Monday, February 04, 2013

Food For All Seasons

Whether a 'welcome' or 'welcome back' to Muppet, am not sure.  But either way would like to say thanks to her for sending for my three ( BBC) books.  Do hope she enjoyed reading them and they prove useful.

You are giving us a real understanding of Malaya, Noor.  Loved reading about the foods that are available to you, many similar to ours, but envy your - what we call 'exotic' - fruits.   Your understanding of the English language is better than many who live over here, and although we enjoy listening to regional accents,  with many youngsters today (all parts of the country) grammar and spelling seems to have flown out of the window. 

Mind you, myself never came to understand the finer points of the English language grammar, for instance should I say: "I've only got £1 left" - or "I've got only £1 left", or "I've got left only £1" - and does it really matter?), so often make mistakes myself (apologies always for that), and it is surprising how many people we see on TV (some of them even presenters) now 'don't talk proper' (as we - incorrectly - say today). 

Food eaten in many countries of our globe differs mainly according to the climate (and supply).  So here in the northern hemisphere, especially the cooler parts of Europe, we tend to eat 'warming foods', especially in winter when they are also very 'filling', as these help to keep us warm.  Nature seems to have sensibly arranged that the right foods grow in the right place, to be harvested and eaten at the right time of year.
In warmer areas the meals tend to be much lighter, although a spicy 'hot' dish like curry may warm us Brits up in a cold climate, elsewhere, when the temperatures are in the 100Fs, a highly spiced curry dish would make others perspire, and this helps the body to cool down.

Have to say I've never found the more northern European dishes ( Polish, Hungarian, Russian...etc) not very tempting, although have to admit not to trying many, but have an idea from reading through a recipe what they would taste like.  To be fair, some of our British dishes probably don't seem very appetising to folk from other countries.
Myself enjoy beetroot soup, but other 'northern ethnic' foods (now available in all supermarkets due to people from E.Europe flooding the country to work here), really don't tempt me.  Maybe it is the labelling, or not understanding the foreign language printed on the cans/packets.  Did once buy and try a can of sauerkraut (traditionally enjoyed by Germans I believe) and absolutely HATED it. But then a lot of canned foods don't taste anything like the orginal when made from scratch. Theonly way to get the true and full flavour of any meal from any country is to make it yourself, using the correct ingredients..
Is this dislike of north European 'foreign' food, just me being stubborn, or could it be I'm missing eating something good.  Let me know what you think.  You may have sampled some and liked it - a lot..

Am surprised that anyone who lives in a warmer country is interested in traditional foods from the UK for our traditional winter dishes must seem very 'stodgy', however we do now seem to have veered more to making and eating dishes from other parts of the world (mainly warmer climes) now that all the ingredients needed seem to be sold in supermarkets, and how we enjoy them.  As I discovered at the start of this year we went back to cooking a 'Sunday roast' and then using the 'left-overs' to make most of the meals during the week following.  Couldn't believe how much I (and probably B also) missed being able to eat a rice or pasta based dish, or even a salad.

My high-protein 'diet' seems to be working well.  At the moment am seeing a 2lb loss each day, and considering I'm not starving myself, this is good news.  Yesterday ate some of the quiche I had made (for breakfast), and yes, this did have a little carbo (pastry), but as it had a very deep filling (cheese, cream, eggs...) hoped it would be OK, the other 'meals' eaten were a cuppa soup at lunchtime, and a reasonable amount of cold, roast (skinless) chicken with tomatoes for supper.  Plus a navel orange.  So obviously the small amount of pastry didn't stop the weight loss.

One very interesting thing I realised when eating the quiche was discovering something special about its flavour.  It tasted as though smoked bacon had been added (as in a Quiche Lorraine) but none had been. It was just different cheeses, ricotta cheese, eggs and milk (all well seasoned and then baked in a pastry case).
Realised then this must have been because I had included a lump of smoked Cheddar when grating up the other cheeses (Red Leicester, mature Cheddar, Double Gloucester, and Lancashire), and although this was a much smaller piece of cheese compared to each of the others, it packed a punch when it came to the smoky flavour although a slice, eaten in the normal way, didn't taste THAT smoky. So, obviously when heated, the 'smokiness' must have increased and mixed with the other cheeses, helped to spread the 'flavour' throughout.  This has to be a great way for vegetarians to get a 'taste of bacon' without actually using any.  In future I'll be buying more of this smoked cheese to add to quiches (the smoky cheese above ordered along with the organic veggie box from Riverford, well before Christmas (and hidden under something else until discovered at the weekend).

Today am going to make B an 'oriental' type meal as have quite a few packs of pork chops in the freezer (included in an offer from Donald Russell bought some many months ago).  As I have all the makings (but not pork fillet, am using pork chops, bone and fat removed), am giving the recipe as others may like to give it a try.
Most recipes still seem to use more meat than is really necessary (the recommended amount being 100g (3.5oz) of raw meat per person per day), the recipe below is about right, but even then we could reduce the amount and make up the shortfall with more veggies, especially if we eat other protein-packed foods (eggs, milk...) during the day.
You will note that canned plum tomatoes are suggested, these then to be chopped (or blitzed in a food processor).  Reason why I prefer to use plum tomatoes is that they have a lot more flavour than the canned already-chopped.  Your choice according to what you want to use up.   
Although this recipe serves 8, worth making this amount (up to the point of adding the cornflour) as this dish is able to be frozen. Thaw, reheat and then add the proportionate amount of cornflour to thicken just before serving.
If you have any pineapple syrup left over, this is worth freezing as it can be used later to add to another home-made sweet and sour sauce, or as the liquid part of a bowl of fresh fruit salad (or use to make up a jelly - just don't throw it AWAY!).

Sweet and Sour Pork: serves 8
2 tblsp sunflower oil
2 x 14 oz (400g) packs pork fillet, or lean pork, cut into slices/strips
2 large onions, cut into chunks
1 x 454g can pineapple chunks in syrup
2 tblsp tomato ketchup
1 x 400g can plum tomatoes, chopped (see above)
half pint (300ml) chicken stock
1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half
2 tsp cornflour
Heat one tblsp of the oil in a deep frying pan and fry the pork for 5 minutes until golden (it will carry on cooking later). You will probably need to do this in batches.  Remove from pan using a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the remaining oil to the pan and fry the onions for 5 minutes until beginning to soften.  Drain the pineapple (reserving the syrup) and add the pineapple chunks to the pan with 3 tblsp of the syrup, the ketchup, plum tomatoes (chopped), stock and the cinnamon.   Bring to the boil, then simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes until the sauce has begun to thicken.
Spoon half of the suace into a container and add half the pork to this (or pack in individual servings).  Then freeze.  Thaw, reheat and continue cooking as below.
To continue cooking the remainder in the pan (or thawed and reheated)  add the other half of the pork, and simmer for another 5 or so minutes (depending on the pork used, make sure it is cooked through).  Mix the cornflour with a little cold water and add to the pan, stirring until thickened.   Serve with rice. 

Couscous is a favourite grain of mine, although avoiding it at the moment (as it's a carbo). However, there are readers who can and will enjoy eating a dish such as the one given.  Chorizo is a favourite 'spiced meat' of mine, but salami or other spiced meats, or perhaps Toulouse sausage or smoked bacon could be used instead.  The advantage of using chorizo is that - as it fries -, it releases all the lovely paprika flavoured oils, that then add more flavour to the other ingredients.
This could well be another meal that is able to make the best use of what we have.
Chorizo, Chickpeas and Couscous: serves 4
9 oz (250g) couscous
half pint (300ml) boiling water
2 tblsp olive oil
7 oz (200g) chorizo, sliced or chopped
1 onion, sliced
1 tsp paprika
1 x 400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
half pint (300ml) hot chicken stock
chopped fresh parsley (opt)
Put the couscous into a bowl and pour over the boiling water (for safety pour directly from the kettle). Cover with clingfilm and leave to stand whilst preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the chorizo for 3 - 4 minutes so that it releases its lovely flavour, then - using a slotted spoon - remove and set aside.  Add the onion to the oils in the pan and cook for 5 or so minutes until softened, then stir in the paprika, the chickpeas and the stock.  Bring to the boil, add the chorizo, then simmer for a couple of minutes.
Fluff the couscous up with a fork, pile this into a warmed shallow serving bowl (or individual bowls), and top with the chickpea and chorizo mixture (including the liquids). Garnish with parsley (if using).  Serve immediately.

There was a recent comment from a reader who enjoyed smoked haddock, but she was now finding this too expensive to eat regularly.  Why is it the food we enjoy we can now barely afford? Life is not fair.
Myself really love the flavour of this smoked fish, and include it in as many recipes as I can, but usually in small amounts as a little can go a long way in a dish such as kedgeree, chowder, or a fish risotto. 
Rather like the smoked cheese (mentioned above), the smoky flavour of the haddock can spread through the whole dish, so we could use less smoked haddock and make up the weight by using the much cheaper 'white fish' fillets.  It works. I've tried it.

When smoked haddock is first poached (in water or milk) this liquid gathers a lot of the 'smoky fish' flavour, so - at a pinch - we could use this stock with the cheaper 'white fish' fillets alone, and pretend we've got 'the real thing'. Worth freezing this 'smoky fish stock' if it cannot be used in the dish being made.

Although I often mention the recommended amount of meat protein we should have, not a lot has been said about fish, this being half as much again as meat (fish = 6 oz/175g per serving), but not always necessary to use so much (as with the recipe below), and instead of using all smoked haddock in this dish, we could again use less and include another, cheaper, fish (and/or prawns).

The sweetcorn used in this dish is fresh or frozen, and if you choose to use canned kernels, then these could be added towards the end of the cooking time.
Smoked Haddock Chowder: serves 4
14 oz (400g) smoked haddock fillets
1 bay leaf
1.5 pts (850ml) milk
1 oz (25g) butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tblsp plain flour
1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and chopped (opt)
pinch paprika
8 oz (225g) floury potatoes, diced
4 oz (100g) sweetcorn kernels
chopped fresh parsley (opt)
Put the fish in a frying pan with the bay leaf and the milk. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat, cover and remove from heat.  Leave to stand for 10 minutes.  Lift out using a slotted spoon (reserve milk). Remove skin and any bones, then flake the fish.
Melt the butter in a large pan, add the onions and saute gently for about 4 minutes until softened, then stir in the flour, cook/stir for one minute, then add the garlic (if using) and bell pepper and stir/fry for a further 5 minutes before adding the potatoes and paprika.  Add the reserve poaching liquid (milk) and bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, then add the sweetcorn and cook for a further five minutes.  Remove from heat and carefully fold in the flakes of fish***.  Serve sprinkled with parsley (if using) and chunks of garlic or crusty bread.
***At this point the chowder can be frozen.  Pour into a rigid container and leave until cool, then cover and freeze for up to one month.  Defrost in fridge overnight, then gently reheat.  When ready to serve, sprinkle with the parsley garnish (if using).

Although I don't often give recipes to make the same dish twice on one day, am giving another version of the Chowder as this next one contains fewer ingredients, although more of some of them. When reading both recipes the temptation for me would be to 'mix and match', starting with the easier recipe then adding one or more of the ingredients from the other (bell peppers etc).  We could use fresh (cooked) sweetcorn, instead of using a can of creamed corn.  Far less milk is used with this recipe, and the fish is cooked directly in the dish (but could first be poached in the vegetable stock if you wish to use less smoked haddock but still keep all the flavour).  So really, these two recipes are thrown over to you to deal with how you wish. 

Smoked Haddock Chowder - take two: serves 4
2 onions, chopped
3 large potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 pint (600ml) vegetable stock
14 oz (400g) smoked haddock fillets, skinned
1 x 418g can creamed corn (see above)
milk, to taste
handful fresh parsley, chopped (opt)
Put the onions and potatoes into a large, deep frying pan (or saute pan). Add the stock, bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 6 - 8 minutes until the potatoes are soft but still a bit 'al dente'. Cut the haddock into chunks and add to the pan with the creamed corn and a little milk if you wish for a thick chowder.  If you wish for a thinner one, add more milk.
Simmer for 5 - 7 minutes, or until the fish is cooked (it should then flake easily). Ladle into individual soup bowls and sprinkle over the parsley (if using).

A query about using aubergines came in the other day, so have discovered another recipe where they can be used, and as this is a particularly 'healthy' dish, one worth making any time of the year (assuming aubergines are one of those veggies always on sale in the supermarkets).  Not a million miles away from the 'use aubergines instead of pasta' that Les suggested the other day.
Aubergine Bake: serves 4
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
2 medium aubergines, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
1 pint (600ml) tomatos pasta sauce or passata
2 tblsp fresh breadcrumbs
2 tblsp finely grated Parmesan cheese
basil leaves (opt)
Lightly brush the aubergine slices with the oil, place on a baking sheet and grill for a couple or so minutes on each side until softened.
Take a shallow, heat-proof dish and spoon half the pasta sauce over the base. Top with the aubergine slices, adding seasoning to taste, then cover with remaining pasta sauce.  Mix together he breadcrumbs and Parmesan and sprinkle this on top.  Cook in the oven (180C, 350F, gas 4) for 25 - 30 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.  Garnish with basil (if using) and serve.

That's it for yet another day.  Beloved has gone out to 'the shed' (part of the sailing clubhouse) where he is doing some DIY for the club.  This leaves me with the rest of the morning to myself, so may do a bit more baking, also preparing the sweet and sour pork supper, ready to cook. 

Must remember to listen to the repeat of The Food Programme (Radio 4) as I forgot on Sunday.  Believe this is about people who have to manage on just the State Pension.  As B and I have no income other than the S.P (give or take a few handouts by Ernie, and the extra fuel payment) this will be worth listening to.  Although - to set the matter straight - B does have small savings that he uses to run his car (but he does have a bus pass and a cycle, and I have Norris, so a car is not the be all and end all of life).  All the household bills (insurance, council tax, food, utilities, phone, broadband, newspapers, charity donations, clothes, gifts), all have to come out of the S.P.

Am sure it would be much harder to manage if living alone.  Presumably it would cost nearly as much to pay the bills where we live now (a one-bedroom apartment) if I had only  a single-person's pension, although there would be is a reduction on the council tax I believe, but then would lose half the fuel supplement we get now (still with as much house to heat).  So the programme is definitely one worth listening to. 
I've written the time it is to be broadcast in marker pen on the back of my left hand in the hope this will remind me. Also left a note on the kitchen table, close to the radio as another reminder.  But what's the betting I'll forget? For once I MUST try to remember.  Problem is, I've still not got use to having a radio, and at 3.30pm would probably be settling in my chair ready to watch a quiz programme (in the hope I will learn something).

From Wednesday we are due to have more bad weather, and gales (Wednesday is the day that B and our daughter are being 'bussed' to Barrow for their 'fitting' for the forthcoming filming, so at least that will give me most of that day on my own - yippee!).

Hope you can join me for our 'chat' tomorrow, if so - see you then.