good 'cook-in' (which is probably what I'll be doing). Maybe even some gardening. This time next week it will be Easter weekend with the extra day Bank Holiday. So perhaps we should start being prepared for that also. I will try.

Hope you can join me tomorrow. If so - see you then.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Can It Get Better?

Apologies for late start due mainly to me not going to bed until 4.00am this morning (so late rising).
It has not been a good day in many respects. Although the sun was shining and I took my lunch out to eat on the 'family bench', there was a chill breeze so after doing only one crossword and after lunch was eaten took myself back indoors. Thing got (sort of) worse.

My Beloved had taken himself off to Morrison's to buy himself more lemonade. It would make sense to bring home a dozen or so 2 lt bottles at a time, but then he wouldn't be able to go and saunter round the supermarket so often - this seeming to be one thing he enjoys doing.
B returned very grumpy. He had been unable to turn off into the Morrison's complex as the road leading there from the main road was blocked with traffic queuing up to get petrol from Morrison's petrol station. Much of the main road itself was also full of traffic that had joined the end of the queue and this 'gridlock' (which curled round a roundabout) had blocked the main road traffic, even the buses couldn't get through. B says people were leaning out of car windows shouting at each other, and why the sudden rush to get petrol I don't know for we won't be having a strike (it at all) until at least after Easter (they have to give a week's notice and so far have not had their ACAS meeting to try and resolve the problems). By then any fuel topped up yesterday will have gone and the queues will then start all over again.

Our government seems to have no idea on how to run this country in the best way possible. When we had the last election and coalition we all hoped things would improve, but each day we hear about more and more 'elf and safety (stupid) restrictions, and (apart from the possible fuel strike) the latest talking point is putting VAT on hot meat pies. Tax free when bought cold, but pay an extra 20% of bought hot. It would be SO easy for a store to avoid this tax by selling only cold pies at one end of the counter and paying for them then and then, with a 'free' heat of pie offered (by microwave) so by the time the customers have got to the other end of the counter they have the pies heated for them.
There is some sense I suppose in the VAT for all hot food bought at take-aways are VAT rated, this is for stores (such as supermarkets - and do they ever sell hot food to take-away?) are able to avoid said tax.

They say food is tax free, but this is not strictly true. For instance plain digestive biscuits are VAT free, but this tax is placed on digestives when chocolate coated. So we can save the tax by buying plain biscuits and spreading the back of each with melted chocolate ourselves. This does work out cheaper - I've done it myself.

Earlier this week Beloved had gone to our daughter's to take her to the shops and he was very late back due to part of Lancaster being closed off. Police cars everywhere. It turned out a mortar bomb had been found - and that meant the loop road through Lancaster was not all accessible, so meant a way had to be found back to Morecambe (not easy).
There was no mention of the bomb on the local (TV) news, and the following day my daughter (who lives in Lancaster close to town centre) said the police were still everywhere with a helicopter hovering overhead. Still nothing on the news that day or yesterday. Managed to discover (this morning) - via the Internet - that there had been a mortar bomb found in an attic in an empty home but had been detonated (so safe), the following police presence (and 'copter') was due to an armed raid on the Post Office (or was it a bank?) where the raider ran off and was being hunted.

Good news, bad news in some ways I suppose, but still felt fed up with the mass panic that car drivers seem to be having (re the possible tanker driver's strike). Many fuel stations ran out of a week's fuel in two days and having to wait five more days before another delivery is due. This has meant any sales they get in their little 'shop', will also be affected as people only want to buy fuel and nothing else, and if their shop is closed for a few days....!
Morrison's too would have been affected as many people who wished to shop their yesterday would turn away when they realise they couldn't reach the store due to the petrol queues.

During yesterday evening did at least enjoy watching the first half of the Hairy Biker's 'Bakeation'. The amazing variety of breads baked in Germany (and just managed to see the start of the gateau bit) made me wish to holiday there myself - like now!

Later watched a programme about China and have to say they put us to shame with their attitude to work. Almost certainly work TOO hard as 12 hours a day, seven days a week with just three days off for Chinese New Year is pushing it a bit. And they don't get paid that well. But that is there culture and this is proving to turn them into a nation that will far outstrip any others. As the British Empire was once great (and now no longer), soon the USA will be in a decline (if not already) and China will be the master power.

There was an earlier programme on about a colony of bees in Africa. Bees too seem 'programmed' to work constantly. Not quite sure how each young bee knows whether it is a 'worker', 'drone' or 'housekeeper' bee, but whatever task they are genetically programmed to do, they do it constantly from the moment of birth until their death, with their queen bee having master control of the hive. When I watched the programme about China could see this being almost a mirror image of 'hive mentality. But it works.

If only the workers in our country could take on some of these 'work ethics', maybe the recession we have now would be soon over. We managed to bring our country out of the depths immediately the war was over, purely by everyone pulling together and building up our industry again. Why can't we do it now.
During the evening also watched the weekly political 'panel' answering questions from the audience. Did at least learn that the tanker driver's strike was about safety, no mention of their wages being increased (but this was part of their 'deal' mentioned previously). According to B less than 50% of the driver's want to strike, and it is the unions that are calling them all out, so it remains to see whether the power lies with the drivers or the union.

Our government isn't helping. Suggesting we fill jerry cans with petrol and keep them in our garage 'just in case' will almost certainly go against 'elf and safety'. No-one is supposed to keep even a small can of petrol in case of spillage/fire etc. Makes sense.

All the country has to do if we get a strike is to stop travelling in cars. Maybe stop travelling at all if buses are not available. Sit at home and wait for the nation to grind to a halt. When empty shelves appear in shops and domestic stores run low will the lorry driver's wives put up with that, will the driver's themselves feel the pinch when there is no beer able to be delivered to the pubs? Sometimes the best thing to do is let strikes carry on and do nothing. This may sound silly, but (as a mother) do know that ignoring (bad or not) behaviour - trying to force a reaction, can usually bring the offending offspring crawling back with their tail between their legs when they find what they do affects their own life-style.
But maybe this is too easy a remedy. At least I'm not running the country (but how often I do wish I were!).

After the doom and gloom on the politics programme, decided to stay up and watch the repeat of 'Orbit' not having seen this first time round (my daughter said it was a wonderful programme and 'must see'). At least this lifted me from 'ground-level' and all global civilisation and all it's global problems and warfare, and made me see how insignificant we are, not just individually, but everyone. Whether we are here or not, the world still continues in it's own magnificent way, and if we can only realise that perhaps this Earth is the Paradise we all seek and stop trying to ruin it with pollution et al, or invent destructive bombs, tear down forests, and do everything we can to disturb the balance of nature, instead becoming its 'caretakers' to just keep it 'tidy' (although it is perfectly capable of doing this itself), then perhaps we (as creatures of this planet) would end up far happier.
You can see it doesn't take much for me to start spouting forth about how our country (or even world) should be run. And probably none of it makes any sense at all.

But yet - one more thing I MUST mention (and little to do with work - other than this is the latest 'invention' for a way for "poor people" to save money by using less fuel). Save money? That's a laugh, for you need to spend £35 to buy this new 'fuel-less cooker' and many readers (who have read this column a year or so back) will remember me suggesting how to make almost exactly the same thing 'for free' by using a polystyrene box, filling it with polystyrene beads (or broken bits of polystyrene, in which a pre-heated to boiling point casserole can be placed. A cover of the beads, a lid on top and it will be the 21st century version of the old 'hay-box' form of cookery.
So we now see the "Wonderbag" on sale. This being a round pumpkin shape cushion, with a place in the middle to fit the cooking pot, the cushions (base and sides) being filled with recycled polystyrene beads (good use for an old 'bean bag'). A thick cushion filled with the same beads would then be placed on top once the pot is comfortably settled, and then left for many, many hours to cook very, very slowly.

You won't believe this, but 5 million of these Wonderbags have been ordered for South Africa, and a couple of global companies are aiming to get 100 million of these bags into our homes by 2015!!!
The laughable thing is that as the bag itself is not (currently) recyclable due to the beads in it, people who have already bought one are complaining the fabric 'clashes with their soft furnishings' (are they expecting to do the slow-cooking in their living room?). So one of the companies has been advised to bring out a bag in Cath Kidston material 'to appeal to British families' (what's wrong with supplying an assortment of loose covers to choose from that can be removed and washed when necessary?).
The article says there is already a limited-edition spotty design on the website for £70.

Between you and me, if this article had been published on April 1st would have believed it to be an April Fool joke. But seems it is true. Haven't looked at the website, but if any readers are interested is given as the site to search for more about it.

All I can say is - there are people (Les maybe?) who might be willing to try out this 'new' form of cooking, but as it is SO simple to make something similar ourselves, then perhaps we should move in that direction and keep our money in our purse. For 'research purposes' am going to make a square 'poly..' box from one of D.R's, fill it with the broken bits of the polystyrene boxes that some bedding plants were growing in when bought) and then pop in a pot of boiling water, cover with more granules and lid, and check the temperature 12 hours later. Whether it works or not you will be told.

Now my replies to your comments....
Am so pleased you were delighted with your delivery from Approved Foods Jane. Am sure you will find you will be able to get together with friends/family and make regular orders. 'Togetherness' when shopping/ordering means that if any of you only want a few things, then you (personally) don't have to order extra (that you may not really need) just to make paying the delivery charge worth it.
Much the same 'sharing' can also save money when both use the same product on 'bogof'. If needing it anyway, the free one can be given away or exchanged with a different one (or 'sold' at half-price - which it really is). Myself used to do this often when shopping with a friend. We would share 'bogofs', but also divide up vegetables in half (such as cauliflower, white cabbage, packs of carrots/onions/mushrooms etc) when this way worked out cheaper than buying smaller amounts, separately.

As some readers share the same name, am not sure if Lynda is a new 'commenteer' or not, but welcome anyway (or welcome back). Am always pleased to hear from readers who live in America as their way of life (and cooking) can be sometimes quite different to ours in the UK. Hope you find the fabric you like at that Amish shop, myself would love to visit an Amish community.

Also envy Lisa (also lives in the US) who this weekend is 'thrift shopping'. This is always fun to do and some amazing finds can be made that cost very little. Let us know what you buy.
A thought occurred to me - instead of seeking fabric that is exactly the pattern you wish for, have you thought of painting your own design on fabric There are many fabric paints and pencils that can be used to paint/draw on fabric (I use old sheets) and once ironed this 'sets' the the paint, and the fabric should then be able to be washed successfully without losing the pattern.
If you have old fabric that can be used, then it is much cheaper to buy the paints than buy new (or even second-hand) patterned fabric, and you can make your own 'bespoke' designs for what you wish knowing that no-one else has anything similar.

Recently a reader mentioned how she loved chestnuts - and able to collect sweet chestnuts each year from trees in her local park. Sorry I cannot remember the name of this reader, but as I've come across a vegetarian 'sausage' recipe made using chestnuts (in this instance pre-cooked vacuum packed - but canned would do, or cook your own), though it might be worth showing.

For ease, these sausages are made in a large batch (too fiddly to make a few at a time) as they freeze well. They are also said to 'behave better' in the pan if cooked whilst still frozen.
Chestnut Sausages: makes 30
1 x 400g (14oz) pack pre-cooked chestnuts (see above)
9 oz (250g) firm tofu, mashed
1 onion, grated
2 tsp sage, very finely chopped
1 tsp thyme leaves, very finely chopped
4 oz (100g) vegetarian Cheddar, grated
1 tblsp soy sauce
juice of half a lemon
half tsp chilli powder
1 egg, beaten
8 oz (225g) fresh breadcrumbs
butter and/or oil for frying
Put the chestnuts in a food processor and blitz until fine crumbs. Tip into a bowl with the tofu, onion, herbs, cheese, soy, lemon juice and chilli. Mix well until thoroughly combined. Add enough breadcrumbs to make a firm consistency, then form into sausage shapes. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with more paper to prevent them touching each other, and open freeze for at least 2 hours until solid. Then store in lidded containers.
To cook, melt a little butter or oil (or some of each) in a frying pan and cook the frozen sausages for 5 - 7 minutes, turning the sausages from time to time so they are brown all over and hot throughout.
Serve in any way you like to eat your sausages, whether vegetarian or otherwise.

Final recipe today is for an interesting coleslaw. Myself make coleslaw with grated carrot, onion and white cabbage, bound with a slightly diluted mayo with seasoning to taste. Quite pleasant in its own way, but this recipe is much tastier. The amounts of ingredients used are really up to the cook, and - as ever - suggest we use what we have and balance other ingredients accordingly.
Spicy Coleslaw: serves 6 as a 'side dish'
half a white cabbage, very finely shredded
1 red onion, grated
2 large carrots, grated
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (opt)
1 tblsp wholegrain (or Dijon) mustard
1 tblsp sweet chilli sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Put all the ingredients together in one large bowl and mix together. How easy is that?

Due to late start must really get this published for it will soon be lunch-time. No sun today as clouds have gathered. The temperature has also dropped, but we've been lucky with the weather this past few days so mustn't grumble. Doubt we will have any rain, but hope other parts of the country (that need it) will be lucky enough to get some. It's come to something when us Brits feel we are fortunate when we get rain (and lots of it). Seems whatever nature throws at us we are never satisfied.

Please join me tomorrow and I look forward to meeting you then. Enjoy your day - it will soon be the weekend, and the weekend after it will be Easter!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Better Now Than Later.

This morning see ripples of cloud in the sky, they look very like a shallow tide rolling over a beach, but they are not stopping the sun shining, and the forecast is for yet one more day of glorious sunshine before the clouds begin to gather and (possibly) light rain to fall. Although we are fine in the north-west (not being short of water - it rains quite ofen), most of the country is now under drought conditions and urgently needs rain - and lots of it. We are already experiencing some moorland fires due to no doubt someone throwing a lighted cigarette butt into the dry grass. Once they get hold it can take ages to put out (sometimes days) and think of the water needed to do THAT!

Chrissie's comments has brought to mind the problem of watering our plants during a drought. Obviously as much household water should be saved to use both on indoor and garden plants (I reboil the water in the EasyYo thermos to refill if making another batch, (boiling sterilises it and it doesn't come into contact with the yogurt anyway), otherwise use it for watering plants. Water eggs have been boiled in is especially good for plants as it contains a lot of minerals dissolved from the egg shells.
Bath water, shower water can also be used for general watering. Water I have saved is put into several of the 4 pint plastic water bottles/containers that hold supermarket milk, and these are usually left in the conservatory to come to room temperature. Watering 'warm' plants with cold tap water tends to give them a bit of a shock and slows down their growth.
You wouldn't believe how fast those mixed salad leaves are growing, was tempted to take a pic of them yesterday but will wait until the weekend then you can see how much growth has happened in seven days.

We can also help to avoid water evaporation when we water plants if we water them either late evening or early morning, as then there is no real heat from the sun to fast-dry. After watering, cover the surrounding soil with a mulch (old plastic sacks work well - any evaporation during the day is trapped under the plastic and falls back onto the soil). If a few holes are stabbed in the plastic with a fork, then it can be left on the ground and any rain that falls will then be able to drain into the soil.
Covering the top soil in container plants with gravel also helps to prevent water/rain from drying out.

From the window in front of me I can just see our small lilac bush covered in green shoots, so am hoping for a lovely display of blossom in a few weeks. The pear tree also covered with blossom-buds, and the danger now is we get late frosts (this often happens).
I don't know why it is, but we Brits are a bit slow on 'being prepared' - one reason why our nation never seems to cope when we have a lot of snow, floods, drought or other natural disasters. Other countries manage far better.
So is it up to us to 'think ahead' and myself am going to make some largish 'tents' of newspaper TODAY that can be popped over the pear tree (it is a small tree) when frosts are forecast. Although, as it is only a couple of feet from the side of our pebble dashed concrete garage, no doubt the walls of this (that face due south) will have absorbed much heat from the sun during the day and so release it during the evening, so the surrounding area is frost-free. But not taking the risk, will still make a few paper tents for protecting plants (geraniums, bay trees also need frost protection).
There is little danger of paper tents blowing away as frost only happens when there is now wind (or so I believe). Another way to give frost protection is to have a tripod of long stakes over a plant/bush and throw over some garden fleece (or even an old net curtain).

Your mention of buying bottled drinks Lisa gave me 'food for thought'. In the UK it works out cheaper if we buy concentrated fruit juice (I love blackcurrant) and dilute it down to make our own soft drinks. If we remove the cap and leave space in the containers, we can then freeze the drinks, and - during hot weather - when taken to work they keep the rest of a packed lunch chilled (great for salads) and should be thawed by lunch with just enough ice left in to keep the drink icy-cold too.

Myself don't use liquid detergent as it is much more expensive than laundry powder, although prefer to use the powder 'blocks' rather than the loose powder. In any case use only half the amount recommended as our clothes never get really dirty.
Myself have never used a 'Laundromat' and either dry clothes in the summer outdoors (when not raining of course), or drape them over clothes airers to dry off at room temperature when it is too damp outdoors. During the winter we hang them in front of the central heating radiators.
Perhaps we are fortunate in that our washing machine has two spin speeds/times, and I always use the faster/longer one. Many items made with man-made fibres (fleece etc) come out virtually 'dry' and only need an 'airing' before being worn/used. Even cotton sheets dry out fairly rapidly (possibly because they are 'thinner' than the older ones. The old ones I still use (that have the war-time utility label stitched in one corner) are of such good 'quality' (even though 'utility', that they seem as if they will last for ever as so far not a sign of wear and tear - and this after about 70 years of use (although not used as often as formerly in recent years - but still used), But of course in 'those days' as before the war, things were always made to last.
Now everything is made to last only ten years (or less) so we are forced to keep buying the same things over and over again. Good for industry I suppose! Not for our pockets.

Incidentally, anyone who watches EastEnders must wonder why none of the occupants of the square seem to possess a washing machine. Everyone takes their washing to the 'Laundrymat'. Perhaps it is the lack of gardens, but certainly have seen washing hanging on a line through the Slater's kitchen window. But then where would the ladies gather if they hadn't a laundry to go to (or the Mini-Mart - and now the charity shop) when they need a gossip?

During the half-our or so that I've been writing, all the clouds have disappeared and we again have a glorious blue sky, so am hoping again to take my lunch outside (with the crossword) and enjoy an hour sitting on the bench.
As I closed my eyes and soaked up the sun yesterday remembered the days when I was a teenager, sitting on the very same bench in my parent's garden. It was not difficult to believe I was back in those times. With eyes still shut I turned my head to the left and could visualise the long path leading down past our neighbours orchard, and back further down past the rose beds to our lower garden and then to the house. Turning my head to the right I would see the small 'copse' of willow trees (the type that had 'pussy willow' buds), and past that would be my Dad's greenhouse and the chicken-run.
In early spring the 'top garden' (the bottom garden was long and thin, then Dad bought the top plot which was double width), was full of hundreds of daffodils in the borders, and the ground under the willow trees covered in snowdrops, later with forget-me-nots. In the lower garden the beds that held the roses were bordered by large rocks and in spring these were completely covered by aubretia is all shades from pale pink through reds, lilac, mauves...

My dad came from a long line of gardeners, although his parents were very poor - my dad had many brothers and one sister and at one time had to live for a while in a shed on their smallholding as they couldn't afford to rent a house. But gardening was in his genes and he made his garden in Leicester look like paradise (at least to me), there wasn't one month when there wasn't something nice to look at, my favourite season being spring.

As I sat outside and the memories came flooding back I wanted to weep for I knew as soon as I opened my eyes I would be back in the present time (how often I wish I could go back to the '50s and start all over again and not make the mistakes made then). I thanked my Dad for making his garden so beautiful and I thanked my Mum for also caring for us through those dreadful war years and beyond. I asked them to show me a sign that they had heard. Well, have to say that B's gym kit and towel hat was hanging without motion on the line suddenly began to flap madly in a sudden breeze that didn't move any leaves, bushes, trees or anything else close by. Just to have a double check I asked that the wind drop so I KNEW this was my answer, and the 'wind' immediately dropped and the washing hung still again. Make of this what you will, but myself felt both happy and grateful that my thoughts/words had been noted.

But enough of the unexpected, we need to keep our feet firmly on the ground and cope with what life throws at us. With the postage stamps going up in price (by a massive amount) there is still time to buy at the old price and stock up for as long as they are marked with 1st or 2nd on the stamp (and not a price) these will still count as the 'new price'.

The petrol situation is nothing we can do much about other than keep the car 'topped up', and if there is a strike, then avoid using the car for unnecessary trips. Perhaps a good idea to stock up with long-life milk etc, to avoid a trip to the supermarket. Even supermarket deliveries might have to be suspended if there is a problem with fuel. Deliveries TO supermarkets from manufacturers/warehouses might also come into difficulties, which could lead to empty shelves in the stores. Doubt things would ever get that bad, but it has happened before.
Have to say that if a lorry driver is not satisfied with earning £45,000 a year then he is just downright greedy and and his job should be given to someone who can drive lorries but is currently out of work and unable to get work during this recession. With that wage they would think they had won the lottery!

Shirley, Shirley, Shirley, stop trying to put the nation to rights and get on with writing up today's recipes (that's my inner conscience talking to me - which it often does, especially when I want to eat something and don't need to. I've heard you... so stop nagging....!

Yesterday mentioned a supper made using Thai red curry paste. Forget to mention that this is a good 'store-cupboard' ingredient, even if not often used, the best way to store it once opened is as mentioned (surface covered by oil), but even better - decant into ice-cube trays and freeze so it keeps for even longer. This can be done with any curry pastes/pestos etc that are not often used.
A good way to use up any of the above is to add a little of this 'spicy flavouring' to casseroles, soups, dips, sauces, even as an ingredients when making burgers, sausages, meatballs or fish cakes. It really does make them pleasantly 'different', just don't overdo it, add a little then taste and add more as you wish.

Myself am quite happy eating a dish of just cooked pasta with pesto sauce stirred through (plus some Parmesan cheese), but is a simple and more elaborate recipe based on pesto with pasta. Useful dish if you have an opened jar of pesto that needs using up (or partly using - freeze the rest). The recipe is given as using 'fresh' veggies, but can be almost a 'storecupboard meal' if you use canned new potatoes and frozen green beans (these could be string beans, chopped in half, or sliced runner beans). Fresh or frozen broccoli florets could also be used. There is a recipe for pesto given, but my suggestion is - for speed - make this when you have bottled pesto to use up.
Note, this makes enough to serve six, so halve amount (or thereabout) to serve 3 - 4.
Potato, Bean & Pesto Pasta: serve 6
1.2lb (500g) new potatoes, halved
11 oz (400g) pasta shapes (any shape)
8 oz (225g) green beans, trimmed
2 tblsp creme fraiche
green pesto (see above)
shavings of (or grated) Parmesan cheese
Cook the potatoes in a pan of salted water for 5 minutes, then add the pasta and cook as per packet instructions, adding the green beans 3 minutes towards the end of the cooking time.
When the pasta is ready (pref 'al dente') tip the pan contents into a colander to drain, then tip back into the pan. Mix the creme fraiche and pesto together and spoon this over the pasta/veg and toss together to coat. Serve in individual bowls and top with a sprinkling of Parmesan.

Here is a way to make what could be 'expensive' meat, go further. The idea is to bash the living daylights out of them and turn a small 'chunky' bit into a flat thin 'escalope'. This can be done with tender beef (fillet?), lean pork chop (fat removed), or chicken or turkey breasts. What then started off as just enough for one ends up as plenty for two.
'Schnitzel' is basically an 'escalope' traditionally made with veal, but any of the above meats could be used in the same way, so here is the chicken version recipe for you, and you can make this using any of the other suggestions - according to what meat you have.
Schnitzel: serves 4
2 small chicken breasts
2 oz (50g) plain flour
2 tsp paprika
salt and pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
8 oz (225g) dried breadcrumbs
1 tblsp butter
1 tblsp olive oil
Split the chicken breasts in half lengthways. Place a piece of clingfilm over a chopping board and lay the halved chicken breasts on this - leaving lots of room between (you may prefer to do one or two at a time. . Place another sheet of clingfilm over the top, then use a rolling pin to bash the breasts until they are completely flat and very thin.
Mix the flour with the paprika and seasoning to taste, then put this into a wide, shallow dish. In a similar dish put the beaten egg, and the breadcrumbs in another.
Dip the chicken 'escalopes' first into the flour, then the egg, and finally the breadcrumbs, then set aside whilst preparing the pan.
Heat half the butter and half the oil in a large frying pan and fry one or two of the escalopes in the hot fat for two minutes on each side (tender beef may need only 1 minute per side, other meats may need longer). When cooked through and the crumbs are golden and crispy remove and drain on kitchen paper. Continue cooking the remaining 'escalopes' adding the remaining butter and oil to the pan after two have been cooked.
Eat with a crispy green salad, maybe some potato salad or coleslaw. Lemon wedges to squeeze over or tartare sauce to spoon on top add the essential 'bite' to the batter (better than a sprinkle of vinegar!).

Final recipe today is a children's favourite (probably enjoyed by adults too). Whether cheaper or not that those sold in supermarkets, home-made always tastes best and children would love helping Mum to make this cross between a biscuit and a jam tart, and made large (could make more smaller ones from the same mix). If made smaller they may take very slightly less time to bake. Although meant to be eaten cold (can be stored for several days) they can also be eaten hot as a dessert (spread with jam when hot, then cover with 'holey' biscuit' and serve immediately with a scoop of ice cream? Yummy!
Homemade 'Jammy Dodgers': make 4 large ones
4 oz (100g) butter, softened
2 oz (50g) caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
4 oz (100g) plain flour, plus extra for rolling
2 oz (50g) fine semolina flour
4 - 5 tblsp red jam (pref strawberry)
Beat the butter and sugar together until soft and fluffy, then add both the flour and semolina together and beat into the creamed mixture until just combined (don't over beat). Gather together to make a ball of soft dough.
Roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 5mm thick. Using a round scone or biscuit cutter, cut into 8. Place four on a parchment lined baking tray. Using a small cutter cut a circle from the centre of the remaining four circles and sprinkle these with caster sugar. Place at the side of the others on the baking tray then place in the fridge (or freezer) for 15 - 20 minutes to firm up the dough (if the tray is too large for the fridge, place on smaller tins).
After the chilling time, bake immediately for 12 - 15 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until pale gold in colour, then remove and leave on the baking tin until completely cooled.
When cold, spread the complete circles with strawberry jam - leaving a small border round he edge, then cover each with the circles with the hole in the centre. Press together.
These will keep for up to a week in an air-tight container.

And yet another day is rapidly speeding towards noon, so had better get on. We are out of bread so will put a batch of mix into the machine to make dough, then when it is ready and rising in the loaf tin will take my lunch outside and have another sit in the sun on 'the family bench', bought by my parents just after the war, and as made of teak will just about last forever. Am hoping that it can be handed down to at least one of our children to pass on to their children when they are married and have a garden. And continue, generation after generation. If we can't keep living in a 'family house' (only those with mansions seem now to do this - and not always because they can't afford to), at least we can still have a seat that so many of our ancestors sat on.

Keep enjoying the good weather, for if it carries on too long we will then be complaining bitterly and - for once - be pleased when rain falls. Just as long as it doesn't keep raining all summer. Which has been known to happen.
In my bones feel this is the year of the drought. Which happens every 11 -12 years or so anyway. If we are short of water, then entirely our own fault because we haven't prepared for it. But I've said all this before. It is up to us to prepare for it in our way. Those with the big chest freezers can always freeze water to drink later. Even those of us who live by the sea could collect some to use for boiling potatoes (a chef's tip) and other veg. Saves us 'salting' the water, and boiling kills off anything unpleasant. Suppose clever dicks could fix up some sort of 'still' where they boil sea-water and collect the steam to flow into a container - this can then end up like ordinary tap water I suppose, but possibly even more 'purified'.

Must stop this endless 'rambling' that seems to start the minute I've decided it is time to finish and get this published. So will definitely now be saying my farewell for today, but - of course - will be back, fingers tappling feverishly and at great speed on the keyboard again early tomorrow morning. Hope you will log on to find out what rubbish I've written. See you then.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Everything Has a Second Use

When we were first married it seemed the market was flooded with 'factory equipment' that was now no longer in use. Mainly dealing with the cloth trade. New machinery had made the large wooden bobbins and shuttles now obsolete and they could be bought for pennies.
Beloved once brought home a number of wooden bobbins, and fixed them together - one on top of each other - then threaded electrical wiring up the hole in he centre, fixed a bulb socket on top and with an added lampshade made a standard lamp.

When me moved to Leeds (closer to the weaving/cloth region) there were many items made from bobbins and various other weaving equipment. Below I show one that I bought and it has been in constant use ever since. You can see it in the picture below - this a short 'stumpy' bobbin that had holes drilled into the top and bottom 'ring'. The raised bit in the centre is an egg timer (shown in the next photo). I have removed some eggs so you can see it more clearly.
This is the egg timer that lifts out from the centre hole of the above, although have to say I rarely (if ever) find I need to use an egg timer. The time it takes to boil an egg is dependent upon its size and also its freshness. So I usually boil an egg for three minutes, then lift it from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and start counting. If the surface water dries off in 7 seconds then the egg is soft-boiled to my liking. If it takes longer the egg is put back into the simmering water for another minute (or two accordingly).

This next photo shows my 'egg rack' now filled. As I buy the cheapest eggs (15 in the box - working out at 8p each), always have more than enough to fill the rack, any surplus are kept in a bowl and used first. These eggs are sold as 'mixed sizes' and although I've never done this before decided yesterday to weigh each egg, and wrote the weight in gs and oz on each. As I hpe you can see.
In cooking, when no size of egg is given, this should always be taken as a 'medium' size. Catering establishments tend to use a liquid egg measurement and this is 1 egg = 2 fl.oz.

At least half of the eggs in the mixed-size box were over medium weight, some classed as 'large', only one was small - this one seen perched on top of the egg timer in the middle.

Now although it usually doesn't matter what size egg is used in many dishes, with some - such as when making meringue or certain cake-baking - we should always use medium eggs unless otherwise stated or the balance of ingredients can be thrown out of kilter.

Larger eggs I tend to use for making quiches, omelettes, hard-boiled eggs etc where the egg is used as a protein substitute for meat. Medium eggs used in baking and other dishes, the smallest eggs used for glazing or coating. As the latest (and now favourite) way to make Yorkshire Puddings is to use the same measure of eggs, milk and flour (beaten together), when we wish to make less (maybe three individual 'Yorkies' instead of four) then using a small egg (even a bantam's egg) makes sense.

At one time we could go and buy eggs that had been sized into (I think) at least 5 or 6 different 'grades' and it was possible to buy quite small hens eggs. Not today, we are lucky to find anything below a medium (unless occasionally in a box of 'mixed') and now that the new ruling is for larger size cages for laying hens, and more room for the barn hens, we have been told to expect egg prices to rise considerably. Perhaps it might be a good idea to keep bantams so we can always have small eggs to use, and just use more (by weight) as necessary.

Something else I did yesterday was re-assess my storage. Most of the time I keep all my baking tins together on a shelf in the larder, but decided it made more sense to keep my loaf tins at the side of the bread-machine so that they were instantly to hand when I needed them (I make the bread dough in the machine and then bake the loaf in a tin in the oven as it makes a better shape loaf with slices that fit into our toaster). On the shelf at the side of the bread machine is a wooden 'bread-bin' (made by our son when he was at school some 40 years ago), and in this I keep all my bread 'mixes' and a jar of yeast sachets.

Cleaned tins that are usually used in the oven (roasting tins etc) were placed in our smaller (lower) oven as a sensible storage place, and the flat baking sheets placed on top of the little set of drawers that fits under one end of the kitchen table - with a few inches gap at the top). The rest of the baking tins are still in the larder on the shelf under the 'baking' ingredients (flour, raising agents, ground almonds, flavourings, caster sugar etc...).

Think I mentioned recently that all jam-making 'needs' (thermometer, labels, funnel for filling jars, waxed circles, etc are now all kept in my 'jam-pan', this sitting on another shelf. Empty jars with their lids are kept together in a large cool-box for want of anywhere else to keep them (but if necessary they could go into a box and kept in the garage I suppose, but that would mean me walking further to fetch them. How lazy am I?

It is not laziness but the need to cut down 'preparation' time that matters to me for - like most people - even though we may love cooking, there are times when time is short or we know we should make something but don't feel inclined to take the time UNLESS half the job has already been done. Even finding the necessary equipment can often take more time than the actual 'making', especially when we have forgotten where we put things in the first place. So now everything is finding its rightful place (the most convenient for me) and so I hope they remain there (unless B gets his hands on one or t'other, then it is 'hunt the thimble' time again).

Another warm and sunny day tempted me outside again yesterday. Part of the day was spent tidying up the garden. Found a use for a low oblong bench that B made to hold a TV once. It has a loose, slatted top and we never use it now (we put it in the front lobby where I found piles of junk mail on top (why doesn't B throw that away - he throws away all other papers, even the ones I wish to keep, I need to keep the important ones in 'my' drawer of the filing cabinet).

Anyway, took the bench outside, put it under the conservatory window by the back door, placed the recent (and deeper than usual) D.R. polystyrene box on top (it was EXACTLY the right length) and began filling it with compost from one of last year's vegetable 'sacks'. Will add some of the 'processed' farmyard manure bought recently, and then top with some potting compost. Then in a few weeks it will be ready for planting. Being north-facing need to protect from frost if necessary, but easily done for I still have the polystyrene lid, and when necessary this can be propped against the front of the box against supporting sticks in the corners to protect from the cold.

Made myself a grated cheese and sliced tomato sandwich for lunch and took that outside to eat. As I sat on the bench in full sun found again that tomato sarnies ALWAYS taste better when eaten outdoors. Don't know why this should be, maybe the sun slightly warms up the sarnies, and maybe the pepper and little pinch of salt over the toms helps to bring out the flavour, but having eaten another tomato from the same 'vine' - this time eaten indoors - it had then no real flavour at all. Outside it seemed (to me) bursting with flavour. From now on all sandwiches containing tomatoes will be eaten outdoors when ever possible.

As I have only two tomatoes left, today will be another 'al fresco' lunch of tomato sarnies, maybe another tomorrow and that may be the last of the outdoor lunching as the weather is due to change to cloudy later on Thursday with possible light showers. So must make the most of what sun we have left. We have been very lucky this past week and do hope that the good weather will return again soon.

Thanks for the comments. Not sure if I remembered to thank gillibob for sending in a website reference for free seeds (you will find this comment in the day before yesterday's blog), and no other comment sent in that requires a reply, so will now get on with today's recipe suggestions as today is Norma the Hair day and need to publish this in good time (as still have the conservatory table to clear for her to dump her bag).

Before I begin perhaps worth a mention of B's supper yesterday for it is almost a recipe in itself, but with no need for 'proper' list of ingredients and recipe. As mentioned had already decided to make B a Prawn Cocktail for his supper, but as he left for the gym he said he wanted chicken. So in the end thawed out a small pack of chicken 'fillets' (cut from the back of the chicken breast after recently jointing 3 birds). Cut the fillets into chunks, then lightly fried these with some finely chopped onion. In a Pyrex jar had put the contents of a small packet of coconut cream in with some boiling water to soften.

Fetched a new jar of Thai red chilli sauce/paste from the larder and spooned some of this into the chicken/onions, then carefully wiped the top of the jar with kitchen paper and covered the surface of the paste with a little sunflower oil (this prevents it getting mould or 'going off' too quickly, then it will keep for some weeks in the fridge). The blended coconut cream and water was also added to the pan and everything stirred together to make a sauce. With a few more minutes cooking the sauce had thickened and the chicken was cooked. So I turned off the heat, placed a plate over the top of the pan and left it for B to reheat on his return, leaving a saucer of thawed small prawns at the side for him to add to the curry when it had returned to the boil. Also placed a pack of 2-minute microwave Lemon and Rosemary rice for B to reheat at the same time in the microwave oven. He is just about able to 'multi-task' as long as it no more than having to remember two things to do (almost) at the same time.

This is such a quick and easy 'curry' to make that I urge everyone to have a go. Incidentally Thai green curry paste could be used instead of the red.

Here is another curry, this a vegetarian one and - for speed - uses a 'stewpack' of frozen veg (these being part-cooked), but we can also part-cooked our own raw veg, or use left-over cooked vegetables if we wish.

This takes a little longer than the Thai curry of course, due mainly to the lentils, and if pre-cooked vegetables are use these could cut 5 minutes off the cooking time - which is less than half an hour from start to finish anyway.

Although hot weather means we often crave cool dishes (cold meat with salads etc), curry is one meal that is much enjoyed in high summer. Many countries that have hot climates have traditional dishes that are very spicy-hot, and this is probably because these make us perspire and this in itself cools our body down. I always know a curry is hot when B 'eats out' for the top of his bald head starts to show beads of sweat and he usually ends up with a napkin placed on top of his head to 'catch the drips'.

Simple Lentil Curry: serves 4

2 tblsp sunflower oil

2 onions, cut into wedges

4 tblsp curry paste (you choose the strength)

1.25 pints (850ml) vegetable stock

1 x 750g (1lb 10 oz) stewpack frozen veg (see above)

4 oz (100g) red lentils

7 oz (200g) long-grain rice (pref basmati)

half tsp turmeric

handful raisins or sultanas

chopped fresh parsley (opt)

Put the oil in a large pan and fry the onions over high heat until golden brown (takes about 6 - 8 minutes). Stir in the curry paste and fry for a further minute. Add a tablespoon of the stock to help gather up any bits stuck to the pan, then add the resit of the stock, stir in the frozen vegetables and simmer for 5 minutes before adding the lentils (if using pre-cooked or lightly cooked veg, add them at the same time as the lentils). Reduce heat and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes or until everything is cooked.

While the above is cooking, cook the rice as per pack instructions, stirring the turmeric into the water. When the rice is tender, drain well.

To serve the curry, fold in the raisins and pile in a dish, garnish with chopped parsley (opt), and serve with the rice.

Despite an early start, time has caught up with me so really HAVE to love you and leave you for today. Make the most of our good weather - you might even manage to fit in a barbecue before the chillier and cloudier days set in again.

Must end with a mention of The Little French Kitchen, as was able to watch the repeat of the second episode last night on BBC iPlayer due to an unexpected footie match on TV that B insisted on watching. This is a lovely programme, the dishes look so simple to make (especially in such a wee kitchen). Will have to catch up with the Hairy Bikers 'Bakeation' (who thinks up these names?) another day, it is being repeated but can also be seen on iPlayer.

Have no time for further 'chat' (more like 'rambling' again), so TTFN.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Taking the Time

Slightly later start than intended due to my anti-virus needing 'topping up'. This took several minutes, then the comp had to be switched off and restarted. Even starting can take several minutes (this is a very slow comp but it works and that's all that matters, what's a few minutes here and there when I have most of the day to play with?).

Perhaps I should give more thought to 'time and motion'. Indeed have made a start for while the comp is warming up or doing what it has to do, then I take the time to pick up a cookery reference book close to hand and see what else I can find that I already don't know about (and there is a LOT I don't know).
Even the other day worked out that if I took my glass across the room to fill it from B's lemonade bottle, instead of fetching the bottle to pour the drink into the glass on the table at the side of my chair I would only need to take two journeys (glass to bottle, glass back to table) instead of making four trips (over to fetch bottle, take bottle back to fill glass, return bottle to original spot, the back to chair...). Mind you, as I need all the exercise I can get if I want to lose more weight, then perhaps a 'scenic trip' to fetch water from the kitchen, via the dining room and a walk round the table, and into the bedroom to plump up my duvet, and then into the kitchen might make more sense.

But am very into 'time and motion' these days, look how I've managed to save oodles of preparation time buy pre-weighing and packing up bags of flour, sugar, dried fruits, and wrapping marg/butter in the right amounts so all are ready and waiting for me every time I wish to make a cake. Same can be done with home-made bread 'mixes', bag up the flour, dried milk, salt, sugar etc, even put a knob of chosen fat (butter/lard) into the bag, then all ready to tip into the bread machine. All that needs adding is the water and yeast.

Yesterday did use some of my time doing 'useful things', and some of my time just enjoying the sunshine. Began by doing the washing and hanging it out to dry, and instead of my scoot out on Norris decided to spend some working time in the garden. First made myself some vegetable soup (carrot, onion, celery) cooked in chicken stock - with plenty of pepper and a pinch of rock salt to bring out the flavours. While it was cooking, took the newspaper and crossword outdoors and sat in the sun to complete the puzzles. Took a look around the garden to sort out what should be done, then went indoors to plan supper: this ending up as a cheese quiche, cooked sausages, baked beans and salad (B's choice). Chilled pastry was taken from the fridge to warm up enough to roll out, then the quiche tin lined and blind-baked, the remaining pastry made into an oblong 'pasty' type apple pie flavoured with sugar and cinnamon, baked under the pastry shell, later the cooked pastry shell was filled with eggs and cream, then baked, and at the same time the sausages were oven cooked.

In between times took a big mug of the vegetable soup outdoors to eat with a spoon (it was how I like it - very chunky), it was so good that I went back and got myself another mugful - using up all the soup so hard luck, none left for B! (not that he requested any).

Wielding the secateurs got rid of a lot of surplus growth around the garden, and B cut down a huge white buddliea that had self-sown last year (how rapidly they grow). The only buddlieas I like are the lilac ones. They grow in our garden like weeds, we even have had several growing in the cracks between the brickwork of our house (it needs repointing).
The D.R. polystyene boxes (I've saved every once since I began ordering many years ago) were refilled with compost and now ready to plant vegetables, some will be made into 'window boxes' standing under our conservatory window right next to the kitchen door, these will hold herbs and flowers.

Even spent some time in the 'conservatory sun' sorting out the rest of the pot plants there, the biggest pot (too heavy for me to lift so B did this for me) has now been put back outside by the kitchen door, it is in full bloom with many red flowers and looks lovely. When put into the conservatory to last the winter they keep flowering. Probably should let them 'rest', but they seem to be OK and certainly look pretty.

As my mixed salad leaves (if you remember these were sown only a few days ago) are now beginning to appear above the soil, still a few more to sprout but took a photo yesterday so you can see the container (held supermarket mushrooms), and the little 'drip-tray' it stands in (held D.R. meatballs or something). Will try to remember to take a photo every couple of weeks so that you see how the salad leaves are progressing.

Next photo I took mainly for you to see my 'mini-greenhouses' made from halved lemonade bottles. As you can see the ones with the 'neck' (top of bottles) are clear because I didn't replace the lids (although this can be done if more moisture needs to be kept in), the bottom half has nowhere for the moisture to evaporate, so is misted up. Some plants do need a very humid atmosphere to begin growing, others don't, so advisable to use the right 'half' as needed.
Now growth yet to be seen in the pots as they were only sown a couple of days ago.

Last pic of the day is sadly out of focus, but took it anyway before it ended up going to the tip with the rest of the garden rubbish. It is the Romanesco that was planted a couple of years ago. The first year it didn't throw off any of the 'vegetable', this year it suddenly threw up loads of branches, each having a 'spray' of individual little 'minarets' at the top of each (these are as perfect in appearance as in a bought Romanesco 'floret' but exceedingly small - unfortunately you can't see how beautiful they are (isn't nature wonderful), and this is only one 'spray' of many. The 'florets' were far too small to cook, in fact didn't really fancy eating them.

Being given my first Romanesco (bought from a supermarket last winter) have to say I was a bit disappointed. Although it was attractive to look at, didn't have much more flavour than a cauli, an as I love cauliflower am quite happy to eat these and let someone else grow (if they can) the Romanesco. Have seen plants of this veg in seed/plant catalogues, so possibly - given the right conditions - they will grow properly. Our garden doesn't seem to want to grow anything 'properly' other than soft fruits.

Thanks for your comments. I too like to watch Hugh F.W. Jane, but the repeats (after Jamie O) were on at the same time as something else we wished to watch, but do try and see as many as I can.

However much we find J.O's 30 minute meals a bit daunting, he does give some excellent tips. Liked the one he showed twice recently, this was crushing up a square of greaseproof under running water, wringing it out and then opening flat to hold flat-breads (think he did chapatis one day, and naan bread another) folding the paper back over the breads and putting them in the oven to warm through. This helped to steam the breads and prevent them crisping up too much.

I've still got a pack of ox liver in the freezer (several packs sent as a 'freebie' with a D.R. order some many months ago). My Beloved likes his liver always fried (in gougons) and feel the ox liver might be a bit too strong in flavour for his preference (he prefers lambs liver), so it will probably end up as liver pate.

Even though your Approved Foods order was £40 (not £20) Jane, you still made a MASSIVE saving against the supermarket prices.

One thing I've noticed is that many products sold by A.Foods have manufacturers names I don't recognise, and am a bit 'iffy' about buying these. Do trust the known brands (such as Bisto, McDougalls, Swartz, Pataks....) and perhaps the other brands are more for the 'catering trade' and perfectly good. Has anyone tried a product made by an 'unheard of before' brand? If so let us know what you think.

To save on delivery charges, and also be able to share products sold by the 'case' (normally a multi-pack of individual sachets etc), it is a good idea to gather a few members of the family, and include friends and neighbours if you wish, then send one good order to suit everyone. Even individual packs of dry ingredients (if large enough) can be split and shared if we are unlikely to use it up within a few weeks/months. We all know the b.b.dates allow for many months of use after the date has passed.

Do hope this year you managed to get a good crop from those seeds you are sowing Crissie. Was so sorry to hear of your illness last year, but very thankful (of course!) that you managed to pull through, and this year hope the weather is perfect for all your growing needs.

Pleased that you found my eclairs inspired you to have a go Urbanfarmgirl. Piping bags ARE useful (although have to say I don't use mine as often as I should), and certainly when entertaining many sweet and savoury dishes can look even more appetising if cream or mashed potato (or whatever) has been piped instead of just 'dolloped' on.

Although I did 'shape' the choux pastry into 'eclairs' by just spooning the mix onto the paper lined baking sheet, then pushing it into shape with a wetted knife, they would certainly have looked more professional if I'd piped the mix on with a bag 'n nozzle. Even so, did decide to pipe the cream into the cooked eclairs using a big 'star' nozzle (although could have spooned in the cream) and this really did improve their appearance.

A piping bag is necessary when wishing to make macaroons, so once you have the equipment then a whole new world of making gorgeous desserts (et al) will now be within your reach (or should that be capability?).

Am returning to the storecupboard (and veggie rack/fridge) again for today's selection of dishes. The first being a soup - and virtually any kind of canned beans (other than baked beans) could be substituted for the black beans, but the visual affect won't be quite as good (although red beans is a good alternative.

Vegetable protein is not like animal protein. With veggies we need to eat two different types of at the same time so they work together, otherwise our bodies can't extract the protein. With beans we need to eat grains (why beans on toast makes a good 'full protein' meal). So serve this soup with some crusty bread and your body will then be able to extract ALL the vegetable protein held by the beans.

A good tip is - if eating only one veggie that contains protein, then by eating it with animal protein (egg, milk, cheese etc - it doesn't have to be meat, and these need not necessarily be in the same dish, but in a different course of the full meal) the 'animal' protein also acts as a catalyst and we still gain all the protein. So when having to economise on meat because of cost (as we all seem to have to do these days), we don't have to deprive ourselves of necessary nutrition.

This soup begins in the normal way with the 'Holy Trinity' (onions, carrots, celery) and it is the addition of a few other ingredients that change this from bog-standard vegetable soup to something a lot more exciting.

Black Bean and Chilli Spiced Soup: serves 2

1 onion, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 tblsp olive oil

pinch dried chilli flakes (or dash Tabasco to taste)

half teaspoon dried cumin

1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes

14 fl oz (400ml) vegetable stock

1 x 400g can black beans, drained and rinsed

yogurt and crusty bread for serving

Fry the onion, celery, and carrot in the oil until softened. Stir in the chilli flakes and cumin, fry for one minute then add the tomatoes, stock and beans. Simmer for about 30 minutes until the veggies are tender.

Spoon into individual bowls, top with a dollop of natural yogurt and serve with chunks of crusty (pref granary) bread.

Next is more a snack or 'light lunch/supper' that could be eaten in front of the TV (or even better outside in the sun). Use baguettes if you have some, otherwise use thick toasting bread. The can of tuna used is one I've not come across before - being canned tuna with mayo and sweetcorn, so have suggested making our own version by adding mayo and sweetcorn to basic canned tuna.

Please note: these eat well whether hot or cold, so don't be concerned if they have cooled down as you walk between grill to the end of a long garden to sit and eat, because it doesn't matter what temperature they are.

Tuna and Sweetcorn Melts: makes 2

1 baguette, halved lengthwise

1 tblsp pesto

1 x 80g can tuna, drained and flaked (see above)

1 tblsp mayonnaise (see above)

1 - 2 tblsp cooked sweetcorn kernels (see above)

2 oz (50g) grated Cheddar cheese

freshly ground black pepper

2 black olives, pitted and sliced (opt)

Put the halved baguette, cut sides up under the grill (medium heat) and 'toast' for about 30 seconds to dry out the crumb slightly (but not actually toast it) - this prevents the topping making the bread go soggy. Mix together the tuna, mayo and sweetcorn.

Spread the pesto over the cut surface of the bread, and cover with the tuna mix. Scatter the cheese on top with black pepper (to taste) and slices of olive (if using). Pop back under the grill and cook until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Eat and enjoy.

One more storecupboard meal that can be eaten 'al fresco'. This is made with flatbread (tortillas in this instance) and a plateful of these with bowls of tomato salsa and soured cream (for dipping) makes a really lovely summer lunch whether eaten indoors or out.

If you wish to serve only two then you can freeze the remaining beans to use in a chilli con carne or the soup mentioned above, or add to other beans to make a 'mixed bean salad'.

Refried Bean Quesadillas: serves 4

1 tblsp sunflower oil

1 onion, finely chopped or grated

1 clove garlic, crushed

half tsp ground cumin

1 x 400g red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 tblsp cold water

2 tsp smoked paprika

salt and pepper

8 flour tortillas

4 oz (100g) grated Cheddar cheese

4 tblsp tomato ketchup (or tomato salsa)

soured cream and tomato salsa for serving

Put the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion for 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cumin and fry for a further minute. Add the beans, the paprika and water and then squash the beans to a coarse 'mash' as they warm through, using a potato masher is the best implement for this purpose. Aiming to make the beans into a coarse 'puree'. Sample the flavour then add salt and pepper to taste.

To make the quesadillas, spread four of the tortillas with the 'refried beans', and then cover with the grated cheese. Spoon ketchup (or salsa) on top, then cover with the remaining tortillas (making four round 'sandwiches').

Wipe the frying pan clean with kitchen paper and return to the heat. Place one sandwich in the pan and cook for 1 - 2 minutes on each side until the flat-bread is golden and crisp and the cheese is melting. Remove and place on a plate and keep warm whilst the other tortillas are cooked, then serve cut into wedges. Best eaten warm with salsa and soured cream in bowls for dipping (or these can be spooned onto the wedges in small amounts to be eaten - but if so wear a bib!).

Well, I don't know what the temperature is like in other parts of the country, but here our thermometer read 22C yesterday in the shady part of our (fairly) cool kitchen, so outdoors away from direct sunlight it must have been higher. Said to be averaging about 23C and today could be even warmer once any mists have rolled away. A threat of rain towards the end of the week but so far only in the north of Scotland. So we really MUST make the most of the weather we have at the moment. Have that picnic, eat breakfast, lunch, supper outdoors if you can (or at least sit by a sunny open window), and enjoy this unexpected summer-in-spring.

Reading that we are having warmer weather than many of the 'hot' middle eastern countries, does make me feel a little less envious of those with normally 'better climates'. Who knows, we may soon be the 'Benidorm' for the rest of the world and everyone comes here for their 'overseas' holiday. Which would be good for our economy, but not for the water board as they don't have enough for us let alone any more visitors - and help! We will be getting a lot more this year due to the Olympics and the Jubilee. Let us hope those burst pipes are mended sooner than later.

But knowing our climate, what's the betting most of the outdoor Olympic events happen on the days when our rain is at its heaviest?

Do remember a very few times in my lengthy lifetime when the sunny weather starts early (but normally April) and then has lasted many weeks without a break - sometimes until almost August, so this could be one of those years. It has always been said that we get a 'good year' every 11 years or so when sunspot activity is at it highest, and this year the sun has been even more active, so who knows - we could have sun until Christmas. Good for the Olympics and Jubilee. But not for our crops and those who wish to take showers. Perhaps we need to stock up with bottled water before that runs out!

Am now off outside again, possibly in the company of Norris for half an hour or so before the rest of my day is taken up with more gardening/cooking. At least this weather B is satisfied with 'salads and something' rather than having a hot meal, so maybe Prawn Cocktail for supper with a Fresh Fruit Salad for 'afters' (with cream of course), as he still has cheese quiche and apple pie to finish up (as 'snacks'). Might change my mind (as I do), but plenty of time to decide.

Hoping to meet up with you again tomorrow (and very happy to have discovered today a strange sign at the top of my blog that - when the cursor is held over it - says "this site has a good rating (based on many votes)". So I must be doing something right. Please join me again tomorrow when we can have another 'chat'. See you then.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Up With The Lark!

Despite the clocks being moved forward an hour, this morning saw me up at 6.30 (which is really 5.30 if you know what I mean), and ready to blog (after the usual ablutions and cup of coffee - and take my pills). Even then had time to ruffle through a few recipes to choose which to suggest today and still is isn't yet 7.30 (last week this would have been 6.30!!).
With a low sun shining down one side of the house it looks like being another lovely day, so possibly we are getting our 'end of April summer' at the end of March this year.

Beloved was out all yesterday - I was intending to have a scoot on Norris during the afternoon after his return, but didn't realise that the sailing season had begun, so as time went on decided to stay at home - although went into the garden with a mug of coffee and had a long sit in the sun (which was lovely).
Then 'pottered'. Not really did much in the way of saving although did collect up empty plastic 2 ltr bottles of B's lemonade and cut each in half to make mini-green houses to cover the small plant pods in which I'd sown seeds a couple of days ago. The bottles even had a groove/indent around the bottles, halfway down, and this made it very easy for me to find the right place to cut.
As mini 'greenhouses' can be bought to place on windowsills (at a high price) being nothing much more than a plastic cover over a tray, then possibly my half-bottle 'minis' can count as a real saving. They certainly work well.

Towards the end of yesterday afternoon noticed that Jamie Oliver's '30 Minute Meals' was being repeat on one of the Freeview channels so watched a few of these. Have to say he really does inspire me. Loved the way he made his Cauliflower and Macaroni Cheese. Even cooking the pasta and cauli together in the same pot at the same time was an idea I'd not thought of before.
Beloved came in half-way through and sat down to watch (so he could try making some of the meals himself he said) but within a couple of minutes he had fallen asleep (as he does).

The previous day I'd come into this room to ask B something - he was playing games on the comp - and found him sitting in front of the screen, he head dropped down to his chest, fast asleep again. Nowadays he has only to sit down and he can't keep awake. He gets up in the morning, sits down with the morning paper, starts the crossword and then falls asleep over it, and barely an hour before he has risen from 10 hours in bed!
But then, even as a much younger man (in his twenties), he could easily fall asleep, all he need do was sit in his chair and he was having forty winks. "What an easy life he has " I would think as I slaved away in the kitchen washing our three tiny children's clothes in the sink (we did not then have a washing machine). Over half a century later he still nods off at the drop of a hat, and I still have the same feelings - but this time slaving over a hot stove making his meals. Then I have to go and wake him up to eat them!

For supper yesterday cooked B some lamb's liver, bacon, cabbage and new potatoes. The bacon cooked in one pan and then steamed the shredded white cabbage over the pan of spuds. The cooked cabbage was added to the bacon fat (once the bacon had been removed, and tossed to add a lovely bacon flavour to the 'greens'. The liver was cut into 'gougons' (strips), floured then fried in a little oil for a few minutes, the cooked bacon then put on top of the liver (which had been pushed to the side of the large pan, the cooked and drained spuds added to the pan so they also got a taste of the pan 'juices'. There was enough liver for me to have some, so I cooked extra veg and bacon and had a smaller version of B's supper. This I have to say was delicious.

Discovering four large and quite tasteless strawberries in the fridge, decided to cut them down the length and then into 'wedges', put them in a bowl with a little red wine and some sugar and let them macerate for an hour. Tried one and it really did taste like a strawberry with almost a 'gourmet' flavour to it. With these made a dessert using up the last of the 'strawberry and cream' EasyYo yogurt piled in a deep dish, laid a tower of strawberry wedges over the top, then poured the wine 'marinade' round the yogurt. The wine-soaked sugar left in the bowl I spooned over the straws. Suggest to B he ate it with some double cream poured over.
This certainly seems a good way to add flavour to imported strawberries as although they look very good, most seem to have no taste at all (so won't be buying them in future, will wait for the English ones to come in season).

Eating Yorkshire Puddings with ice-cream and stewed fruit sounds a wonderful idea Urbanfarmgirl. One of B's favourite 'snacks' is eating a leftover Yorkie with golden syrup. He says his mother used to serve this as 'pudding' when he was a lad. Memories of his childhood has brought me back to the memory of liver (probably ox liver in those days) for B has more than once told me how - when he was born - his umbilical cord was not properly tied and he lost quite a bit of blood, and the doctor told his mother to let the new-born baby (the baby being B) raw liver to suck, presumably the iron in the blood replacing what he had lost. Bet they wouldn't suggest doing that today!

Can't believe your good fortune Jane when you told me about your Approved Foods order, £200 worth of food for £20! Took a look at the site myself after I read your comment and have to say I could have filled a van-load with all the products I fancied, many not being 'necessary', but with plenty of assortment of 'stir-fry' sauces, other ethnic sauces, litres of wine vinegar, not to mention cut-price chocolates and other sweets, cake, biscuits, desserts I was SO tempted. But managed (so far) not to place an order but am sure soon I will be doing so.

Today am planning to 'potter' again, and because I'm up early will get the laundry done and on the line to dry in the sun, then hopefully grab half an hour to scoot down to the shops again (it is half-day closing today because many shops are open on Sunday to catch the seaside 'day trippers'. Some shops are closed all day today. Many on the sea-front open only at weekends, until Easter when the 'season' really begins, then they remain open every day (possibly half-day Monday).
Once I can get into the habit of 'having a scoot' (but only when the weather is warm enough) am hoping to get out and about a lot more. But early days yet. Certainly if there is a footie match on or a film B wishes to watch (and I don't) and there is still enough light, might even scoot out during an evening to watch one of our glorious sunsets (think we had one last night, but could only see the golden sky behind the houses at the back). The best sunsets are on certain (and rare) days when there is little cloud (but enough to give colour) and the sun can be seen almost on the horizon (sea-level) which can only be seen locally when on the prom.

Before I begin today recipe suggestions, would like to show you what I read in my 'stars' last week in our paper. Always I like to read what it says for Aries (that's me folks), but always take it with a pinch of salt. However this 'reading' was so true in that it really is the way I feel about modern life compared to the past. Thought you might be interested.

"People are often concerned about being behind the times. They don't want to appear out of touch. That's understandable if the adjustments they want to make involve clothes or music. It is a little sad when timeless values and eternal principles are compromised in the name of progress.
You have already nailed your colours to a particular mast. Those colours do not belong to last season! That mast means no less now than it ever did. Stick with what already means much to you."

Just wish I could say so much in such few words. I can spend days writing on my blog trying to prove that 'old ways' are often best, and although modern gadgets and appliances are very useful at times, we can still cook well without using any of them. Chefs in the past had none of these, and if they managed to cook great meals, then so can we (not that I suggest we down all modern tools and use only elbow grease from now on, but hope you get my drift).

Meals also seem to becoming more complicated (if those shown on TV cookery programmes are anything to go by). Possibly Jamie Oliver can keep things to a level of simplicity we can all understand, but when we think of the millions of 'new' recipes published every year in cookbooks and cookery mags these are all just a version (each becoming more complicated) of an original. There really is (almost) nothing new when it comes to making a meal (or baking a cake).

Possibly primitive man first got his taste of cooked (roasted) meat when he discovered a dead animal that had been caught in a fire caused by lightening hitting a dead tree or something. No doubt it smelt very good and a sample of the cooked flesh must have been wonderful. At least the 'tender' bits. Later when man had learned to 'make' fire this must have led to them discovering that the tougher bits of meat became tender when slow-cooked in simmering water, and then with a few refinements and 'inventions', roasting, braising and stewing of meats then became the way to cook. That really should be enough to cope with all we need to do, but some clever dick then 'invented' the pressure cooker to speed up the process (myself never find the meat has as much flavour as when cooked by the conventional method) and now we see the 'sous-vide' (and ditto to that), in fact am never going to mention this appliance again as I've had my fill of it.

There always seems to have to be something new when it comes to cooking. With Heston B. leading the way we can now buy 'kits' where we can make edible 'bubbles' to add to dishes. What's the point?
Some of Heston's 'way to go' is being shown on TV at lunchtimes. Although I try to watch most of them, still don't feel that I need to go that one step further that makes the 'improvements' that seem to matter to him. Perhaps if I was running a restaurant it might be worth while, but when it comes to family meals those who sit around the table don't wish to be impressed, they just want food with good flavour they enjoy eating. No-one has yet complained because they have discovered I'd left one lump in my mashed potatoes.

Now to the recipes. This first is very quick and easy to make. Chicken livers are used because they are very inexpensive (less than 50p a pack from Tesco's). Not sure of the weight of a pack, but do know that two packs would be enough for this recipe (might be more or less than the weight shown). If you have some cooked sausages these could be sliced and used instead of the livers, but oddly these may work out more expensive and not give the almost 'gourmet' touch to the meal that comes when serving chicken livers.
I use quick-cook pasta (often cheaper than the ordinary pasta) as this cooks to 'al dente' in a very short time (the dish then taking no more than 15 minutes from start to serving). If you have no creme fraiche, and you make your own yogurt, then blend a measure of yogurt with the same amount of double cream and leave overnight in the fridge, then it will have turned into 'creme fraiche' and can be used in the same way.
Chicken Livers with Mustard Pasta: serves 4
12 oz (350g) quick-cook pasta shapes (fusilli is best)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 red onion, finely sliced
approx 10 oz (275g) chicken livers, trimmed
4 tblsp white wine
2 tblsp creme fraiche (see above)
1 tblsp wholegrain mustard
salt and pepper
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions, meanwhile heating the oil in a frying pan and frying the onion over low heat until softened. Roughly chop the chicken livers and add them to the pan and fry for 5 minutes, turning so the livers are cooked on all sides. Pour in the wine and bring to the boil and allow to bubble for one minute to reduce slightly.
Remove from heat, stir in the creme fraiche and mustard plus 2 tblsp water from the pasta pan. Add seasoning to taste, then stir in the parsley.
Drain the pasta and either place back in its pan and add the sauce and stir lightly to mix together, or add the drained pasta to the sauce in the pan and mix. Either way the end result is the same. Serve hot with chunks of crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

Not sure why but I rarely cook pork chops (pref boneless when I do), perhaps this is because I tend to overcook (pork should never be served 'pink'), and often find it doesn't have as much flavour as lamb or beef. When I do cook pork it is usually belly pork as this can be slow-roasted to give tender meat with a covering of really crunchy 'crackling' (much loved by my Beloved).
However - this next recipe is very good and I'll probably be cooking this tonight for B's supper.

Although maple syrup is used in this recipe (and allegedly maple syrup is becoming very popular in the UK), golden syrup could be used instead. I suppose English or the milder Dijon mustard could be used in place of whole-grain, but use whole-grain if at all possible (I just love this type of mustard).
This sauce/glaze also works well with gammon steaks (or could be brushed over the fatty surface of home-cooked ham and finished off in the oven) also with bacon 'chops'. Gammon slices and the bacon take a little less time to cook than do the pork chops.
Syrupy Mustard Glazed Pork: serves 4
3 tblsp maple syrup
1 tblsp wholegrain mustard
salt and pepper
4 pork chops
Mix together the syrup and mustard with seasoning to taste, then spread this over both sides of the pork chops. Place on a baking tray, spooning over any remaining syrup mixture, then bake for 25 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until cooked through.
Serve hot with crispy chips or rosti, and a green veg or crispy green salad with tomatoes.

Those of us who make a litre of yogurt at any one time (such as EasyYo), often find they have more than they need within its shelf-life (up to three weeks in the fridge). A good idea is to turn half the made yogurt into a curd cheese, and this by draining it in cheesecloth/muslin over a bowl (they whey that drips out can be used in bakig). The longer it is allowed to drip the thicker and firmer the 'cheese' becomes. When thick but still slightly 'creamy' use this in place of ricotta in the following recipe - the other ingredients being from the storecupboard. Canned plum tomatoes are used as they have much more flavour than the ready chopped (and it doesn't take much effort to chop them ourselves, does it?)
This is another good dish to make for that 'al fresco' lunch that I hope many of us can partake of over the next few sunny days (Gill told me yesterday that it had been 20C in Leicester! Not sure what it was here but we've been able to turn off the central heating, this normally not done until the end of April at the earliest).
A variation to this dish is to omit the pasta and make only the tomato mixture. Serve this on slices of white bread/Ciabatta etc. the ricotta sprinkled on top OR spread the toast with cream cheese (could be home-made from yogurt) and cover with the hot tomato sauce.
Tomato and Cheese Pasta: serves 4
1 lb (450g) pasta shapes (penne or fusilli etc)
1 can plum tomatoes, chopped (see above)
few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 tblsp olive oil (pref extra virgin)
zest of 1 lemon
4 tblsp ricotta cheese
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions. Meanwhile put the tomatoes into a bowl with the thyme leaves, garlic, oil and lemon zest. Add seasoning to taste and mix well.
When the pasta is cooked, drain well, return to the pan and add the tomato mixture and stir together. When heated through serve in a warmed dish and scatter lumps of the ricotta on top.

An early start to my blog means an early finish, and this I say helps me a lot as I am much more inclined to 'do things' during the morning than in the afternoon, so will take advantage of our BST and make the most of the early start and extra hour in the evening of each day to hopefully accomplish more (than normal during the 'dark days', both indoors and out. But first must put the laundry into the washing machine - then stay close by as I have to now turn the dial manually through its cycle as it keeps sticking. Can do the washing up and tidy away what is cluttering up my kitchen table, until the washing gets done. Then when this is hung out can trot off with Norris to see what is happening in the outside world. All of a sudden I feel as though I've 'got a life' again.

Myself will continue with my daily 'savings' and if you can drag yourself away from the sun maybe you will find a few minutes to log on and see what I've attempted to do (or even whether I've even tried!), so hope to hear from you (all) a.s.a.p. so we can share our thoughts and discoveries. See you then.