Sunday, January 06, 2013

Taste of Things to Come

The now almost certain rise in food prices due to bad weather causing crop failures  (and globally, not just in this country) made depressing reading.  Even so, we should still remember we are already spoilt for choice when it comes to the food on sale in supermarkets et al, and those that are old enough to remember war-time rationing would tell you that we really need very little food to still manage to stay healthy. 

As I mentioned yesterday, feel that we are becoming a bit too obsessed about food, our likes and dislikes, and eating mainly for the pleasure.  Is it time now to stand back and think less about the joys of eating, and more about eating only what is good for us, and not necessarily a lot of that? It could could cost us a lot less, and we would end up much healthier.

Easy enough to say that, but each time we hear more gloom and doom - and believe me we've had a lot of this over the past months - we become more depressed, and one of the best ways to give ourselves a bit of a lift is 'eat for comfort'.   We can see changes in the way we now do this, instead of 'eating out' we now 'dine-in', and more and more people are beginning to bake cakes and biscuits, and - hopefully - cook savoury dishes too.  The more we can make ourselves, the less it costs (compared to buying it ready-made), so at least some of the population will be able to reduce their food budget (or at least keep their heads above water) once they begin to cook from scratch.

But what about us busy bees who are already scraping the barrel, cooking and making just about everything we can?  Are there any more holes in our belts left so we can tighten it still further?  The short answer is "yes", for not only are our belts seemingly endless, they are also 'stretchable'.  So we still are able to tighten, and then tighten even more.  

Myself have learned always to look ahead, work out what could rise in price (due to crop failures) and then buy now to store, or decide to use other products/foods instead.   At this moment in time am thinking about buying a few extra packs of frozen veggies (or canned) to keep in store for these will still be at the 'old price' (packed before crop failures), later this year they will probably be in short supply, and/or certainly more expensive.  Even so, sooner or later we will end up having to pay the higher prices, unless we - in the meantime - can dig up a bit more of the garden and grow our own (keeping our fingers crossed the current climate will allow us to). 

Another way to be able to pay for the higher priced items is to cut out those that are unnecessary - such as non-foods like cleaning items.  Many of these can be quite costly but extremely cheap when home-made, and often better.   Some 'recipes' to make our own will be given over the next few days, and for those who are attempting my current challenge (use what we have) this 'urban self-sufficiency' (looks like being another challenge about to start) could begin to make a vast difference in our approach to both cooking AND cleaning.

You are quite right Les with your suggestion to leave at least some space in the freezer to allow for storing home-mades.  Although this would be more for a labour/time saving reason rather than any other, as given the choice as to whether to fill a gap with (say) meat bought at half-price, or a couple of home-made ready-meals, to me it makes sense to buy the meat.  I can always make meals 'on the day'.  What I have found IS useful is to pre-cook raw minced meat (it could be frozen then thawed) and after cooking, freeze it in small containers to use later.  Cooking meat in bulk saves fuel (especially in a crock-pot) and as the meat is already cooked, once thawed whatever meal is made from it also can be cooked in less than the recommended time. Again saving fuel.

The other comment Les made is also very true, after 3 months we begin to lose some of the quality and flavour of the foods frozen.  Although most of us would probably not notice the difference, and many foods are able to be frozen satisfactorily for up to a year, it still makes sense not to use our freezers to 'hoard' foods, but to keep using and keep replacing, making sure we eat in date order (so we should also date our home-frozen as well as writing on the name).

A welcome (or is it welcome back?) to Theresa (USA) who would like some tips on making puff pastry.  Firstly, to make the puff pastry successfully takes a lot of time, as basically it is a 'starter' pastry, spread with butter, then folded into three and then chilled.  Rolled out, spread again with butter, folded and chilled, and this repeated many times, until it ends up with many extremely thin layers of pastry/butter.  Even many of our well-known TV chefs admit to buying the ready-made puff pastry.   Myself have never bothered to make it, but a home-made 'flaky' or 'ruff-puff' is a little similar, but will not give quite the same height and lightness.

Your slow-temperature setting on your oven Jane.W. sounds very useful and am sure would work as well as a slow-cooker, especially if you make sure your lids are tight-fitting.  In the old days (and even now) many cooks 'seal' their lids by making a flour and water dough, rolling it into a rope and fitting this round the top of the casserole before clamping the lid down.  The heat of the oven cooks the dough and seals the casserole base and lid together.  Another way is to place a 'cartouche' on top of the ingredients in the pot.  This being nothing more than a circle of greaseproof paper or baking parchment, cut to the exact size of the pan, and when resting on top of the contents, keeps the liquid from evaporating.
An oven thermometer is always useful to check the exact heat of an oven - especially useful when cooking at very low temperatures.

Low-temperature cooking is an excellent way to cook almost any tender cut of beef, lamb or pork.  First the outside of the meat has to be sealed over high heat (in a pan on the hob) then roasted in the oven for a long period.  A meat thermometer is really essential as it is necessary to make sure the (internal) meat reaches the correct temperature.
Anyone who has ordered meat (beef/lamb etc) from Donald Russell will probably have received (free) their booklet on the various types of cooking.  Their low-temperature section shows the timings for many cuts of beef, lamb, veal and pork all - after searing - cooked at 80C.  Depending on the cut, this can take anything from 45mins (steaks) to 4 hours (shoulder of lamb).  The recommended internal temperature varies only slightly (again depending upon cut) between 60C and 70C (beef and lamb). Pork being between 70C and 72C. 

The advantage with slow cooking (especially when cooking something special like lamb racks, is that when entertaining, there is no need to be glued to the kitchen.  Low-temperature cooked meat does not need to be rested before being carved or served, large cuts can also be kept warm for up to an hour in the oven (smaller cuts for half an hour) as long as the temperature is reduce to 60C once the internal temp. Very useful if guests arrive later than expected. 
Having cooked lamb racks by the above method when entertaining some months ago (and this was the first time I attempted it), have to say the results were outstanding, the lamb still faintly pink in the centre and extremely tender. 

Think cornbread has to be an acquired taste Lisa, as it is something that doesn't seem popular in the UK. Or maybe we just haven't got the knack of making it correctly.  Also we are not so familiar with using chilli peppers - certainly not the variety that seem to be used in the US, and - as with so many 'ethnic' ingredients - it takes more than one to 'lift' the flavour of another.  Cold cornbread spread with butter (as we eat Madeira cake), is probably not the way to go.  Warm cornbread with selected chilli peppers sounds a lot better.  But - as yet - not the type of cuisine we Brits have become used to.
By the way, my back is now back to normal.  Forgot to mention it, being late starting and finishing yesterday. Forgot quite a few things I meant to 'chat' about, and have still not remembered them.

Thanks Anonymous for mentioning that we can read the Daily Mail for free (on the Internet). It's just not the same as reading the real thing in our easy chair, my B reading the paper whilst I do the crossword and sudoku (centre pages of the paper handed to me) - or vice versa.  
If we have to reduce costs, one of the first things we could do is fetch the paper from the newsagent instead of having it delivered (saves delivery costs), the next thing we could do is cancel the weekly paper (relying on TV news to catch up with the important things in life), and maybe just have a Sunday paper with its TV supplement.  Then give up the paper altogether and rely on TV for the news (but then no crosswords or sudoku to keep my brain active!!).  At least at our age we don't have to pay for a TV licence or we might have to give that up as well.  Perhaps time for me to buy myself a radio, at least that would keep me company whilst in the kitchen.  I always used to play Radio 4 when in Leeds.  I miss it.  Goodness knows what has happened to 'The Archer's, by now tI listened to every episode since Grace got burned to death, until we moved to Morecambe. Is Phil Archer still ploughing the fields and scattering?

What happens if people don't have a TV?  Can they - without needing a licence - still watch repeats on their computer via the terrestial channel iPlayers?

However much we (older) Brits seem to prefer to be stuck in our ruts when it comes to traditional dishes, with many more ethnic recipes being published, and an almost global variety of foods now available to us, we should have no difficulty in making dishes from every country of the world.  Many - of course - we would not enjoy eating (some cultures eat snakes, dogs, sheep's eyes...), but there are some extremely tasty meals we could enjoy.  The one great thing about 'foreign food' is that many countries are extremely good at turning a little of what is available (due mainly to poverty)  - into something worth eating.

An early finish today as Gill will be phoning shortly and I've just remembered I've got to make a start on something else as soon has her call has finished.  Will be back again tomorrow with more recipes. Hope to see you then.