Sunday, January 13, 2013

Keeping Warm

Frosty night last night.  Am hoping it will snow today.  Better at the weekend than a workday I suppose, and am being selfish anyway as I just love to see the snow.  It's the child in me.  Don't think I've ever grown up!

Was thinking (again!) yesterday about the 'recommended' room temperatures, at least for us elderly folk, and have to say that I am of the opinion that we do tend to coddle ourselves too much, for in 'the old days' (like when I was a girl), when we had very cold winters, no central heating and - during the war, fuel was rationed - we had to make do huddled round a coal fire (most of the heat from that escaping up the chimney).  We kept warm by wearing layers of clothing.  In my case a vest, topped by a Liberty bodice, then a petticoat, a warm skirt and a real wool jumper.  There is nothing like real wool to keep us warm, man-made yarns today don't come close. 

When the heating broke down in classrooms and workplace, even in the depths of winter, we still had to work, wearing our overcoats, scarves and mittens.  If this happened now, everyone would have to be sent home, for we are not 'allowed' to work at temperatures below that deemed fit.  Probably rules and regs set by the Environmental Health, but have to say that perhaps they would do us more favours if they reduced the temperature slightly - then our bodies would work more naturally, burning off the excess food eaten (that is now causing obesity), and we would become more healthy.

Don't fret Alison, I do make sure I am sitting comfortably in our cold room.  Even at such a low temperature, it's still a darn sight warmer than the rooms I used to live in when smaller, and even when married (the only heating for our three bedroomed house was one fire in the living room - this having to be lit each day), it was common to wake to see the most beautiful frost patterns (looked like fern leaves) on the bedroom windows each morning.  None of us seemed to suffer because of the extreme cold.  It was just a matter of wearing the right clothes and eating the right food.

It's surprising how a brisk walk outdoors each afternoon with our three small children (all well wrapped up to keep out the cold) - even in the snow - kept us all warm.  The more exercise we have the warmer we ge (must try it sometime).  Returning to what was a cold house, this then felt relatively warm once we stepped indoors. 
For the children, a hot meal, later followed by a hot bath, then into bed (warmed with hot-water bottles), with flannellette sheets, a couple of blankets, a quilt on top, all comfily tucked in.  Hardly had time to read the bed-time story before they fell asleep.
This might seem like discomfort to those used to central heating, TV and duvets, but believe me, I'd give anything to return to those time (as long as I was the age I was then).

Soup seems to take priority at the moment, and as I've said before, there is nothing like a bowl or mug of hot soup to warm us up.  Add chilli and this becomes even more warming as well as adding that 'feel-good' factor.

Here is a recipe that is more a 'meal in a mug' than bog-standard 'soup'.  This is a good way to use up some left-over cooked (pref roast) beef.  Use less liquid and more meat,  and it is almost a chilli-con-carne.  In fact we could make a big batch, strain it through a sieve, then drink the liquid as soup, and eat the 'solids' the next day as a chilli-con-leftovers.   Myself like to add a teaspoon of sugar when making chilli - otherwise the tomatoes can make the dish taste a bit acidic.  As chocolate - used in this recipe - does have a sugar content, it should not be necessary to use both.
This 'soup' can be made up to a day ahead and kept chilled to be reheated (thoroughly).

Chilli-con-carne Soup: serves 6
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 tsp chilli powder (or to taste)
8 oz (225g) minced cooked beef
1 x 410g can chopped tomatoes
1 good tsp tomato puree (opt)
1.25 pints (799ml) hot beef or chicken stock
2 squares plain chocolate (opt - but see above)
salt and pepper
grated hard cheese, for serving
Fry the onion in the oil for a few minutes until softened, stirring in the garlic and chilli past towards the end, then add the minced meat.  Cook for five minutes before adding the beans, tomatoes, tomato puree (if using), the stock, chocolate and plenty of seasoning (to taste).  Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.   Serve in mugs, scatting the cheese on top.

French Onion soup - made with beef stock - is a classic dish and makes really good eating. No reason why we couldn't make something similar using our home-made chicken stock.  However, this version is very 'British', almost with a 'Ploughman's Lunch' flavour.  All we need is a bit of pickle spread on an extra slice of bread, sniff the aroma, and we could almost be back working in the hay-fields.
The soup can be made up to the end of the 40 minutes simmering, and can then be frozen for up to 2 months.  Add the topping once thawed and reheated.
As the 'cheese on toast' ends up floating on top of the soup, it is best to use either slices cut from a French stick or baguette, so the bread fits nnside the soup bowlsT.  We could use a normal 'British' loaf (pref the round farmhouse type), or cut circles from a square slice using a scone cutter. 

British Onion Soup: serves 4
2 oz (50g) butter
2lb 4oz (1kg) onions, finely sliced
1 tblsp caster sugar
1 tsp thyme leaves, chopped
salt and pepper
5 fl oz (150ml) cider
1.75 fl oz (1 litre) vegetable stock
4 thick slices of bread
4 oz (100g) mature Cheddar cheese, grated
handful parsley leaves, chopped
Heat half the butter in a saucepan, then add the onions, sugar and herbs.  Season well, then cook over low heat, uncovered, for up to 40 mins, until the onions are sticky and brown.   Add the cider and simmer until reduced by half, then add the stock.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
To serve the soup, spread the bread on both sides with the remaining butter, then toast under a pre-heated (high) grill until golden.  Scatter the cheese on top, and put back under the grill  to cook until the cheese has melted. 
Ladle the soup into individual bowls, each with a slice of the 'cheese on toast' floating on the top, finishing with a sprinkle of parsley (if using).

It seems common today to add fresh coriander when making carrot soup (using this herb).  Myself prefer to use the dried coriander seeds, sold as spice that is often added to curries.  If we grow our own coriander, maybe from seed or buy one of those 'growing pots' of the herb from the supermarket, always allow it to run to seed, then save these seeds to dry and use as a spice.  Neither B nor I like the flavour of the fresh herb, but really do enjoy that from its dried seed.  So here is a recipe for a soup using dried coriander, where myself would omit using the fresh and adding another tsp (or more) of the dried spice.  It's up to you whether you use one or the other, or - as in the recipe - use both.

Carrot and Coriander Soup: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 potato, chopped
1 lb (450g) carrots, chopped
2 pints (1.2 ltrs) vegetable or chicken stock
handful of fresh coriander (opt)
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onions for a few minutes until softened.  Stir in the ground coriander and potato and fry for a further minute.  Add the carrots and stock, bring to the boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the carrots are tender.
Cool slightly, then tip into a food processer (with the fresh coriander if using) and blitz until smooth (you may need to do this in batches).  Return to the pan and reheat, adding seasoning to taste. Serve hot in individual bowls.

Final recipe today is for a cornbread. Not something I would be making regularly, but as it would eat well with the chilli-con-'soup', it makes a change from eating 'normal' bread, so worth giving it an airing, especially as it can be made using ingredients many of us normally keep in store (well, I do anyway). If you haven't buttermilk, use natural yogurt.  Note: Cornbread is best always served and eaten warm.

Cornbread: serves 6
2 oz (50g) butter
1 small onion, finely chopped or grated
8 oz (225g) fine cornmeal
5 oz (150g) plain flour
1 tblsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 x 284g cartons buttermilk (see above)
2 eggs
Melt the butter in a pan, add the onions and cook gently for about 5 minutes until softened.
Meanwhile, put the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl, and mix together.  In another bowl beat together the buttermilk and eggs, then stir in the onions.  Pour this 'wet' over the 'dry' and mix together until well combined.
Pour this batter into a greast 9" (23cm) cake tin, level the surface and bake at 230C, 450F, gas 8 fir 25 minutes until golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out.  Cut into wedges, then serve.

Another late finish today as I forgot Gill was phoning, so had to wait until she had completed her call before I could return to this page (having been unable to find what I'd already written as blogger have changed their settings and I now cannot find out how to reach the page where the previous posting and current 'draft' are kept.  This only comes up when I've just published a new blog. 

Anyway, managed to remember most of what I'd already written (not worth remembering anyway as per usual, but hope the recipes are useful).  Now off to the kitchen to listen to my new radio.  Was a bit disappointed with it as although 'digital', it can only receive a few stations set to this, Radio 4 not being one of them.  But did - eventually - managed to tune into Radio 4 using the FM setting. 

It really does make a difference having something to listen to whilst working in the kitchen, I suppose hearing voices, even if not necessarily concentrating on what they are saying, is comforting.  It can be very lonely when we hear no sounds, and probably why I enjoy having the TV switched on (B hardly ever talks, and between silences usually nods off anyway). 

In the old days, before TV and radio, people used to make 'background noise', by playing a musical instrument, and - when living alone - at least had a canary singing its little heart out, and a loudly ticking clock (traditionally a grandfather clock).  Have you noticed we can get so used to a clock ticking that we never hear it, only aware it ever ticked when suddenly stops?
A dog or a cat make good 'company' for single folk (young or old) as they can be 'talked to'.  I miss the pets we always seemed to have, and now finding I've got to the stage of talking to myself because the silence is too much to bear.  My B only likes to talk when he chooses the subject. If I run more than three words together he 'blanks out'.
Now things will change, no longer do I need to watch so much TV (that means I'll be moving around more -which I need to do), and I can beaver away in the kitchen, engrossed in listing to the 'wireless' - as I still like to call it.

Have a good day, and hope to 'meet' up with you again tomorrow.  See you then.