Monday, April 30, 2012

Busy Time of Year

It's odd really, all of a sudden I have too much to do and can't seem to get my head around doing much of it. It was different with the 'curryfest', hard work but at least there was a target with a time limit. At the moment am having to decide whether to give the kitchen a good 'sort-out', and also fit in repotting plants. Then venture into the garden to sort some of that out, AND also finish the spring-cleaning (which in truth has never really got started). Whatever I feel I should do, then one of the others jumps up at me and I feel that should have been started. So I end up doing nothing!! Other than cooking of course.

If only I could get motivated over the more boring 'chores' above, like I was with the recent 'social meal'. At least I've been asked to provide two desserts for another meal (this time for about 30) n a couple or so weeks (the 'mains' having been already prepared by others some weeks ago, and in their freezers I understand). So will enjoy doing that. Just wish I could enjoy the rest of the above. I quite enjoy sowing seeds (whilst sitting at the table in the conservatory), and watering them as and when needed, but then I just wish they'd get on growing all on their own without any more attention and all I had to do is wait for the harvest. Told you I was lazy.

Seems the photos of my eclairs tempted some readers. Choux pastry is really simple to do, and so CHEAP considering how much one batch makes. It is only the cream (plus a little choc) that are the expensive ingredients, and I wait until the cream is reduced in price anyway. Filled eclairs/profiteroles etc freeze beautifully, so quite a large amount can be made in one baking session and then frozen to eat later.

Regarding sending photos to me Campfire, was hoping that you might be able to put them up on your own site. I looked at this early this morning, but although - when I clicked on your name, there was only your profile, and 'no postings' on either of your 'blog' sites. Have you given up writing?

As I said above Jane, making choux is easy, so do have a try. You certainly got a bargain with that other type of 'shoe' that you were able to buy (new) at that car-boot sale.

Thanks to Eden Valley M (a new name to this site so welcome), for telling us where we can buy the giant couscous. Even if I find it, am not sure whether I will be tempted as it is probably something I wouldn't really NEED. On the other hand, maybe worth it if am more likely to use it than the smaller grain. With me it all boils down (no pun intended) to the price of a product.

Loved the sound of your lunch box salads Sarina, and do hope you enjoyed your Polish meal. Quite a few small 'eateries' are now being opened, even 'pop up restaurants' in people's own homes. Not sure how these get around all the rules and regs regarding the cooking and serving of food, but 'Come Dine With Me' seems happy to have food served from kitchens where cats and dogs are still slobbering waiting for the crumbs to fall (the cats sometimes jump onto the worktops and start nibbling), then perhaps it (again) is all to do with whether the cook is 'selling' the food, or just providing it 'for free' (we will ignore the £1,000 that the best meal would win).

I'd LOVE to run a 'pop-up' restaurant here, and just give my profits to charity. We can serve up to eight round our dining table in this rather grand panelled room (that has its own patio doors to the garden, with a terrace outside and access to the drive), so feel that even strangers would feel it is more like a restaurant than a private home. Maybe one day the opportunity might arise.

It's a pity there are few readers of this site who live in or around Morecambe, for we could then occasionally get together to have a meal here and sample some of my latest 'creations'. So if anyone lives in our area, do let me know and maybe we can meet up at a local cafe as a start.

Sorry to hear your OH has had a diabetic set-back Catriona. I've been improving so far, but then the results of the recent check will be known tomorrow, and as I've been very lax when it comes to eating the right things, s0 probably will go back to square one, get my hand slapped and have to cut out the (occasional) sweets and cream cakes! We will have to wait and see.

As expected, there was no sailing yesterday due to high winds. It was also raining, although rain is never a problem as sailors are used to getting wet. Threw together a 'sort of ' supper for B, gently frying a chicken breast with some onions, then adding a little water to 'poach', meanwhile boiling some small 'new' potatoes, and frying some bacon rashers in another pan, removing these when they were just beginning to crisp up (they get even crisper as they cool) Added a packet of chicken 'cuppa soup' to the 'poaching water', which was then reduced down to make a 'sauce' as the chicken finished cooking. Removed the spuds from the pan, added them to the bacon fat in the pan with some sliced mushrooms, put some frozen peas in the still boiling water the spuds were cooked in, and then when all was ready plated it up for B. Had one chicken breast myself, a few potatoes (that I hadn't fried) and a few peas, plus a spoon of the 'sauce' and it was really tasty (albeit a bit boring). Well, I just wasn't in the mood to cook something more adventurous.

Having come across a curry recipe that uses Quorn 'fajita strips' (presumably 'chicken' type), and feel that this could be a useful recipe for both vegetarians and 'meat-eaters' alike as Quorn in a curry will appear to 'taste' very similar to chicken. Not sure about the taste, but then a spices can disguise the flavour of a lot of things (useful to know if cooking for picky eaters). If Quorn was less expensive am sure I would serve this instead of meat most of the time, but unfortunately there is not a lot of difference in price.
Instead of the sweet potato, use ordinary potato and/or butternut squash, Much depends upon the size of your largest frying pan, if big enough then use this (cover with foil if it has no lid), otherwise cook in a saucepan.
Vegetarian Pilaf: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large aubergine, cubed
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 tblsp Balti curry paste (or other of your choice)
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed (see above)
8 oz (225g) carrots, grated
9 oz (225g) frozen string beans
12 oz (350g) basmati rice
1 pint (600)ml water
half pint (300ml) coconut milk
1 pint measure baby spinach leaves
2 x 140g packs Quorn 'fajita' strips
Heat the oil in a large frying pan (or saucepan) and fry the onion for 5 minutes until softened. Add the aubergine and cook for a further four minutes, then add the garlic and curry paste and cook on for one more minute before stirring in the sweet potato, carrots, beans, rice, water, and the coconut milk. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, then add the Quorn strips and spinach, stir everything together, cover the pan and turn off the heat and leave to stand for five minutes, then fluff up the rice with a fork and serve.

Anyone who enjoys the 'full English' breakfast, but prefers a 'lighter' version without losing any of the flavours, will find this next recipe worth trying. Other than omitting black pudding, baked beans and fried bread, it has just about everything else, and there is no reason why it could not be served with a helping of beans as a 'side dish', with a triangle (or two) of fried bread if you can't do without it.
Use either canned chipolata sausages, or use some cold cooked sausage that might be left over from a previous day. Use 5 or 6 medium eggs if you haven't large ones.
English Breakfast Frittata: serves 4
4 good quality cooked sausages (see above)
4 rashes smoked streaky bacon
4 oz (100g) button mushrooms, sliced
sunflower oil (opt)
4 large eggs, beaten (see above)
salt and pepper
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
handful grated cheese (opt)
chopped chives (opt)
Heat a non-stick omelette pan. Slice the sausages and place in the pan and cook for a couple of minutes to heat through, then add the bacon and cook until turning crisp on both sides. Then add the mushrooms (if the bacon is not very 'fatty' then you may need to add a teaspoon or so of sunflower oil). Cook until the mushrooms are tender, then drain off any excess fat.
Spread the contents of the pan evenly so that eventually each serving has a helping of everything.
Add seasoning to the beaten eggs, the pour these over the contents of the pan, giving the pan a shake so the eggs settle down into any gaps, and then move the contents gently within the egg until it begins to set. Spread the tomatoes evenly over the top, and sprinkle with the cheese and chives (if using). Take over to a preheated grill to finish cooking the top. This will take about 2 minutes until the egg is properly 'set'. Then serve hot in wedges. With or without a spoonful of hot baked beans.

There are few really 'new' recipes, just variations on old and traditional ones, but this doesn't mean that we can't present them in a different way. Above is a variation of the 'full English', and below you will see a recipe for Welsh Rarebit in a different guise. Am never sure whether any variation is better than the 'original', but trying out something 'different' does make cooking a little less boring. I suppose.

Most people these days buy their mustard ready-made in jars, so if you haven't the mustard powder (but always worth keeping a tin of this in the larder) you could mix the 'made mustard' in with the liquid ingredients.
Unlike many muffins, these will keep quite well for a few days after baking, so either make to eat and eat whilst still warm, or keep some back to eat as a lunch-time snack (or include in those lunchboxes).
Welsh Rarebit Muffins: makes 12
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
2 oz (50g) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
half level tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
half level tsp mustard powder (see above)
2 oz (50g) mature Cheddar, grated
2 oz (50g) mature Cheddar, cut into small cubes
6 tblsp sunflower oil
5 fl oz (150g) Greek yogurt
4 fl oz (100ml) milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
Sift together the flours and raising agents with the salt and mustard powder. In another bowl mix the grated and cubed cheese, the oil, yogurt, milk, egg, and W. sauce.
Tip the 'wet' into the 'dry' and and fold together to combine (but don't overwork). Divide mixture between a 12-hole muffin tin (lined with 12 paper cases).
Bake for 20 - 25 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until golden. Remove muffins from tin and leave to cool slightly on a cake airer before eating. Or they can be left to get cool and will keep in an airtight container for a few days.

Final recipe today is yet another variation on a theme. This time almost 'fusion' food as we start by making bread dough, then form this into containers to hold a variation of 'Chinese sticky pork'. However strange this sounds, the end result makes a great 'starter', or a buffet 'nibble'.
Barbecue Bacon Buns: makes 12
3 oz (75g) sugar
1 x 500g pack white bread mix
water to mix
1 tblsp sunflower oil
10 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
1" (2.5cm) piece fresh root ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tblsp soy sauce
3 tblsp runny honey
3 tblsp tomato puree (or ketchup)
1 egg, beaten (for glazing)
Put the sugar and bread mix into a bowl, adding water according to packet instructions. Form into a dough, and knead until smooth(this can be done either by hand, using a mixer with a dough hook, or in a bread machine), then place in a large bowl, cover and leave to stand in a warm place until doubled in size.
Meanwhile make the filling by heating the oil in a frying pan, then adding the bacon and frying until crisp. Stir in the ginger and garlic and cook for a further minute, then add the soy sauce, honey, and tomato puree. Simmer for a couple of minutes then set aside.
When the dough is ready, knock back, then divide evenly into 12. Form each into a ball, then flatten with a rolling pin to make a circle (about the size of the palm of your hand). Put a teaspoon of the filling in the middle of each circle, then draw the dough up and gather together to form a 'purse', pinching the edges together to make a seal. Turn the 'bag' over so the join is underneath, and place on a large baking sheet, leaving room between as they will rise/spread. Cover loosely with oiled cling-film and leave to rise for a good 20 minutes (maybe longer if the kitchen is cool), Brush with beaten egg and cook at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 20 minutes until golden. Best served freshly baked (hot or warm).

Sun is shining today although still windy and cool. A few fluffy white clouds that normally don't fall as rain. At least it is very warm in the afternoons in the conservatory when the sun shines (double glazing keeps out the cold wind but lets the warmth of the sun in), so now try and grab half an hour to sit in there (a good time to repot plants I suppose). In Morecambe, whatever the weather in the first part of the day, usually the sun does shine in the afternoon.

Next door has a strange 'pine' tree, each branch covered with 'spiky leaves' the tip of each branch having what appears to be a 'cone' standing upright, looking exactly like candles fixed to a Christmas tree. A few yards the other (our) side of the fence I see our apple tree is now in full bloom, so let us hope most of the apples stay on the tree to be gathered in the autumn. There is not too much blossom and in Leeds this must be about the time the apple tree in our garden (when we lived there) was absolutely covered in blossom (used to gather over 100lbs of apples from that tree most years), and so pretty to look at. Luckily I took photos of it, so can look at these when I wish (although always feel sad when I do as I so much miss living there). But at least here we still have a garden (there are many apartments here for 'pensioners' that have no garden at all), and it's also lovely that I still have the feel of living in a house as we have bought the ground floor of what was called 'a gentleman's residence', and rather grand it is too (compared to a 'normal' bungalow). In a way this came about because we couldn't sell our own house in time to buy the bungalow we had first chosen, and when the estate agent sent us details of the property we now live in, we couldn't believe how cheap it was (far cheaper than a bungalow), and we even got that reduced in price for the property developer desperately needed money. We had to reduce our own property in price (many times) to get it sold in time to buy, but B still gained enough enough profit to keep him happy). For once, good fortune smiled on us.

Must really get on and do at least SOME of the things that are on my list of 'things to do', or this time next year they will still not have been done (yes, this can happen, a Christmas decoration from two years back is still where it was left!!). But definitely 'could do better' as my teacher would write on my school report. But in the 'great scheme of things', does a little dust lying around REALLY matter? Myself feel it is far more important to feed the family well (this now is mainly my Beloved plus any other that happens to drop in), while still saving money for a rainy day. Or is that just my excuse?

Whatever you choose to do today, make sure you enjoy doing it. Otherwise my inclination would be to say don't bother. But if we all took that approach, then a whole lot would not be done that should be done. Now I'm making myself feel guilty, so perhaps time for me to make a move and actually do something worthwhile. Tomorrow you will find out if I was able to make this possible. See you then.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Still Experimenting

Yesterday B suggested a trip out to Glasson, this pleased me as I wanted to go to the Smokehouse to see if they had any farmed salmon available shortly, also wanted to buy some of their smoked cheeses. Then B he discovered a footie match on TV that he preferred to stay in and watch, so did. Myself decided to make another batch of choux pastry using my easiest every recipe (previously given). As I was piping out the choux, B wandered into the kitchen to say the match was boring and he was going to do some birdwatching. As I was then too busy to accompany him, he went out on his own and on his return told me he'd been to Glasson anyway! But hadn't called in the Smokehouse, so now I'll have to phone them to find out about the salmon.

This time made chocolate eclairs that were standard size (rather than the gynormous couple made previously and shown on this site. The one-egg batch of choux this time made five eclairs, four made from the pastry 'spooned' onto the baking sheet, the fifth made using a piping bag (mainly to see if it made THAT much difference). Below you can see the end result of the piped eclair, and have to say it is somewhat neater than the rest, but for 'family eating' doubt anyone would mind if an eclair is a bit 'rocky' on top. This next photo shows all five of the eclairs, considerably filled with whipped cream (because B just loves cream, and when whipped, only needed 4 fl oz of double cream to fill the five). I asked B to save me at least one (so I could try it), at which his face fell "that leaves only four for me" he whimpered. This morning discovered he had already eaten three (and these must have been when I wasn't watching for I can't remember him bringing any into the living room during his continual evening 'snacks'. Naturally he had chosen the three that had the most cream!)
I ate he least-cream filled eclair this morning for my 'breakfast' (and it was very, very good), so will let B have the last one.
For B's 'supper' last night he had a 'sort of' salad. This being a mixture of salad leaves, tomatoes, radishes, strips of bell peppers, sliced beetroot, hardboiled eggs, and sausages. There was a can of corned beef chilling in the fridge to add slices to the above, but as he chose to the last of the lemon jelly with bananas and cream for 'afters' (not to mention the eclairs) he decided what was already on his plate was enough (or was it that he couldn't be bothered to open the tin all by himself - he usually leaves these 'chores' to me).

Yesterday spent a little time watering all the plants in the conservatory, and took a couple of photos so you can see how the plants are growing. Below is the tray holding a few courgette plants, with a few of those 'lemon trees' between them. On the windowsill can be seen the floral pot where I recently planted a 'mat' containing coriander seeds, and these too are growing well. Almost ready to be used.Final photo shows the tub of mixed salad leaves where the different varieties can now be clearly seen. These will all be eaten within this coming week, and have sown a couple more tubs over the past weeks so there will now be always be some ready to eat, and will continue wih this succession throughout the rest of the year. In the photo can be seen the small plastic tub (that held mushrooms) used to hold the compost, this standing in a shallow plastic tray (that I think held some sausages). Everything gets a second use in the Goode kitchen.

Other than making a loaf of brown bread yesterday, can't remember doing anything else worth writing about, and today really MUST try and sort out my kitchen once and for all. It's all becoming very cluttered (again). Mainly because when I get things out, often don't put them away. So on the kitchen table are pots of mustard, a bag of flour, several different sized mixing bowls (all bowls are clean but left there by B after he moved them from the drainer by the sink), a couple of cookery mags, a bottle with a bit of olive oil still left in, and these (plus countless other things I can't now remember) fill the gaps left by things I tend to always leave on the table (such as my knife rack, my small bag containing all my pills/medication, salt and pepper grinders, tub of margarine, a mug containing ball-point pens, marker pens, tweezers, small scissors. Also on the table are my weighing scales, and B's bottle opener for wine....). If I had a much larger kitchen and huge table, and even with plenty of storage space, I'd still leave things out. It's just the way I am.

Having said that, I used to be far tidier in our Leeds kitchen, probably because everything was stored within easy reach, so all I had to do was turn round from the table and things away. Wen had the old bunk-bed ladder hanging horizontally from the ceiling to hold the big pans on top, and this had butchers hooks around the sides so things could be hung from it. Over the window the wooden pelmet had lots more hooks, and from these would hang my numerous frying pans, colander, sieves etc.

Here we have no hooks at all, although have now begun to hang the couple of soup ladles that I have (one large, on small - they have a useful 'U' bend at the end of their handles) on the door handles of cupboards close to the hob. Think I'll ask B to fit a wide shelf above the entrance to our conservatory (this has no door - we step into it directly from the kitchen), and this could house the two large casserole pots etc that I've recently been given (B's birthday present to me). Room also for other large pots on this potential shelf as well. On the other hand could remove some of the things from the several shelves that B has already built for me and find another place for these (maybe the top shelves in the larder). Yes, I do have more space that could be filled, but all (including the topmost shelves in each of the kitchen cupboards) are far too high for me to reach. Perhaps time for me to bring out the low stool I always used in Leeds (where some shelves were also high), and could stand on that to fill the empty spaces. B forbid me using it when we moved here as I was still a bit 'shaky', but now am just about back to normal think I'll use the stool again. Otherwise my table remains cluttered.

Due to rising late, then Gill's phone call, see it is now nearly 11.00am, and as most readers spend weekends 'catching' up (both indoors and out) will finish today with replies to comments, then back again next week with more recipes. So if you don't read my blog at weekends, you won't have missed anything worth reading about.

Good to hear from you again Sarina. The 'fish in a bag' is always an interesting meal to cook, as the bag can be served as-is after cooking, placed on the plate for the diner to open (and enjoy). Your second comment was sent via an earlier posting (the one titled Retail Therapy), so will not be seen by readers who view only the most recent comments (sent via the previous blog), however you tip is so good, hope you don't mind me repeating it.
Sarina extends her washing-up detergent by saving her empty bottles, then refilling each with one third of the ordinary detergent, plus one third of water and one third of vinegar. She says this gets her pots squeaky clean, and certainly cheaper than using the detergent as bought.

Suppose in this country we also have a wide variety of the fresh produce you mentioned Lisa, although we may tend to choose the 'favourites' rather than work our way through the full range. Myself tend to stick to iceberg lettuce, and occasionally buy Little Gem (a small 'cos'). Also there are several varieties of apples on sale, and potatoes (with the latter we tend to prefer the well-known (and loved), these being King Edwards, Jersey Royals, and the red Desiree, although the 'baby new' potatoes on sale today can be many different varieties. A new one (to us) is Rooster, a good all round spud.

As to grapes, cannot say I've ever looked to see if the variety is named, for me it is just the 'seedless' green grapes I look for (although sometimes do check the country of origin). There are seedless red grapes, but we prefer the green and these are gorgeous eaten straight from the fridge as they are chilled.

Suppose onions are also sold by the 'variety', but usually shown as 'cooking onions', 'red onions', 'large whites', etc. If by 'peppers' you mean the sweeter bell peppers, again these are sold by colour (red, yellow, orange, green...). A few varieties of the hotter chilli peppers are on sale, but only a handful of different ones.

Tomatoes are one of the few salad veg that I tend to choose by variety if I can, but again these are usually sold as 'cherry', 'small plum', 'beefsteak', and 'on the vine', so unless actually shopping in store, any of the above foods bought on line are shown by type only, and very few (other than potatoes) are sold by their given 'variety'.

Have never come across the giant couscous you mentioned Catriona. Not sure whether I like the sound of it or not. Maybe it might appear more like the larger grains (rice, quinoa, pearl barley...) once cooked, so its 'mouth appeal' might be better. Does anyone know if this larger couscous is now available in supermarkets?

That's it for today. Am hoping to discover a few cookery progs (on Freeview) that I can watch whilst B is out sailing this afternoon. Not that there will be sailing, for the wind is very strong today, but he will go 'out' anyway. Might even watch the repeat of the Friday episode of EastEnders (shown as the last episode on the 'omnibus' this afternoon) as watching it the first time round thought it was the best bit of acting I've ever seen. Towards the end was crying along with Bianca as in the past have almost 'been there, done that', and the feelings I had at that time) came flooding back. Thankfully did not have to resort to theft (a la Bianca), but the sheer horror and memories of 'being broke' has stayed with me ever since, and one of the reasons I still do cost-cutting-with-a-vengeance and not just with food.

Gill tells me it is pouring with rain in Leicester, and has been throughout the night (well they did need rain!), Here is is fairly dry, but very cold and windy. Last week we even had a couple of tornadoes (but nothing like as strong as those in the US). Tornadoes we very rarely have, and so far all have done little more than blown down a shed and lifted off roof tiles. so we shouldn't be too concerned.

Whatever the weather, please enjoy your day, and with May beginning next week, believe the following weekend (plus Monday) will be the first of the May Bank Holidays, with the 'Spring Bank holiday, coming at the end of the month. Then surely we have another for the Jubilee celebrations in June? I'm having trouble keeping up. But we'll still have time to keep in touch with each other won't we. In other words, keep logging on and keep those comments flooding in, and - of course - hope you can join me again tomorrow. See you then.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

More From Store

Was very pleased to see that we have more new readers of this site, so today we all welcome Sarina, Sue and hotel alanya to our 'munch crunch bunch'. We have more than one 'Sue' who sends in comments, so adding an initial after this name will help me as I do like to keep it a reply personal, rather than general when responding to each comment.

Not sure which recipe Alanya is referring to, but thanks anyway for letting me know the one she tried was enjoyed by herself and children.

Seems the recipe for couscous 'fritters' is turning out to be popular, probably because couscous is not the easiest of grains to use in British cuisine. It certainly needs flavour to make it taste 'interesting', and myself tend to soak it in chicken stock when it is to be eaten that day. If it has to be kept in the fridge to eat cold later (maybe in a type of tabbouleh - although this is normally made with bulgar wheat, very similar to couscous), then always use water for soaking, maybe with lemon juice added.

The flavoured couscous you bought Jane am sure you will find a use for. If the tomato one has tomato 'bits' in it, these could be picked out and discarded. By adding other and stronger flavours, possibly diced Peppadew and lots of herbs this could reduce the strength of the flavour your OH dislikes. The only thing to do is experiment.

Although I'm always muttering about not buying anything we can make ourselves, of course there are times when the convenience of the ready-made is worth while. Not sure about ready made custard though. However small a kitchen it doesn't take THAT much room to make a jug of custard Campfire (using custard powder of course), and myself find the easiest way is to make it in the microwave. This saves having a pan to wash up as it is made in the jug it is to be served from.

Practically all Indian dishes (in Asian homes and restaurants) are made using 'fresh' spices. This is because it is very easy to change the flavour and 'heat' of the dish to the cook's preference. Also, when a curry is made every day, then the spices are used rapidly and never have time to lose their potency.

When 'curry houses' first arrived in Britain, we had only a choice of 'mild', 'medium', or 'hot', and there was none of the fabulous range of regional curries that we see on menus today. A curry is not always spicy hot, often it is delightfully fragrant and can be very subtle in flavour. When possible we go to the same restaurant and although B choose his favourites, I try to work my way through the range (and as we don't go too often, still a long way to go).

Having given a recipe for couscous yesterday, think it might be worth offering another recipe that uses this grain, and probably the already-flavoured couscous could be used for this as well as the plain.

This dish is fish cooked in a bag (en papillote I think this is called), and the bag could be made from baking parchment or kitchen foil. Although courgettes are used in this recipe, myself would probably use another vegetable such as chunks of red bell peppers because B doesn't care for any of the marrow family. Note this recipe serves just one. If wishing to make more, make each in its own 'bag'.
"It's in the Bag" Fish Dish: serves 1
1 lemon
4 oz (75g) couscous
1 oz (25g) flaked almonds or toasted pine nuts
1 small courgette, thinly sliced
1 tblsp fresh dill leaves, finely chopped (or use parsley)
salt and pepper
5 fl oz (150ml) vegetable stock
1 fillet haddock (or other white fish)
Take a large sheet of baking parchment or kitchen foil and place in a small, shallow dish (perhaps a soup bowl), and press down to make a 'cup' shape.
Grate the zest from the lemon and then cut the fruit in half. Slice one half and squeeze the second to gather the juice. Put the couscous into a bowl with the grated lemon zest, nuts, courgette, half the lemon juice, and most of the dill/parsley, and mix together - adding seasoning to taste - then tip this mixture into the paper/foil 'cup'.
Lay the fish on top of the couscous and top with the slices of lemon, then carefully pour in the stock, sprinkling over the remaining herbs. Gather up two sides of the 'wrapping' and fold together tightly, the do the same with the 'ends' to seal in the contents. Remove from container and place the 'bag' on a baking sheet and bake at 180C, 450F, gas 4 for 20 - 25 minutes (depends upon the thickness of the fish as to how long it takes) until the fish is cooked and the couscous is fluffy.

Was going to write more, but the computer suddenly seized up - the broadband failed and it's taken me some time to get it back again, so think I'll go now before it crashes again. Hope you can join me again tomorrow - if so, see you then.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Always Room For Improvement

Cooking isn't how it used to be. In my Mum's day I remember her having only one cookery book (the Be-Ro booklet). Everything she cooked was cooked from memory. As did most mothers in those days when recipes were passed down verbally, generation after generation.
Now it's all got very silly. Hundreds of new cookbooks are published each year, not to mention countless cookery mags, and all contain mainly variations of the few recipes that have always been around. It's no wonder we can get confused.

In more recent years we do seem to have developed a taste for the 'foreign', and this is not surprising for it can be very flavoursome. Also many countries where these originated have always had cooks making the most of their ingredients as they had little money to spend, so the 'ethnics' can still be some of the cheapest dishes we can make. They are so used to cooking these ingredients that any preparation comes almost like second nature, when to us it can be a real 'chore'. As an instance, in the Far East, just a cleaver is used for cutting/chopping everything, whereas here we seem to have a different knife for each job.

It's also very interesting to see how many countries serve very similar foods. In India they eat the chapatis and puris as their 'bread'. In Mexico the flour/corn tortillas either soft or crispy fried. Italy has its own form of 'flatbread' (incl pizza bases etc), and in the good old UK we have our sliced bread and Scotch Pancakes (boring!). No doubt other regions of the world have their own - and different - versions.
In Europe our 'staple' foods are wheat (that we tend to use mainly for bread, cakes, biscuits and pastry) and potatoes. France probably is much the same as us, but probably eats more 'crepes' (aka posh pancakes) than we do. Italy turns the wheat flour into many different forms of pasta. In the African countries the bulgar wheat and couscous is served with meat dishes. In Asia and the Far East rice is the basic 'carbo', and in the Americas cornmeal often takes the place of wheat flour. As I say, there is nothing really new, just variations of a carbohydrate.

Take any 'basic' foodstuff and we will find the same-but-different all over the world. We have only to think of the endless varieties of cheeses. The UK now has a great number of delicious and recognised varieties of cheese, and France of course is renowned for its cheeses (many quite different to ours), and where would we be without the Italian Parmesan? Having eaten American cheese have to say there is room for improvement, but their fresh produce (seen in their New Jersey supermarket) puts ours (even our imported) to shame. I've never seen such huge apples, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, potatoes, tomatoes etc... and such a wide variety of each.
Having said that, on the day we went shopping most 'locals' in that store seemed to be filling their trolleys with only convenience foods, and I noticed at the checkout that very few had bought 'the fresh'. How sad is that? Even my cousin (an English girl who loves to cook) had bought a packet of 'convenience mix' to make the pancakes that seem to be served at every American breakfast (as seen in films/TV).

Have to say that perhaps I am a bit old-fashioned about whether or not we should use anything 'convenient', so over the years have now changed my mind. After all, custard powder was one of the first of these 'ready to make' that appeared in our kitchens well over a hundred years ago. Now we accept this as the 'normal' way to make custard, and it is only the canned, or 'instant mix to make with water' (or even the aerosol custard)that we now class as 'convenient'.
So we should allow ourselves to use some 'time-savers' as long as the main ingredients are still 'fresh 'n best' and prepared by us. Myself occasionally use bread 'mixes', and prefer to use jars of quality curry sauce (purely to save me time and avoid having numerous jars of spices that never get used up before they have lost all their flavour). I even use (part) packets of some casserole mixes, and occasionally Bisto granules of various flavours.

Yes, I could make all these from scratch, but is there really any need in this day and age? So feel there is no reason why SOME 'convenience' foods should not be stored on our shelves. Just make sure we don't take a step too far and buy everything ready-made (as so many still do today), for then it is not just a very expensive way to eat, not always good for us due to all the additives and preservatives they contain, but by eating the 'readies' we also lose the good flavour that we can gain (far more cheaply) when making the best part of a meal ourselves at home.

All too often these days we hear people remarking wistfully about food that tastes so good it is like 'home-made'. More than one said this to me when they ate at the 'curryfest' the other day. At first I was a bit narked, as I'd hoped my meal tasted more like 'quality restaurant' than 'home-made', but then -when you come to think of it - anything that tastes of 'home-made' could be counted superior to that made in some 'eateries'. Couldn't it?
So - by taking a few short cuts - let us keep on with the home-cooking, and with this in mind offer today's recipes that this time do use a few storecupboard items to save time, but still worth making.

This first uses bought chorizo sausage and passata. The rest is prepared from 'fresh'. So you get the best of both worlds in this dish that is packed with flavour. This can be made in bulk and surplus frozen, so you can feed the five thousand by making more, or freeze in individual portions to serve just one according to your wish.
If you don't have passata, then blitz a can of plum or chopped tomatoes in a liquidiser or food processor to make a tomato 'puree' which can double as passata. We don't mind a few tomato seeds here and there do we? If you don't like the seeds then rub the puree through a sieve to make a 'proper passata'.
Butternut and Chorizo Stew: serves 4
6 oz (175g) chorizo sausage, thickly sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 x 687g jar passata
1 butternut squash (approx 1kg), peeled and seeded
salt and pepper
Put the chorizo into a large pan and place over a high heat to cook for a couple or so minutes or until the sausage begins to release its red oils. Remove chorizo from the pan, then add the onion to the oil left in the pan and fry for five or so minutes until starting to soften.
Meanwhile cut the squash into half-inch (1cm) chunks (or a bit larger if you wish) then, when the onion is soft, add the passata, squash to the pan, also putting back the chorizo. Bring to the boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes or until the squash is tender but not too soft. You may need to ad a little water to the pan if the 'sauce' has become too thick. Add seasoning to taste, then serve in individual bowls.

Here is another storecupboard meal, and one I'm not be ashamed to make because it is so speedy. The only really 'fresh' food is the prawns (and even these would come from our freezer) and you could reduce the amount by (say) 3oz/75g without it making much difference to the dish.
Suppose we can count the herb as also 'fresh' (as long as we grow our own), and as we don't care for the flavour of fresh coriander, myself would substitute parsley leaves only (or omit the herbs altogether).
The curry paste can be either Indian or Thai flavoured and you choose the 'heat'.
Curry in a Hurry: serves 4
2 tsp sunflower oil
3 tblsp curry paste (see above)
2 onions, finely sliced
1 lb (450g) frozen peeled prawns, defrosted
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper
1 bunch coriander, leaves and stalks chopped
Put the oil into a frying pan with a teaspoon of the curry paste. Place over a medium heat and when the oil is hot, add the onions and fry for about five minutes until softened. Stir in the rest of the paste and cook for a few minutes longer before adding the tomatoes and prawns.
Bring up to the simmer and add seasoning to taste. When heated through, fold in the coriander (saving a few leaves to sprinkle on top) and serve with rice or naan bread.

With the bit now firmly between my teeth, am now giving a real 'storecupboard' winner. This time the easiest paella ever (but only as long as you have all the 'makings' already in your larder. The turmeric gives the paella its yellow colour, instead of using the traditional saffron (which is more expensive). If you haven't either then use a drop or two of yellow food colouring. If you have none of any, you will find the red oils from the chorizo still add some colour to the dish. Whether the rice is red, yellow or just white - this dish will still taste just as good.
If you don't have a pack of 'seafood mix', then use oddments of fish you have in your freezer, maybe a 'Fish Pie Mix' (salmon, smoked haddock, white fish) and add some thawed frozen prawns. Or you could use some canned salmon and/or canned tuna with thawed cooked prawns.
Easy-Peasy Paella: serves 4
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
1 onion, sliced
4 oz (100g) chorizo sausage, chopped
1 tsp turmeric (see above)
10 oz (300g) long-grain rice
1.75 pts (1 ltr) hot chicken or fish stock
6 oz (175g) frozen peas
14 oz (400g) pack defrosted sea food mix, see above
salt and pepper
lemon wedges for serving
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the onion for 5 minutes until softened, but not browning. Add the chorizo and fry until its oils begin to run freely, then stir in the turmeric and rice. When the rice is coated with the oil, pour in the hot stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes - giving the occasional stir.
If using a fish pie mix (uncooked fish), add these after 10 minutes so they cook along with the rice, then add the peas for the last five minutes of the cooking time.
If using a packet of frozen and defrosted 'seafood mix', then add these at the end of the cooking time, allowing a further 2 minutes cooking to allow them to heat through. Check that the rice is cooked and add seasoning to taste, then serve immediately with wedges of lemon.

Final recipe today makes use of couscous (often difficult to find an alternative use for this). Again made from foods that many of us do have in store, and a good way to use up the odds and ends of yogurt, cheeses (it doesn't have to be feta) that we have. These 'fritters' make a good light lunch or supper dish, and would also eat well at breakfast instead of 'hash browns' (or similar). Instead of the sundried tomatoes, add a bit more of a 'kick' by using chopped Peppadew.
Couscous and Cheese Fritters: makes 4
6 oz (175g) couscous
7 fl oz (200ml) hot vegetable stock
1 egg, beaten
3 tblsp natural yogurt
salt and pepper
3 oz (75g) feta cheese (or similar)
2 oz (50g) sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
3 spring onions (or one small shallot) finely chopped
2 tblsp sunflower or olive oil
Put the couscous into a large bowl, and add the stock. Give one stir, cover, then leave to stand for 5 or so minutes or until the grain has absorbed all the stock and have softened.
Stir the yogurt and egg into the couscous and mix well together. then add seasoning to taste.
Crumble or grate the cheese, then fold this into the couscous mixture along with the chopped tomatoes and onions, then form the mixture into four and form into 'cakes' or 'burgers'.
Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat, and fry the 'fritters' for 3 or so minutes on each side until golden and crispy. Serve hot with a green salad and a spoonful of your favourite spicy relish, salsa or chutney.

It is lovely to hear from you again Kathryn, and although sorry that your depression had returned, do hope that you are now feeling better and enjoying a life that is far less stressful (although in many ways might be very busy - in a nice way of course).
There is no feeling as good as 'managing to cope' when using our own efforts, however tired this may make us feel at times, and at least we make our own 'pressures' and can put our feet up in the middle of the day if we can find time (something we can't do when 'out' at work). We don't need money to be happy, just as long as we can keep our heads above water when it comes to paying the household bills.
It must be lovely to be able to ride 'Dolly' more often, and good to hear how you are getting 'free' eggs (which must save quite a bit of money when it comes to cooking up a meal).

Even if I did suddenly become 'popular' again, there is no way I'd want to do more TV. When involved with this the first time round found it so stressful my b.p rose to sky high, I had nose bleeds, and had panic attacks. Things I don't need to face now. Am happy just writing about my cost-cutting, and maybe (one day) will gain more and more readers.

Did notice the Mexican 'offers' that Lidl were having (from yesterday until the middle of next week) Les. Worth buying now what you might be needing shortly for your 'Mexicanfest'. Do let us know your menu when you have decided, and how you got on with making it all.

As you say Jane, on-line shopping is far less tempting that shopping in-store, although shopping 'from the screen' means we do miss some of the very-much-reduced items that are only discovered when browsing through the 'reduced' section at the end of some of the aisles. At least not having to go to the store does save time and I suppose fuel as even though we do have to pay a delivery charge, the 'points' we amass usually covers this cost. The time saved we can then use to do more home-cooking (which in itself saves even more money).
But then I do miss the fun of wandering up and down the aisles and being very, very tempted.

Catriona's comments re the 'elf and safety' reminded me of another (for once sensible) 'rule' that recently came back. This to do with teaching cookery in schools. It was deemed essential that youngsters should learn to cook (as once taught in schools), and many schools had classrooms fitted with all the necessary kitchen equipment needed. Then - all of a sudden - a U turn, and the idea was shelved. Why on earth this should be I don't know.

There seems to be a rather stupid rule about the necessary qualifications needed to 'teach' people. Unless a 'qualified' teacher, no-one is allowed to teach at (say) night-school even if they are competent in the subject. My friend Gill can knit and crochet for England, but is not allowed to take an evening class to teach these skills.
These 'rules' must be fairly recent as in 'my day' was asked to 'lecture' at both the Leeds University and also teach cost-cutting cookery at night school without any qualifications to my name at all other than 'life experience' (and the TV series to back me up). I didn't even take school certificate or 'matric', so today would be classed as a complete dumbo and not fit to be employed at anything other than mopping floors and cleaning loos.

It does seem that there must be hundreds of people 'out there' who can pass on much needed skills to others, but are not allowed to due to all this bureaucracy, and as I have said before, these rules and regs can do more harm than good. Most skills are learned through practical experience, and often without need of 'certificates of proof'. It is easy enough to prove we 'know' something we have learned through reading books, and can pass exams this way, but when it comes to something like cooking, myself have known several 'certificated cooks' who can't cook a darn thing other than the few dishes taught at college, and the more 'scientific' knowledge gained helps them not at all (in the same way knowing - or in my case not knowing - the members of this particular government's Cabinet, helps me not one jot in carrying on with my continual tirade about how this country should be run. I once said to the practice nurse - when she asked me my date of birth - "it is silly to ask an elderly lady who the Prime Minister is because even I wasn't really sure - it might be Clegg, or Milliband or is it someone else?" (The name Cameron has suddenly come to mind as I write). "And I don't know because I don't really care, not because I (or someone else) am getting senile. It doesn't matter what age we are, if we don't care we often don't know. In other words ask us something that we really ought to know, then if we have forgotten, then time to be concerned". (Now who is my B? Am sure I remembered yesterday).

There was a recent TV programme where people of many cultures lived together in one house for a couple of weeks, and there was a mention of the exams they had to take (re what they knew about Britain) to enable them to gain citizenship of this country if they desired to live here permanently.
To prove a point, in this programme the same questions were a given to citizens of this country whose families had lived here for generations (let's call them 'true' Brits for this purpose), and not one of them could answer the questions, and in many cases very few correctly. Their results were worse than those from the more recent visitors to these shores. Which at least must prove that if nothing else, there is someone 'up there' who makes up stupid rules and regs that never ever are any use whatsoever.

What is it with me? Perhaps the 'curryfest' has given me withdrawal symptoms, for all of a sudden my mind is turning more to how this country should be run, rather than food, glorious food.
At least managed to make a decent chilli con carne for both our suppers yesterday (I love chilli and I ate seconds!). Not sure what to make today, think it may be Shepherd's Pie as I've some cooked lamb mince in the freezer, can add some gravy/flavouring, top with mashed spuds, and cook until the top is crusty, then serve with mint-flavoured peas. Might even make some for me as well.

Now that I've had my six-month 'weigh-in' am allowing myself some leeway as to the amount I eat each day, although still watching the scales to make sure I don't pile back on too many pounds. So far have kept my weight stable - which is good.

Today really must re-pot up my courgettes as they are growing too large for their small pots, but too cold to put outdoors yet. Think that I'll get B (oh yes, now remembered who he is) to put the plastic cover back on the greenhouse after all (was intending to leave it off this year and just use the frame for beans to climb up and over). The the courgettes et al can go in there and leave me more room on the conservatory window sill for other things.

Enough for today. B is out tonight at the 'sailing social' and he can take my amended list of ingredients for the 'curryfest' for which I need to be reimbursed. The final cost was even lower than I first estimated, ending up at around £57 for the full meal (this includes the cost of a good amount of sunflower oil used when cooking, and a bit extra for the foil, clingfilm, disposable gloves and just about a full roll of kitchen paper ...) instead of the £75 that was my budget 'limit'. Am sure the committee will be well pleased with that. This can then be paid into the bank along with yet another £25 that Ernie sent to me this month. One of the most sensible things I did was to buy those Premium Bonds about 18 months ago. Certainly got more back than the bank would have paid me interest on the same money.

Thank goodness it is the weekend coming up (and what a difference to this time a week ago, as now all the pressure has gone, life seems so very easy at the moment. Almost boring). Perhaps it is time for me to think up a new challenge. But before then MUST get my new site up and running. Will let you know when this will be.

We've had a shower of fine rain earlier this morning, but now the clouds are moving away and the sun is beginning to shine. Let us hope the temperature rises - for the last ten years or so this last week in April was one of the hottest of the year. Seems this time we had the 'heatwave' a month early. But there is still time for the weather to improve. On the other hand it has been known to snow in June. But that's Britain for you.

Please join me again tomorrow and keep those comments coming. I love to read every one of them. Even if you feel you have nothing much to say, it is still good to hear from you and know you are 'out there', a member of our happy band of 'cost-cutters'. TTFN.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Week Moves On...

Yesterday Beloved fancied fish and chips (from the 'chippie') for his supper, so in a way this saved me having to cook for him, but I also had a portion then wished I hadn't for am finding this (bought) meal now far too greasy for my digestion. also the chips were soggy (as usual) which is strange as the fish batter does stay very crisp (only now the fish is not the huge chunky fillets of cod or haddock but a much thinner fillet of 'flaky' fish that I don't really care for).
Oh for those days when chips were fried in beef dripping that stayed wonderful crunchy when brought home wrapped in newspaper. Today the polystyrene packaging 'steams' the chips and they are just not the same any more. So today I have a 'digestive hangover', and think my meals will be nothing but salad for the next few days.

As B was watching footie last night I came in here and jotted down the comments, but can't now remember whether Bets is a new 'reader' or not, but if so very welcome. Like me, Bets seems to have 'creative urges', so perhaps this is common to all who like to make things. I do remember (when young) starting to embroider things like tablecloths and tray cloths that had the same pattern at each corner, but after doing one corner got bored and then began to do another, ending up with a pile of partly stitched table linen. My mother used to get so cross with me when I did this. Sewing and knitting I enjoyed doing, but not always the same things, so this is perhaps why painting picture and particularly cooking (this also being a 'creative art') I find more enjoyable.

A big thank you to Lisa for giving such a wide variety of Mexican dishes that Les could make for his hot/cold buffet. My own thoughts had not gone further than chilli con carne (not true Mexican, more Tex-Mex), quesidillas, enchiladas/burritos/fajitas, and guacamole. Possibly chicken mole (chicken cooked with chocolate - or is that a South American dish?).

Not sure about the Mexican Fried Ice Cream, but do remember serving a similar 'pud' to our children. At one time we could buy big oblong blocks of ice-cream to keep in the freezer, this more solid than the 'soft-scoop' so often sold today. A home-made ice-cream frozen in a shallow tray would be even better for this goes very hard, and for this dish, the harder the better.
A square of this ice-cream would be wrapped in a ready-made pancake to make a 'parcel' (ice-cream in the centre of the pancake, bottom folded up, sides to middle then folded over until fully wrapped) this immediately put onto a slotted spoon (folded side of the pancake face down) and placed in a deep fat fryer and cooked for a few seconds until the pancake was hot and crisp. It was then served and another then cooked in the same way. Possibly more could be fried at any one time when placed face-down on the mesh basket that comes with some deep-fat fryers (or in a large frying pan with deep enough oil to just about cover, turning once). The pancake gives the ice-cream enough 'insulation' whilst it is being fried, this makes it fun to eat as the outside is crisp and hot while the 'filling' has stayed cold and still frozen enough to stay solid.

Certainly agree with what you say Marjorie, only the very best beef - well reared and well hung - is the most tender (compared to beef of lesser quality), although much depends upon the cut as to how long they need to be cooked to be tender. Quality fillet steak is so tender it can be minced and eaten raw. Ox-tail, shin beef etc, needs much longer cooking time or we could be chewing on it for ever.
We have always been advised - when carving a cooked joint of beef (of whatever quality) - to always carve across the grain as this makes the slices more 'tender' (and easier to eat). Have myself (mistakenly) cut half of a piece of fillet steak into strips (for a strogonoff) in the wrong direction and it was much 'chewier' than the remaining piece that I cut correctly across the grain (I kept them separate to see if there was a difference, and there certainly was).
But as I always say - we should save when we can and use this money to buy the best quality meat we can then afford, for poor quality meat has nothing going for it other than possibly protein content. Myself relish the flavour that quality meat has, and because of this less can be used especially in casseroles where none of this taste is lost. So in a way no more expensive than using more of the cheaper stuff.

At the moment most of my spare time is spent trying to finalise the 'arrangement' of my new website, if my hair wasn't already white I'd be discovering new grey hairs every day. Why is it I can write this blog so freely, yet get 'writer's cramp with a vengeance when it comes to writing the introduction to the new site? Am sure I'll get it right soon. At least I've now discovered how to send photos to the 'website team', this means I can now keep cooking new dishes and taking new photos. Some of these you'll have to go to the new site to see, but many you've already seen in the past. This new site is just a collection of recipes that are the easiest and speediest ever to make. Also most being exceedingly inexpensive. More later, once it is there to be seen by all.

One or two more recipes today - again using store-cupboard ingredients. The first turns cornflakes into a crunchy topping that can be served with ice-cream or as with stewed fruits (or both). Instead of melting the butter/honey in the microwave, this can be done in a large saucepan on the hob (or in the oven as it is heating up).
Honey-Nut Crunch: serves 4 as a 'topping'
knob of butter
2 tblsp runny honey
2 oz (50g) cornflakes
1 oz (25g) flaked toasted almonds
Put the butter and honey into a large bowl and microwave for 30 seconds or until melted together. Add the cornflakes and almonds and toss well together.
Spread onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for about 5 minutes or until the cornflakes turn a rich golden colour, then remove and leave to cool (during this time the cornflakes will crisp up again). Best serve freshly made and still warm with ice-cream etc.

Next recipe is for a 'pudding' meant to be eaten warm (served with cream or ice-cream), but just as good cut into wedges and served like 'cake' with a cup of tea. In a way it's a cross between a treacle tart and an almond macaroon (not sure why as it doesn't use either of these ingredients).
Coconut Flan: serves 8
1 tsp cinnamon
6 oz (175g) desiccated coconut
8 oz (225g) caster sugar
5 fl oz (150ml) water
1 x 500 block sweet short-crust pastry
1 egg, beaten
1 oz (25g) butter, melted
Put the cinnamon, coconut, sugar and water into a pan over low heat. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often to help dissolve the sugar, then set aside to cool.
Roll out the pastry to a size large enough to line a 9" (23cm) flan tin with a little overlapping the rim (this prevents the pastry shrinking below the rim as it cooks). Line with paper and beans and bake 'blind' for 15 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6. Then remove beans and paper, and return to oven to bake for a further 5 minutes. Then carefully trim away the overlapping pastry by sliding a knife carefully round the rim.
Beat the egg and melted butter into the cooled coconut mixture, then spoon this into the pastry case and level the surface. Bake for 25 minutes or until the coconut is pale gold. Serve warm as a pud or cold for teatime.

EasyYo now make a coconut flavoured yogurt that we can make at home, so that could be used instead of making this from scratch. If you don't have EasyYo equipment, you will find this dessert has almost the same flavour. Ideally top with 'tropical fruits' (these can be bought in cans, or you can use kiwi, pineapple, banana, grapes, and orange segments - or any combination).
Coconut 'Cream': serves 4
1 x 50g sachet coconut cream
2 fl oz (50ml) boiling water
1 x 500g tub Greek yogurt
3 oz (75g) icing sugar, sifted
'tropical fruits' of your choice (see above)
Dissolve the coconut cream in the boiling water, then leave to cool. Put the yogurt into a mixing bowl with the sugar then fold together. Slowly add the coconut liquid and mix until combined. Spoon into individual dessert bowls (pref glass ones) and place in the fridge to chill until ready to serve.
Cut the chosen fruit into even sized chunks and spoon on top of the Coconut 'Creams' when ready to serve.

The weather here has turned from good to bad. Yesterday it was blowing half a gale, and with the wind from the east, bitterly cold it felt. We had to put the heating on again during the day. Seems as though the drought areas have had good rainfall, but apparently not enough to do much good. From what was said on the news, we have to wait until next winter to see if that brings enough rain (and snow) to bring things back to normal. If we have another dry winter (like this last one) then the hosepipe ban (and maybe worse) will continue.
How odd it is for the British Isles to be surrounded by so much water (aka sea), and none of it we seem to be able to pipe across the country to use for domestic purposes (like flushing loos etc). Or even remove the salts etc (as done in so many desert areas of this globe) to make it able to be drunk by animals (or humans) and used for watering crops etc. Probably because in the past we had so much rain (and often too much) that we never needed to even think this far ahead.

Nature has a way of balancing itself out, so what's the betting we will be having a very wet autumn and winter and that will then cause us to complaining about our wet weather again instead of being grateful we then take showers every day instead of every other day (or once a week!).

It seems that every day now there is something on the radio/TV or in the newspapers about yet another 'rule' that deprives us of the pleasures we used to have in the past. Seems now we cannot do anything because 'someone' at 'elf and safety say we shouldn't. Food hygiene is now so strict (in some instance rightly so) that we can no longer sell quality home-made produce (unless for charity, and not always then). Many small manufacturers have had to close down after generations of providing some of the best food out there, purely because the EU (or whoever) have said they need new equipment to conform to their regulations.

We hear about people being left to drown because the 'rules' say that only specially trained people can venture into water that is deeper than ankle height. So it is left for the untrained 'public' to wade in and do the rescue while the police and firemen et al have to stand at the water's edge and watch.
Window cleaners now are not allowed to climb ladders to reach upper windows, so now we see them vainly trying to clean windows (and not very successfully) using a scraper at the top of a very, very long pole. Not so difficult on two storey houses, but what about the taller ones?

It has to be said that many people still break rules. From this very window I can see several men climbing up a roof replacing tiles and none of them wearing a safely helmet, or any sort of harness. There is scaffolding, but easy enough for one to slip down and slide between the horizontal bars of the scaffolding and fall to the ground.

As B so often says to me 'who makes these rules, and who is the one who signs the paper to set them in motion'?. It has got to the point when it really seems that some quango is sitting there saying "what else can we stop people doing?" Time now for a lot of these 'rules' to be abolished and let us get back to enjoying our lives in full as we used to be 'allowed' to do. The only way we can learn to keep out of trouble is to find out the hard way. Far better for a child to have fun knocking conkers from a tree (now not allowed in case one falls on someones head), and play the conker's game (without wearing a safety helmet and goggles) as WE used to do.

One of my early memories is a wartime rule where we were told (forbidden if you like) never to scuffle through piles of dried leaves in the autumn (as most children - and adults - loved to do). This because of the threat of hidden explosives that a dreaded German spy might have placed there. So I went through most of my childhood years never enjoying this 'scuffle'. I was much older before I 'dare' do this again, and have to say thoroughly enjoyed kicking up the leaves with my feet. Suppose now it is 'illegal' again as we would be accused of 'littering' the streets with leaves.
Yes, litter! We read of some poor woman who was arrested for littering because her child threw a crust from the pram (rapidly picked up by a pigeon before she could pick it up), yet a couple of police admit to avoiding confronting a group of yobbos who were throwing numerous empty cans and part empty cartons of take-away food on the pavement "because there were more of them than of us".
Just wish the government, the EU (or whoever) and the rest of the quangos would leave us alone to get along with our lives in whatever way we wish, and if we have to pay for the consequences of stupid behaviour, then so be it. I want the old ways to find enjoyment put back in our lives.

It's surprising how - all of a sudden - we are now being encouraged to begin home-cooking again, when you consider all the dangers that are in our kitchens. Super sharp knives that we can cut ourselves with, the danger of boiling water and steam scalding us, naked flames on a gas hob, oil left to heat up that would then burst into flames (and burn the house down). Not to mention hot drop-down oven doors that can burn arms when touched (and how often this happens to me, my oven being too highly placed and I have to reach up and over the door to pull out heavy pots). We have also to consider the foods not stored correctly and that might be eaten when 'gone off' and cause us some gastric problems (even poisoning).

Seems that whatever we do within the confines of our own homes (and garden) then perhaps no-one really cares, but once we step out onto the street we then fall prey to all the many rules and regs that stupid people have thought up, and it has to be said that quite a few of these cause more problems than they try to prevent.

Looks like today is one of my 'moaning days', but am sure you all agree that this country is not what it used to be, and going downhill fast. All I can say is thank goodness I am old enough to remember those 'good old days, and good old ways', and not have a long future ahead of me living in this 'Big Brother' society that we now have. And yet, firmly believing in reincarnation (or one sort or another), then maybe I will have to live (again) in a future I'd rather not think about. The only thing we can do is try and make it better while we are alive now. Any suggestions?

With that thought will love you and leave you for yet another day. I cannot believe that this time last week I was so busy. Time moves fast the older we get. So make the most of what you have. Hope you will all join me again tomorrow - see you then.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Busy Time of Year...

With all my recently planted seeds now almost overflowing their pots, my next task will be to repot them (or plant out). Also must begin making loads of pots of jams/marmalade etc ready for some charity 'sales' etc. Still about 5 or 6 weeks before the first of these, but the more I can get done in advance the better, this leaves me time nearer the day/s to make the gingerbread, biscuits, macaroons etc.

All the 'curryfest' utensils and containers have now been cleaned and put away (well most of them). Still missing a few spoons, but then have also gained a few that weren't mine (along with bowls, pens, etc), so B will have to take them to the club this coming Friday and do a swap.

Interesting to read about your roses 'growing' in the vase Lisa. Have you even grown roses from cut flowers before? Always believed they had to be grafted onto a different root stock to bring forth flowers, but could be wrong. Do remember once our next door neighbour had a gardener and he offered to prune my roses one year. We had a truly lovely tea-rose, a bright, almost shocking pink, that had a wonderful and very strong scent (like Turkish Delight tastes if you know what I mean). He pruned that down far too low, removing all the growth above the root stock, and this then grew only yellow roses with no scent at all. I was really REALLY cross about this as I've never been able to find the pink rose again.
I took keep most of the plastic containers that come with 'things' (mainly food), and have at least two cupboards full. Don't need all of course, but they do come in handy at times (like the recent 'curryfest' when small tubs were filled with Bombay Mix to place on each table as 'nibbles'. Ditto larger plastic boxes filled with sweets). I just can't seem to throw anything away these days.

The committee did thank me Catrion, and do know they were grateful not to have to do any of the cooking this time round. Just one helped my B to serve the meal, another did the raffle, another the (several) quizzes, and of course one (or two) served drinks at the bar.

It is true - as Les says - that meat should always be sliced across the grain as this makes it far more tender to eat, but didn't realised that minced meat (which are usually small chunks of meat thrown into the mincer with the 'grain' lying any which way), would also become even more tender if the 'strings' of mince are then lined up before using. Not quite sure why this should be, but am trusting Les's expertise re this.
To 'tenderise' meat even further when making meatballs (and occasionally beefburgers) I sometimes blitz the already minced meat in a food processor for a few seconds to break it down even further. Blitzed together with onions, breadcrumbs and whatever, it can become so 'fine' a mixture that is almost (but not quite) a raw 'pate', that when formed into meatballs, tossed in flour and fried, just melts in the mouth when fully cooked. Useful when the cheaper mince has been bought as this can be a bit 'gristly' and therefore needs more chewing.

Yesterday gave B some liver, bacon and new potatoes for his supper, but this time instead of serving the usual steamed shredded cabbage, instead served sliced and fried mushrooms with some peas. It made a change (needed to use up the mushrooms). He had yogurt and cream as a dessert, and chomped his way throughout the rest of the evening finishing up the box of mixed chocs won at the social (well us four at our table won it as a quiz prize, but gave it to B as already a bottle of wine and another big box of chocs had been won by us 'girls' in the raffle).

All of a sudden I seem to have a lot more time on my hands, and not really putting it to much use at the moment as am still a wee bit tired. Did go to bed early last night (for once) so managed to catch up with most of my sleep and feel all the better for it, although not ready yet to take on a lot of culinary activity. Maybe will start again at the weekend with making the preserves.

Despite my not feeling inclined to cook a curry at the moment, at least feel I can now manage to give a recipe for a dish that is not quite a curry, but has the 'leanings'. Other spices could be used instead of the garam Masala (maybe a harissa, or Cajun seasoning). See what you think of this version:
'Indian' Shepherd's Pie: serves 4
3 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion
1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)
1 lb (500g) minced lamb
2 - 3 tblsp garam Masala mix (or other spice)
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper
1 lb 10 oz (750g) cooked potatoes
Heat ONE tblsp of the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion until softened. Add the garlic and half the garam Masala and fry for one minute, then add the lamb. Cook over high heat for 8 minutes, continually stirring the mince to make sure it is browned all over, then add the tomatoes, seasoning to taste, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 or so minutes until thickened.
Meanwhile, crush the cooked potatoes with the remaining oil and the rest of the garam Masala.
When the lamb is cooked, tip the hot lamb 'sauce' into a shallow heat-proof casserole and scatter the crushed potatoes on top. At this point it can be cooled and frozen for up to a month (thaw before cooking). If not freezing, continue cooking by placing under a pre-heated hot grill and cook for 8 minutes (longer if starting cold) until the potatoes are crisp and golden.

We often need to use two pots for cooking curry, one for the meat (or veg), the second being for rice. This recipe combines the lot in one pot which can be taken to the table for serving, and as it looks very colourful, definitely worth making. Instead of prawns you could use cooked chicken (scraps from carcase?) or use both. Instead of the fresh chilli, chop up a pepperdew or use part of a red bell pepper (but if using the latter add this with the onion).
Prawn Pilau: serves 4
2 tblsp Korma curry paste
1 small onion, finely chopped
10 oz (300g) basmati rice, rinsed
1.25 pints (700ml) chicken stock
5 oz (150g) cooked peeled prawns
cupful frozen peas
1 red chilli cut into rings (see above)
salt and pepper
few coriander leaves for garnish
Heat a large frying pan and dry-fry the curry paste with the onion for about 5 minutes or until the onion is beginning to soften. Stir in the rice, and when coated in the curry sauce, add the stock. Bring to the boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for approx 12 or so minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed (by which time the rice should be cooked). Remove from heat and stir in the prawns, peas and chilli. Cover pan and leave to stand for 4 minutes then uncover, fluff up the rice grains with a fork - this also mixes in the other ingredients - and add seasoning to taste. Scatter the coriander on top and then take the pot to the table to serve.

Final recipe today is a pasta dish that makes the most of a few expensive ingredients, and a way to prove that we don't have to spend much to give that luxury flavour to a meal. Almost any pasta 'shapes' could be used, but ideally go for the long strands of spaghetti or strips of pasta 'noodles' (aka tagliatelle?). Instead of the blue cheese, use a garlic and herb flavoured cream cheese (Philly type).
Creamy Mushroom Pasta: serves 4
14 oz (400g) spaghetti (see above)
6 rashers streaky bacon, cut into strips
8 oz (225g) chestnut or button mushrooms, sliced
1 x 200g bag baby spinach leaves
4 oz (100g) any creamy blue cheese, crumbled
Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water as per packet instructions.
Meanwhile, fry the bacon in a large pan for 5 minutes until beginning to crisp up, then tip in the mushrooms and fry for 3 minutes or until just tender.
Drain the pasta and add to the frying pan with the cheese, then toss everything together over a low heat until the spinach has begun to wilt and the cheese has begun to melt. Serve hot in individual bowls.

Time for me to get myself a cup of coffee, and decide what I'm going to make for B's supper tonight. Probably a fish dish (as B hasn't had fish for several days). Could make a fish curry I suppose. Somehow don't think so. Well not just yet.

Hope you can join me again tomorrow, if so - see you then.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Where Next?

Still haven't put all my pots and pans away. Spent much of yesterday 'relaxing' again (this meant nodding off in my chair most of the day). Because of this was wide awake again later, and even though going to bed at midnight could not sleep until after 4.00am this morning (I kept looking at my bedside clock to see the time). Up at 7.30am so still a bit bleary-eyed.
It seems as though physically I've packed up for a few days, but my brain is still working feverishly when awake. At least managed to make B's supper yesterday (Beef Strogonoff), this being was a doddle compared to previous days. So easy I could almost make it in my sleep!

Thank you sue15cat (and others) for kind words. We welcome a new reader: 'And', and I was pleased to read that she had met Erica Griffiths who was a 'working friend' of mine for many, many years. When Erca left the BBC, she asked me to keep in touch but never gave me any contact address, so I've never managed to catch up with her again.
The 'Floating Islands' dessert probably was in Woman's Own (I was commissioned by them to do several cookery features for them). Basically this dish is a custard base with soft meringues 'floating' on top. The meringues are made in the usual way (beating egg white with caster sugar), but instead of drying out in the oven, they are poached in the milk (used to make the custard), then removed to drain on a clean tea towel to put on top of the custard once that has been made. If deciding to make custard using custard powder (and why not!!) then the meringues can be poached in simmering water.
Sometimes I would use a flavoured custard (like chocolate!) for the base which make the floating 'islands' look even better.

There were two servers behind the hatch at the 'curryfest' minimiser deb, one was my Beloved! Never let it be said he isn't prepared to help in the kitchen (as long as it is someone elses!!). One server put the rice on the plates, B then was there to put the chosen curry on the top of the rice. Being B he probably put a larger portion (still small to him) than was intended, but as I mentioned, having the back-up curry there was enough for everyone, including the committee members. At the end of the evening B himself had another plateful, as did my daughter (not sure about Eileen), so obviously enough of the curry/rice.

Although just about everything on the front table went (only a little salad and raita left), think there was enough of the 'additions' to go round gillibob, as B seemed to a good seleciton on his plate at the end of the evening. Maybe it was he and the committee who cleared the decks so to speak, as I didn't check the table until everyone was fed and the boxes of sweets given out.

Yes, B did buy me those two casseroles from Lidl Jane, one of each size. They seem to be very good, non-stick interiors, oven-proof up to 180C (mainly due to the plastic handles I think), but on the hob can reach a higher heat.
I really must take a look at the Approved Foods site again as I think they keep showing different products as they get them, and not enough to be always available. Would hate to miss something good.

Regarding double cream Eileen, this will freeze (as long as over 40% fat) so you could just pop your surplus tub/s in your freezer to thaw out later. Ganache will also freeze. Also a thank you for your kind words about my food. It isn't THAT good (or maybe it is - how would I know?). But it is only as good as when freshly made. Keeping hot the dhal, samosas, bhajis, naan.... never improves these, usually the opposite. Things that were fried for the venue tend to lose their crispness, and those that should have remained soft (naan) tended to dry up. So the 'venue' food was not as good as it could be. Obviously my 'best food' (but am not perfect, so not always), are those served in my own home. As you will find out when we next have a party!

Good to hear from you again Margie. Have to admit that those 'skills and ability' you mentioned have been very slowly learned over a very long lifetime of cooking. When we do something every day we all gain experience. Once I became interesting in the 'cost-cutting' side of cooking, I probably did get more interested in the subject.
I can't understand myself how I manage to be so organised (and rarely) when in my 'normal' day to day life I am a complete disaster. Born lazy in fact, although once 'bitten by the bug', can then spend hours (and hours, and hours) and days (and days, and days) working feverishly non-stop.

My first memory of mine of this 'concentrated work' was when I was just 13 and I suddenly wanted to paint a picture. I asked my Dad if I could borrow his oil paints (he was an amateur but very good artist), and he said I could, so I went up into a spare bedroom in the morning and began to paint. Mum called me down for lunch and I said I couldn't as "I couldn't stop painting". She called me down for tea, and again I was 'busy'. Eventually, late evening, my picture was done (but never to my complete satisfaction, and always have this feeling with every picture I paint or dish I cook with the feeling 'I could do better' etc, etc). My daughter still has this picture, and have to say it's quite good.
Since then have painted many pictures (given most away but also sold several). But then I can't paint 'to order', and never have been able to. The 'feeling' has to come over me, and when it does (like once every 10 or so years) then I paint and paint and paint for days and days and do nothing else and then stop. It's almost as though someone else had taken over my body and done all the work, then suddenly decided to leave. Very strange.

Not sure my mother understood my reason for not wanting to eat that day I began to paint (as normally was always hungry - this being 1946 and still the days of wartime rationing - but certainly my Dad knew how I felt when it came to painting. If only I could always be like that I could have achieved so much more with my life.

This time I've done all the 'catering' by myself, and although did have offers of help, it seemed very important to me to know I could still do it, however old I have become. Next time will almost certanly delegate. Let someone else cook the rice. Chefs have helpers, old-time cooks had scullery maids, all doing the prep/washing up, and 'menial work'... Why should I do it all? Just leave me to get on with 'the clever stuff'.

The other evening watched Heston B talking about cooking beef. Had seen a bit of it before, and did try his way of frying steak - which really does work well. In the later part of his prog (I didn't see all of it first time round), he was making his own beefburgers, first mincing good steak then rolled the 'strings' of mince into a fat 'sausage' that he tightly wrapped in clingfilm and chilled. He then showed how he sliced across the sausage to make thick 'burgers', saying that 'cutting across the grain means the meat is then very tender'. Which it is when still on the joint, but SURELY, mincing the meat loses all the 'grain'', so it makes no difference if the 'sausage' is sliced or the minced meat is hand formed into burgers.

I have to smile when I open the fridge door, there are two shelves in there nearly empty. This is the first time this has happened since we bought 'Boris'. Even the smaller freezer has food rattling around inside it with room to spare. Intend keeping both this way (or nearly) as then this gives me more room to chill/freeze something when 'experimenting'. Usually I keep having to squeeze things in to gaps, and then can never find things when I want them.
From now on will try to be a lot more organized with my chilled/frozen food storage. My larder (as you know) is VERY organised. It all helps to save time when needing to cook when I don't feel like it.

You'll have to forgive me for giving only one recipe today for truth be told the last thing I want to do is think about food. When I write out a recipe I tend to 'sense' the dish, and 'taste' the flavours, and as long as I keep well away from a recipe for a spicy curry dish, then today can probably just about enjoy the 'writing up'.

One 'light meal' I enjoy eating is a dip (or three) with raw veg (aka 'crudites'), and although would probably prefer to eat either a hummous OR a guacamole dip, this recipe make a lunch dish that is a combination of both, eaten with a tomato salad instead of the normal 'cruds'.
tip: turn the empty avocado shells inside out and use to rub over your face, hands, or elbows. The slight residue of avocado on the skins (contains oil) helps soften the skin and is very beneficial.
Stuffed Avocado with Tomato Salad: serves 2
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, chopped
few pitted black olives (opt)
juice of half a small lemon
olive oil (for drizzling)
salt and pepper
1 large avocado
2 tblsp hummous
toasted slices of baguette
Put the onion, tomatoes and olives into a bowl with most of the lemon juice. Drizzle with oil and add seasoning to taste, then toss together.
Cut the avocado in half and remove the stone. Brush the cut surface of the flesh with the remaining lemon juice (this prevents it from discolouring), and spoon the hummous into the cavity left by the stone. Scatter the tomato 'salad' on top and serve with toasted bread.

Tomorrow is Norma the Hair day, so this blog will probably be written after she has left (as I cannot see me getting up early!), so expect me to 'arrive' on your comp later than usual.
Still have loads to do in the kitchen, and also have to do a lot more work with my new 'blog' that should be almost ready by the end of this month (but expect it will be later rather than sooner my mind having gone rather blank - suppose this could be called 'cook's cramp' - and need to get back on track with that. Think life would be much simpler if I'd stuck to painting pictures!

Hope to hear from as many as you as possible over the next few days, as need to have some cheering words to lift my weary spirits. Yet am pleased I managed to accomplish what I did, and how I feel now is just the 'withdrawal symptoms'. By the end of this week it will feel as though it was all a dream and life will be back to boring normal. I can't wait? TTFN.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What's Next?

Took a load of photos, none of which are particularly interesting other than being examples of 'how to make the most of'...! Due to the fact I'd had a long day on Saturday (started cooking at 5.00am non-stop right through until, then an hour for packing into the boxes/car, then off to the venue, when there made sure the hotplates were on, food laid out, samosas/bhajis put in the oven to heat up, then the naan bread,) just took one pic at the venue - this below showing the 'extras' to go on the plates of rice (or naan) and curry served from the hatch. Then was able to have my first proper relaxing sit of the day.

More detailed pictures follow, but the display below shows some of the samosas on a hot plate at the left, a salad at the middle back with another hotplate with more samosas and spiced doughnuts, in front of these a bowl of lentil dhal on a hotplate, at the side a basket of poppadums, then you see a bowl of raita, in front of that a bowl of mango chutney, and finally - on the right the onion bhajis on another hotplate. It doesn't look a lot, but there was more in the kitchen to refill as necessary, and considering the diners would already have plenty of curry/rice on their plates not a lot of room left for much else (although this didn't stop them piling their plates sky high I noticed!)

The next pic shows a closer view of some of the onion bhajis, which stayed quite crisp even when cold, and would have eaten well like that, but decided to heat them up again in the oven, uncovered.Next pic. shows some of the samosas that were made with the very thinly rolled out puff pastry that I used as I'd run out of filo. I tried frying one but it didn't really work, so baked the rest in the oven, and I ate a small 'taster' and much preferred the puff pastry coating to the filo (which itself it good anyway). But to make them like this the pastry does need to be rolled out as thin as possible, and then have another go at rolling it even thinner! They reheated well.Below you can see the other samosas make using the filo. Also the little spicy 'doughnuts'. The latter should have been larger (the pack said it made 18), but I made the dough balls small and stuck the end of a wooden spoon through the centre to make the hole, and made about 30 of these. They were good dipped into a spoon of Raita.

I didn't take any photos of the sweets, they'd already been packed in 10 boxes to be given out to each table after the main meal. You've already seen the photos of some previously made, the remaining sweets were made later, these being stuffed dates, no-soak apricots dipped in melted chocolate (this then set), some lemon Turkish delight I had that I cut diagonally across (dipping the cut side into icing sugar), and to save me cooking had bought a cheap pack of own-brand Fig rolls, and cut each of the across into three 'slices'. Put two of everything into each paper-lined box and they looked very good. Despite them being very sweet, it seemed everyone ate most of them (gave the 'left-overs' to Eileen to take home).

This next lot of photos might be boring, but to me essential to show savings that can be made. The first pic being a plate of cauliflower. Not the florets (we all know what they look like) but the inner ribs from those outer leaves that are around the 'head' when we buy them (from the supermarket). I cut away the green bits, then cut the ribs into chunks. Also cut some chunks from the main core. All this from one large cauliflower. Experience has shown me that these pieces of cauli (that most people throw away) have loads of flavour and cook down to tender and as far as I was concerned these 'bulked up' the veggie curry nicely.
The vegetable curry was made from chunks of new potatoes (being waxy these don't collapse when cooking a length of time), sweet potatoes, courgettes, red bell peppers, cauliflower (florets and 'chunks'), onions (of course), and also added cooked chickpeas. Decided not to use the butternut squash as there was plenty made. Added crumbled Paneer cheese when reheating, plus green string beans.
Behind the plate of 'cauli-chunks' you can see a bowl of chunks of chicken cut from the thighs once skinned and bones.

We now see some of the chicken thighs before being boned and skinned. It took me some time to bone them once the skin was removed, also had to trim off excess fat. These were bought in (3)packs of eight, and although was intending to chuck away skins/bones, decided to put these into a pan with the tops and tails of the carrots and the tops and tails and outer layer of onions, plus a celery stump I had in the fridge, and with a couple of bay leaves and covered with water simmered this for an hour to discover it made a great and 'free' chicken stock that set to a firm jelly. It just shows that just chicken bones from the joints are worth saving (who needs a whole carcase?). The stock had a good layer of chicken fat on top once cooled (this from the fat in the skins) that again is very useful as it can be used for frying or when making pastry for a chicken pie. Onions were needed in plenty and I was lucky in this past week being able to get two bags of cooking onions for £2 (total). You can see the amount of onions from just one bag (didn't need to use the second, there was enough for the curries AND bhajis). The two red onions I added to the big tray as these would be needed for the salad.
Have to say it took me some time to peel all the onions and then cut in half and finely slice. Don't know why I didn't used the food processor to slice them, but did it all by hand. In some ways this sitting down to prepare veg myself find very therapeutic. Having said that, the amount of prep involved to get everything ready took HOURS (over a week), the actual assembly took very few minutes.Made about 40 naan bread (forget to take a photo of these) and these were very good, only the 'servers' at the venue forgot to keep them covered after removing from the oven (where I'd put them between layers of wet greaseproof to keep them soft) so they dried out. Even though not my fault I was a bit annoyed about that. However, only found about five left in the kitchen at the end of the evening, so they'd probably dried out more by then.

Have to say the mango chutney was (although I say it myself) absolutely gorgeous. When made (in my slow-cooker) it did taste a bit 'vinegary', but OK. The recipe used said 'store for at least a week before using' and as I'd made it early the previous Saturday, it was a few hours over the week and when I spooned it into the dish had a taste and there was no vinegar flavour left at all. It was just absolutely wonderful. Was surprised to see it all went, so will now be making more for our own use.

The salad was really quite good. I'd finely shredded, then diced an iceberg lettuce, to this was added two seeded and finely diced cucumbers, ditto red bell peppers, celery, red onion, and all tossed together. I could have added a little sugar to help bring out flavours, also some desiccated coconut, but didn't (well if truth be told - forgot), but it looked good and ate well with the curryies. The Raita was just home-made Greek yogurt with skinned and seeded cucumber cut into tiny chunks, with a little sugar added).

When the serving started I watched to see how it all went, and was alarmed to see how the first few (men of course!!) seemed to be helping themselves to more than one of everything. But the ladies were more controlled and other than the lamb curry being more popular than the chicken (and I'd made more chicken because I thought this would be the other way round), and as several people had come for 'seconds' both the meat curries ran out with about six people left to serve (these being the club 'committee' who were doing the serving of the food and at the bar), but fortunately I'd also taken a 'back-up' of Beef Jalfrezi, cooked in our slow cooker and plugged in to keep hot whilst there, so that saved the day. The only thing left was a small amount of vegetable curry and some rice (plus a few naan), plus a little beef Jalfrezi.

I couldn't face eating anything myself during the evening (as I'd been 'tasting' all day), although did managed to work my way through a small tub of 'Bombay Mix' that I'd made up for diners to nibble as they sat down to wait for the meal. As I said to Eileen, "I just fancy a Spam sandwich", and when I got home made myself one (well a couple actually) and thoroughly enjoyed it. By then so wide awake that I stayed up until 4.00am, then went to bed, only to be wakened by B at 8.45am 'ready for when Gill phones'. After her call, I went into the living room, sat down and promptly fell asleep until lunch-time, then got myself a cut of coffee, then napped again during the afternoon. By the evening was wide awake so watched lots of food progs. on More 4 (is it?) after B went to bed (Hugh F.W. and Heston B et al), and then I watched 'Father Ted' and again went to bed at 4.00am. But this morning am about back to normal. Just don't expect me to chat about curry for a while.

Thanks for your recommendations for where to eat in Cumbria Campfire. Pleased you thought the sweets looked good, and as they were 'Indian' inspired were supposed to be very sweet and sticky. Have to say they were very 'moreish'.

Am so sorry your holiday in Scarborough was so wet Jane. Especially after all the drought they've had in that region. Your mention of wishing you'd taken some things with you (for cooking purposes) has reminded me of the caravan holidays we took with the children many years ago. Almost all the 'equipment' provided was of the poorest kind (probably because anything better would have been taken by 'visitors'). So the knives and scissors were blunt, the tin-openers would barely work, the salt wouldn't flow (because sea air is so damp), and most of the (very few) pans were dented an 'wobbly'. I very quickly learned to take my own knives, scissors, tin-opener and sometimes an extra pan (plus dry salt and pepper), along with the 'necessary' foods to get us started. Our daughter came with us once, bringing her own choice of 'starter' canned foods etc, and we discovered we'd both chosen exactly the same things (cans of baked beans, chopped tomatoes, soups, tuna.... to name but a few!).

The loaf shown in a previous blog was the normal 2lb size, it just looks bigger than if cooked fully in the breadmaker as it was baked in an oblong loaf tin. The loaves baked in the machine come out more of an 'oblong square' if you know what I mean. When sliced these are too big to fit into our toaster, the reason why I prefer to bake bread in the oven in a loaf tin.

Well, that's about it for today. Sorry no shots of the actual curries, but we all know what they look like and have to say I very nearly forgot to take any photos because I was that busy (so am thankful I did remember). When costing it out, unbelievably the total for all the ingredients used came to a few pence under £60. Well under the £1.50 per head limit I'd set to feed 50. Just shows that when we are prepared to make as much as we can ourselves, it really does save a LOT of money.

Today I'll now have to start to put everything away, and probably re-organise the kitchen this week as I really must find room to put my new casserole pots and try and find somewhere to put my magnetic knife rack and get B to put up hooks to hang many utensils (that are normally kept in drawers or stuck in jars - and these take up too much space on the top of the units). I've so many bit and pieces regularly used, and often they are put back (and not by me) in the wrong place. I had to hunt for AGES to find some table salt on Saturday, and finally found it in the living room where B had sprinkled it over a slug (and of course left the salt there and not put it back). Also with B being out all Saturday, I had to keep doing the washing up throughout the day (and what a lot of it there was!). Am I glad it is now all over and a new week has begun.

Must thank Eileen for her nice words. Hope she really did enjoy the meal and was not just being kind. There are times I doubt my ability to cook well. Especially at times like the above.

Am looking forward to your comments, and getting back to the routine 'chat' tomorrow. See you then.