Thursday, February 07, 2013

For Better, For Worse...

Strange how hearing an expression then leads me on to thinking more about the words themselves.  "For Better, for Worse.." is part of the marriage ceremony, but it could apply to almost anything. Obviously my thoughts went directly onto food (can I think of anything else these days?) and began to wonder if 'the best of the worst' was the same as 'the worst of the best'.   Could be, but also there could be a huge gap between them.   Suppose it all depends upon what we mean by 'best' and 'worst'.   Supermarkets believe that a lot of their fresh produce (the 'best': bell peppers, cauliflowers, carrots, etc.....) should all look identical, completely missing the point that we buy food for eating and that means we want good flavour, and these rarely have any.  The 'worst' fresh produce they sell will be second grade mis-shapes, but as these often taste as good as (or even better) than 'grade one', it makes sense to buy these.  We do have to pay more for the 'organics' which truly do have a lot more flavour than the 'cloned', although nutritionally there is little or no difference between the two.

Yesterday was able to watch a bit more cookery on TV as B was out until mid-evening, then he took over the remote and from then on it was a football match until (thankfully) Coronation Street.
Did at least manage to see some of the Hairy Bikers, but sadly had to shake my head and almost wag a finger at them when they showed a 'gourmet style' meal of something (forgotten what) and said it cost ONLY £3 a portion.  Possibly much cheaper than if eaten when 'dining out', but as I could make a three-course meal to serve four for that money, then was not impressed.  This is supposed to be a series about 'budget cooking', so either I've lost the plot and £3 now is not a lot of money to spend on a dish, or those that make the programme are so young as not to realise there are meals that are cheap to make and STILL taste and look good enough to serve to guests.

Rick Stein's programme was a delight.  I was especially interested as it was mainly about the foods of Malaysia.  He did return to Malacca for a short time, again speaking to Chef Wan.  I learned that the term 'Nonya' (mentioned yesterday) stood for the 'fusion food' of Malay/China cooking. 
There was a visit to Langkawi island where it was said that 70% of the local fish were (in 'nurseries').  A beautiful island surrounded mainly by mangrove swamps which had been found very useful as the mangroves dissipated the energy from tsunamis.

In one place (think Georgetown?), Rick S. - with a Malaysian girl (and how very attractive all the Malaysians are) - went to the local fish market where they bought a head of a grouper.  Just the head, but it was BIG. With this they made Fish Head Curry, and have to say, once the fish head had been split lengthways, then into chunks, it was amazing how much flesh there was there to be eaten.  Rick S. even said he enjoyed eating the fish eyes as they were "like jellied eels".

It always surprises me how so many Asian countries serve 'street food'.  There are streets full of little tables, each with a cook behind, making one thing or another to be bought and eaten on the spot, or whilst walking away.  We saw a Mr Lum in Penang, probably the last man to make spring roll pancakes, and he was so skilled at it.
One of the stalls sold Rice Noodle pancakes filled wtih a sweet pork and prawn filling (Cantonese), and another sold fried Chicken Feet that Rick found was a bit 'full of bones'.
Not sure if 'elf and safety' cover 'street food' in non Western countries.  As most foods are cooked/fried to order, there is little chance of anything going 'off'.   But with all the rules and regs in this country (seems we can't do anything now without having to conform to one rule or another - and not just with food), maybe 'street food' is something that is never likely to be on the same scale as in Asia.  Pity about that.

Mentions of the favourite foods of Malaysia I have to give as they sound, and hope that Noor can understand my Anglicised pronunciation.  One such dish sounded like 'Hockey and Me' - this being a dish of soup, a dish of noodles, you picked up the noodles and dipped them into the soup, then - using chopsticks - piled them into a spoon to eat.  That's how it looked anyway.

There was Roti Chani, a breakfast dish, and Nassi Pandar - this being curried pigeon, normally eaten with the fingers as originally a 'workers lunch'.
The most favourite dish of the region was said to be Beef Rendang, and in one small eating house, run by two sisters, Amy and Florence, we were able to see them cooking Spicy Chicken.  They said that always the dishes should be cooked gently, and with patience as this brings out the fragrance of the spices used, and that today people seem to want to spend as little time as possible when cooking.  So that's 'food for thought'.  Slow-cooking then doesn't just save labour, it also improves the flavour of whatever we cook.

Although most of the time in Malaysia, the sun was shining in a deep blue sky, one one day the heavens opened, and REALLY opened, the rain just poured down.  But as Rick Stein said, it usually only lasts a short time, then the sun comes out again.  Also the rain is warm, so as the weather is hot, it must be like taking a rather pleasant shower when caught in the rain.  However, it did seem to be somewhat of a humid climate, and that's something we are not used to in the UK.  Rain we ARE getting used to, but our rain is cold and we can easily get chilled if we get wet.

Most of the Malaysian dishes seem to have fish as their main ingredient, although some have chicken, and as Rick S. said, when he then ate a 'burger after a week of Malaysian food, the 'burger made him feel 'stodgy', so obviously the traditional food of the country makes for healthy eating.

As a late start to due Norma being here, had better now reply to comments. 
Thanks Kathryn for letting me know that Morrison's sell palm sugar, will look out for some next time we go.  In your second comment you told us about some great meat bargains, I'll be looking out for some of these as well.

Have heard of 'savoury ducks' Shayna, but can't recall seeing a recipe for them, will see if I can find one in an old 'farmhouse cook book', hen can let you know.

Not sure whether it is regional or nationwide Granny G. but many people do eat cheese (usually Cheddar, but sometimes Wensleydale cheese) with a slice of heavy fruit cake.  Also (pref. Wensleydale) cheese with apple pie.
Many baked sweet dishes and/or desserts are made with cheese, but these usually are the creamier cheeses such as curd cheese, cream cheese, Ricotta, or Mascarpone.  

My 'profession', Christopher, before I began my TV 'career', was a housewife and mother.  Never went out to work once the children were born, other than for a year as an evening barmaid when funds were short.  Actually money always was short, and sometimes non-existent, which is how I learned to cope on very little.
To cut a long story very short, once having to go without money for a month (other than a very little child benefit - and it WAS a little in those days, and was used for pocket money anyway), then taught myself to cook everything (including bread, pasta, even making cream, butter and soft cheese - we had a daily milk delivery in those days).  Why I did it I'll never know, but I wrote down exactly what I made and how each cost to make.  Then - at the end of the month - realised how much cheaper it was to cook/make almost everything at home, rather than buy ready made.
Sent a suggestion to 'Practical Self-sufficiency' mag that they might like to write about 'suburban self-sufficiency', and they asked me to write an article about what I'd done.  So I did.  Months later the BBC got in touch with me (their researchers had read it), and asked me to be in an 'Indoor, Outdoor' programme.  The cook in that series being Zena Skinner.  I was just to be 'a housewife who can show how she cooks a low-cost meal - this ended up being 'Party Food for 20p a head'.  

There were so many request for the recipes that the Beeb asked me back to do another programme in the series, with the same reaction, so eventually I several more, and this then led to my own series 'The Goode Kitchen', and from there many appearances on 'Pebble Mill at One', 'Bazaar', and several others.  Since I gave up TV (found the travelling too stressful), did many years of local radio, and wrote countless articles for most of the well-known magazines (including the 'glossies').  Plus almost weekly demonstrations around the country.  All good fun, but now am semi-retired, give just a few demos/talks, a bit of cooking-for-charity, and, of course, keeping my cookery interest going with this blog.  And before anyone thinks this is 'profitable' work - it isn't.  Most of the time only claim expenses.  My Golden Years came with TV work and the books, but then the annual amount earned, as a weekly 'wage' would barely keep me in paperclips.  True cookery is a 'labour of love' rather than a 'good earner', although many TV chefs now seem to manage to make millions.  But what would I do with money?  My whole 'reason to be' is how to live WITHOUT, not have a life of luxury.  Why?  Because it's much more fun, a lot more challenging, and certainly not boring.

Good to know that in Canada the cost of living seems less than it is here in the UK Margie.  As with most places, some things will be expensive, others will be cheaper.
Think the Japanese must have a love of our Western literature as Haworth (Yorkshire) home of the Brontes, always was chosen as one of the Japanese visitors  'must visit' places. Whenever we went there, there often seemed more Japanese than locals.
Possibly Stratford on Avon (home of Shakespeare) would be also.

I too read that Delia Smith will be hanging up her apron Diana, so perhaps Mary Berry will now be Queen of the Cooks.  Prefer her to Delia anyway as she seems more 'approachable'. 

Unfortunately Sairy, we don't have Sky, (Christopher mentioned Youtube but not sure what that is) we have to rely on Freeview to watch TV (and can only get some of those channels), so being able to see repeats of old favourite TV progs is something we can't do.  Sometimes I look on the Sky listings in our TV supplement to see what is being shown, and think perhaps it's as well we can't receive them for I'd never be away from the screen.  It's taken me weeks to wean myself off the Food Network, and now watch that only occasionally.

With the late start, think I'll leave giving recipes until tomorrow and say my farewells for today.  Hope you will be able to join me again tomorrow, if so - see you then.  Enjoy your day.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Shirley for answering my questions, so very interesting to hear how the Beeb found you, and how much work you did on TV etc.


1:10 p.m.  
Blogger Noor Baizura said...

Hi Shirley,

Apologize for the alternate posts replies. I have been quite busy writing my thesis, and then reading because I thought I do not have enough information to write, and then writing again.

I will try to answer each of your queries:

From yesterday's post: (I have no idea when did your Today become our Yesterday, but I gather I haven't missed much.)

1. Brinjal - Aubergine. I use fresh raw Aubergine instead of the pickled ones mentioned by another commenter in the dhal recipe.

2. "Nyonya" dishes are one of the more distinct of the combination between different cultures. I spent two days backpacking in Malacca last year and I could not even cover the whole city, as there are abundant historical sites. Chef Wan is our famous chef who goes around the world to taste and then cook the dishes in many of his cooking shows. I think the salad with shrimp is called "kerabu", and yes by nature it is salad to us as we regard anything with mixed vegetables and herbs are salad. We also add fresh grated coconut to the salad.

Palm sugar is a good substitution of white sugar when cooking. It will not make the food taste too sugary like white sugar, and it gives a special savoury taste. I use palm sugar in Tom Yum soup, instead of sugar to tone down the heat as the soup uses a lot of bird's eye chili.

Dried shrimp is a great addition to many dishes. I don't think it will taste as great as the fresh ones as it is dried and usually treated with salt.

Durians...oh where should I begin. Malaysians are crazy about it! Latest addition being the "durian crepe" where durian flesh and fresh whipped cream are filled in French crepe. There are also durian ice cream, fritter, porridge (using glutinous rice and coconut milk), durian cakes, etc etc. But normally it is eaten as it is. During durian festival, people would swarm durian stalls and would eat it then and there.

However, I stopped eating durian about 15 years ago. My mother was once admitted to hospital after eating about 3 small pieces of the flesh. I am not saying that it is a dangerous fruit - please don't get me wrong, but the high sugar content is unsuitable for diabetics. At that time my mother did not take diabetics pills regularly, that is why it hit her badly. Nowadays she can take it in a small amount (like one piece of durian crepe). I stopped eating because if I do eat it, it would fill the house with that foul smell (lovely to Malaysians) and my mother would be tempted. Best to avoid it at all costs. Since I stopped eating, I could no longer stand the smell. There are many other fruits in Malaysia I can eat so I don't miss a thing. The flesh of durian smells foul, and that's it. There is no other edible parts although perhaps the flesh, when it is canned, probably lose some of its strong smell.


1:50 p.m.  
Blogger Noor Baizura said...

From today's post:

Langkawi Island is a duty-free island where a lot of things are cheap (car prices can go as low as 60% from the price in mainland) and we go there for shopping purpose, apart from enjoying the island-hopping or scuba diving activity. My brother lived there once, and I myself have been there about 5 or 6 times. And did they mention Langkawi also produces its own mozzarella cheese? That is one little-known fact, I think. Although I have yet to see it in our market.

Georgetown is in Penang and the food that you saw are all the ones I mentioned in the comment about Penang Island! I'm glad you get to watch the food! Yes, fish head curry is a luxurious delight but it is quite pricey. Malaysians normally eat fish while the flesh is still sticking to the bones. It's better that way. It has that savoury taste that will not be the same as fish fillet.

I think Hockey and Me is actually Hokkien Mee.

Roti Chani is Roti Canai, and Nassi Pandar is Nasi Padang (Padang being a district in Indonesia). Or it could actually be Nasi Kandar, the famous Indian rice dish in Penang.

Beef Rendang is a dish I get to eat only during festivities such as Eid-ul Adha or Eid-ul Fitri. It takes a long time to cook, and yet once it is cooked it is well worth the effort. The texture is similar to pulled/floss meat but a bit moist because of the gravy.

I have to admit we do not have a lot of regulations regarding street food, but in my area, since it is a small village, you sort of know almost everyone who sell street food, and people normally do not question whether the food is fresh or not (I believe if it is not good, then say it). Because if it is not fresh, people would not buy it. There are also many other options so to survive in street food business, you must sell fresh food that taste good or else you lose the customers.

I am keen to try cooking variety of soups that can be frozen as I do not want to have to go out and buy lunch when I go to office. As of now I have the recipes for carrot soup and tomato soup but that's it. Any recommendations for soups that freeze well? My mom also bought high protein flour so I would be making French bread and other varieties of bread that go well with soup.

I hope you have a wonderful day today. Take care!


1:50 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you tell us, with costings, how to produce a 3 course meal for four for £3 please?

2:22 p.m.  
Blogger TravellingNinjas said...

I too watched the Hairy Bikers and was gobsmacked at the costs per portion. Our dinner last night cost about £3 and that was for 3 portions. The budget they were given for the anniversary meal would feed me, my OH and the 2 dogs for over a week

2:49 p.m.  
Blogger theclevercloggs said...

Dear Shirley et al
True the money spent by the hairy bikers is more than most of us spend.
But remember the meals are far more than basic fare.

I have not done the sums but M&S ready meals would cost more and still be poorer quality.

I don't know about you but I like to treat myself from time to time.

In fact I could have bought a Christmas pud for less than it cost to make but would it have been worth the money saved?
(my culinary reputation was on the line chuckles) And no Shirley I did not use the "Sous Vide"

Ta Ta For Now
See You Again Very Soon

7:05 p.m.  
Anonymous jane said...

Hi Shirley & all,
just to clarify to Annonymous that i was under the impression that the £3 was just for the main dish for the 4 people and as you stated you could certainly feed 4 people a main course for £3, as maybe even i could and most people. I too havent been impressed with the current series so far and thought it was going to be full of money saving tips on how to do some luxury foods for special occasions quite cheaply but have been dissapointed to learn nothing. I am a big fan of the HB's but dont think i'll be buying this book when it comes out. The last one i bought was the dieting book which was very good with some really clever tips to cut calories.
Thanks Noor for explaining some of the foods, i love to cook with different ingredients and especially find the European supermarkets very good for many staples which are a lot cheaper than in the mainstream supermarkets. Also the staff are very helpful and always willing to let you sample things if you are unsure of what they are and also take time to explain how best to cook certain things.
I have started using different coloured lentils in dishes just recently as they are a very cheap ingredient and bulk out soups and stews making them stretch a lot further. They can be bought from our local market for just 60p a big tub, as can most beans and pulses, also most baking ingredients, nuts spices etc so always having a wander round the local markets to find bargains. I will be going to Doncaster tomorrow with my daughter so will be stocking up again on a variety of these type of dried ingredients.
With food prices on the imcrease, anything that bulks out and stretches meals further is always a winner. take care, jane

7:52 a.m.  

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