Wednesday, February 06, 2013

How it Really Is.

A thanks to Noor for sending in her recipe.  Most ingredients available here, but have not heard of 'bringal', is that a vegetable?
Managed to catch the last 15 minutes of Rick Stein's prog. where he was moving down to Malaysia, this mainly about Malacca and the history of 'the spice route'.  He did say the cuisine of the country was a blend of British, Chinese and Indian (and Vietnamese also I suppose), and the few dishes I saw seemed mainly composed of fish. 

As I don't know the correct spelling of the dishes Rick S. mentioned, will have to write them as they sound.  One 'favourite' of this region mentioned as being 'Nonya Curry', and another dish 'Nonya Salad' was demonstrated by a well-known cook of that country -  'Chef Wan' - at the Majestic Hotel..   Not a salad as we know it, as it had lot of little bits of veggies and herbs, prawns and piles of thin noodles, but did notice at the end he added and tossed in some fried tofu (the demo was so fast it was impossible to keep up with the different foods mentioned as used, although do remember there was a 'Vietnamese Mint' as one of the herbs, along with coriander).
One dish that was shown, but not demonstrated, was Fish Head Curry.  Don't think Rick Stein was that impressed, but perhaps more edible than it sounds, and certainly - in the UK - we tend to throw away the fish heads rather than using them.  So waste not, want not, as the saying goes.

Loved the look of palm sugar which I don't think is easily available here (though possibly able to be bought online - but would it be worth it?).  Also dried shrimp.  Have heard of this used although never come across it yet, possibly our Thai mini-supermarket would have this.  I absolutely LOVE eating shrimps and prawns, and if - once reconstituted - they end up looking and tasting like the 'fresh', then possibly worth keeping some in the larder (presumably they have a long shelf life?).  Hope to hear from readers who have bought/tried the above.

Forgot to mention a fruit available in the Far East, much liked due to its custard-texture and fragrant flavour, but this only once you've got into the fruit, which I believe Rick S. called a 'Durian'.  Outwardly it is large, with a spiky, pointed hard skin/peel that has a really strong and unpleasant smell, like 'foul drains', or 'filthy water', so doubt very much this fruit would ever be exported to our shores to be in supermarkets or anywhere else for that matter.  Perhaps the sweeter, edible parts of the fruit are canned and sold here.  Anyone know./

This afternoon hope to watch the whole of Rick Stein's programme as it is set in Malaysia, and hopefully some of the dishes that Noor mentioned will be demonstrated.  But it has crossed my mind that all too often 'traditional' dishes are not always what are served in restaurants all over the world, or even demonstrated on TV.  Visitors abroad often seem to be served a 'bastardised' version of what was originally a wonderful dish.  Possibly this has to do with cost, or the fact that people from abroad wouldn't know what it should taste like anyway, so why bother to take the trouble, just let's take their money.

It would be interesting to know what people would choose to eat when they visit our shores. Traditionally they might hope for the 'Full English' for breakfast,  Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding for lunch, and Fish & Chips for supper.  But we would none of us eat all that in one day - far too much. Today we tend to eat lighter meals.
Even when a visitor decides to try just one of the above, this doesn't mean it would be as good as it should be, for - as ever - a meal depends not just on the quality of ingredients, but also how well these are cooked. 

There is a programme on Channel 4 (Four in a Bed) about four Bed and Breakfast establishments competing against each other. Each of the owners having a 'sleep-over' in each of the other B & B's, then rating them points according to cleanliness, comfort, and esp. the breakfasts.  In many cases it is the best breakfast that gains the most points and wins that week.  Eggs have to be fried (poached or scrambled) perfectly and bacon grilled to the crispness desired by the visitor (and quality of both counts - including the sausages).  Toast should be hot and (hopefully) home-made marmalade, jam and honey.  Butter of course, and low-fat spread if required.  Goes without saying the orange juice should be freshly squeezed, and (although I would prefer instant, so would choose to drink tea) coffee should be made from freshly ground beans.. 

The best 'full English' (or any 'sausage and chips' based meal) that I ever ate was at a 'transport cafe' (sometimes now called 'greasy spoon'?), where not only were the chips the nicest (probably because fried in dripping and not oil), but the mugs contained the best tea I've ever drunk.  In those days sausages were proper ones, not the cheap 'preformed' so often served today.

Have not myself visited many countries, but have tried to sample their 'traditional' dishes.  In Tunisia, probably because they thought we wouldn't know any different, most of the time on our daily sightseeing trips, we were served couscous.  Lots of couscous and not a lot of meat other than a few veggies in a spiced gravy, cannot say I enjoyed any of it, although in recent years have made a couscous based Tagine or three, and found these really gorgeous when made correctly.

When in France, the food there was supposed to be 'gourmet', but it ended up more as a coach trip visiting village pubs, where the food was good but not memorable enough for me to well - remember.  Apart from some stuffed 'crepes', where the pancakes were cooked to order at an outside 'catering van' set in a wide street of shops ( a bit like our hot-dog or burger vans), that we then ate as we carried on walking, 'food on the hoof' I suppose you could call it. But good as the pancakes had many choices of filling, although myself chose ham and cheese being the only two names that (at that time) I could recognise in French.  Didn't want to end up with frog's legs, did I? Think the pancake batter was made with a brown (maybe buckwheat?), but whatever, the pancakes were huge, very thin, and utterly delicious.

In Denmark didn't find their breakfasts very appealing - lots of cold fish and stuff.  An evening meal was better until I suddenly craved - so asked for - 'cheese and biscuits', but was then given a platter of Danish cheese and crispbread - with blackcurrant jam. Not what I hoped for.  The jam put me off.

The best food eaten abroad was in Amsterdam (the Netherlands, only we tend to call it Holland), where we frequented an Indonesian restaurant that served 'rijstaffel' (not the correct spelling I know, but can't be bothered to look it up, it's near enough) - this consisted of about 16 small dishes (each to be shared between the two of us - yippee!!) , some of them curried, where we could help ourselves.  But then that wasn't strictly a 'Dutch dish'.  Think Edam and Gouda cheese and that would be closer. However, we did go to a lovely cafe (just over the bridge opposite the big museum) that sold huge apple pancakes that we could order and eat hot. They were 'traditonal', and lovely..

In America, the nearest I got to eating 'local' was having Sunday breakfast at a breakfast diner, and have to say had such heartburn after that I'd never touch it again.  Perhaps would if 'deconstructed', but having bacon that was mostly all fat, fried eggs, baked beans, think sausages (or was it burgers?)and then quite a number of little pancakes with lots of maple syrup poured over, and other things as well, all served on one huge plate...not my idea of breakfast.  Perhaps the thought of the syrup with the pancakes AND bacon, eggs etc didn't 'mix' too well, but then we eat our 'full English fry up' followed by toast and 'something sweet' (jam, marmalade, honey...) so not really a lot of difference when you realise it all goes down same route to get digested.  Maybe the order it goes down makes a difference.

We did go to a diner once (think in a tiny place called New Paltz?),  a really dingy 'caff' (this to me meant it was 'authentic' especially as there was a scruffy Native American in traditional clothes, who had really greasy long hair with one feather stuck behind his ear, and and even messier looking man dressed in something similar to 'cowboy' attire.  He too had long hair, this time grey.  It's amazing how some things stay in my memory. These men were seated at those stools that US diners always seem to have in front of their counter, and scowled at us as we dare enter their diner.  To them, I suppose, we were 'foreign' looking  (ike neat and tidy).

We sat in a tiny booth there, as far away from the men as possible, not that it mattered, there were no other customers, and perhaps this might have given an idea of the quality of food served, but we weren't really hungry, so I just asked for a glass of water and chose a waffle with some berries (can't now remember what sort of fruit), and although the water turned out to be undrinkable (after the first sip) because it tasted (and smelt) as though it had come from a swimming pool.  Full of chlorine.   On the other hand, the waffle and berries were GORGEOUS, enough to make the visit worthwhile.

The cloakroom in that diner was not as we are used to, being for one person, male or female, and not clean at that.  Just a tiny room behind a rickety door with a gap underneath so you could see if someone was in there before you opened the door.  And no basin to wash hands, and no lock on the door.  'Elf and Safety would never allow that herer.  I sat in the loo holding my foot against the door  to make sure someone didn't walk in on me, well it could have been the Cherokee and I could have ended up scalped.  Still, I wanted 'rural America', and there I got it, and is some ways it was almost exciting, as long as I kept my fantasies under control.  Had the Native American looked as handsome as those seen in films I would have kept my feet firmly on the ground but allowed my fantasies to run riot.

Back to real time.  Today we give a big welcome to Granny G. and feel I should apologise to her and all readers for my lengthy 'blogs'.  Perhaps it would be better if I cut them shorter by half, with less of my rambling and concentrated more on food/recipes.  As ever, I bow to the request of readers, so let me know if you wish the blog to be shorter or keep it as it is. 

Thanks Kathryn for giving me an idea of your daily 'work load', and certainly you do seem to work hard.  Don't envy you the stable chores during the cold weather, although the exercise it entails probably helps to keep you warm, and certainly fit.   You ended your comment with '2708ta.  Is that one of those 'short-forms' like LOL (lots of laughs?)?  I'm not conversant with 'newspeak' as I call it.  I still believe that a Big Mac means an oversized mackintosh, and 'gay' is having a fun time.

This week - mainly because I'm bored stiff staying indoors for so many week - I'm thinking of getting B to take me to Morrison's late one afternoon so that I can see (and possibly buy) some of the really-reduced-in-price fresh foods they might have at that time.  No doubt I will buy other things as we need more fresh milk (although do have some UHT), and could do with more eggs.
Having spent very little since Christmas, and able to keep well within the £10 'top-up' per week that I allowed myself (sometimes not used), this means that I'll soon have saved more than I would normally have spent an entire month.  

This is why, when we aim to keep our 'standard of eating' as high as possible, it is important to 'use what we have' (in other words - stop shopping!), at least for a month (preferably two).  The vast amount of money that can be saved (as I hope those that are doing this particular 'challenge' are proving to themselves), can then be spent on other things (maybe helping to pay the fuel bill so we can have the heating on for longer when it is really cold), but some certainly on buying better quality foods.  As you know, when I've managed to 'deliberately save' a months' money, then half of this will go towards buying another of Donald Russell's meat 'offers'.  With there being only two of us, and B being the 'meat-eater' of the family, this 'quality' meat package, goes a long, long way.  Also I seem to be able to make it go much further than the 'recommended servings' given by DR. 

It will soon be time for me to order more 'organic veggies' from Riverford.  These are more expensive than non-organic veggies from the supermarket, but the 'organics' taste so much better, and some of the varieties not always on sale in some supermarkets.  It is good to try new things, as long as we know we can make something edible from them.   With Riverford we get a chance to see what is in each week's boxes before we order, or we can make up our own box choosing veggies we prefer (as long as they have them that week).

Briefly then - the 'use what we have challenge' is one of the best ways to prevent food wastage. "Use it or Lose it" as the saying goes.  Also, it gets us to think a bit harder about meals we will be preparing, so that we can make the most - and best - of what we have.   Plus the added bonus of having then saved money - essential at this time, due to rising prices.  If we wish to improve meals by serving better quality foods (as I do), then we can afford to.  We could also begin to restock our larders, buying what we would normally buy, but ONLY when on offer.  So far, this approach has worked miracles, at least for me, and hopefully for many readers, but we always need to be vigilant. Don't waste anything, buy 'quality' only when the price is right, and - of course - only if we can afford to.

Good also to hear about your waking hours Margie, and although it does sound as though Toronto (and maybe all of Canada) is 'expensive', how does it compare when it comes paying for heating our homes?  As far colder in Canada than (normally) in the UK, perhaps there is better insulation (triple glazing for instance - here we haven't got much further than double glazing and many older homes do not yet have that).  We have roof insulation and some houses have cavity wall insulation, but even then it does cost a lot to keep ourselves warm.  Well over £1000 annually (but still rising)  to keep a house warm and this obviously covers only the colder months of the year, normally we have our central heating off for at six months, just using the boiler to heat water as we need it. 

Your trip to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island sounds good, isn't P.E.Island the area where Anne of Green Gables lived?  Was she a real person, or just fiction?  She seems very real, and I love to see 'the film of the book/s' (there may have been more than one book).  If filmed 'on location' in that area, it looks very like parts of England.

Do wish they would show repeats of 'Little House on the Prairie' (a true story), and 'The Walton's' (was that fiction?) as they could possibly encourage youngsters - and their parents - to return to using some of the old-style skills of those days, and be happy with what they've got rather than expect more.  These were probably two of my favourite programmes, and would love to see them again, and again, and again.  As I would also hope to be able to again watch Prisoner, Cell Block H (although having seen it right through from beginning to end, three times already). 
Good books, good films, good TV, always worth reading/watching more than once.  Must have seen Dirty Dancing about 20 times, and am word perfect because of this, but there is something about it that draws me back each time I see it is on on or t'other of the channels.

At the moment our afternoon (BBC) TV has repeats of 'Only Fools and Horses'.  Certainly worth having another watch (as is Dad's Army, and The Good Life' so often repeated) but would prefer to see some of the others such as 'Hi Di Hi', or 'Ever Decreasing Circles'.  'Are You Being Served', and 'The Brittas Empire'.  Why can't they show these again?

The second part of 'The Mary Berry Story' was shown last week, and this has been worth watching.  What a lovely person she is.  Her mentions of working on TV brought back memories to me, the hidden things behind the work surface that viewers didn't see -  thick electrical wiring criss-crossing the floor, with wide tape sticking them down to prevent the cook tripping over them.  The gaps under the unit top for those bucket to throw food in, or full of water to wash hands in.
Something viewers probably don't really notice is the way that TV cooks always have to empty their bowls into dishes or pans etc, with the bowl facing the viewer not the cook.  Normally we would empty with the open side of the bowl facing us.  It is quite difficult to do it the other way round.  Try it sometime.   In fact it's worth 'role-playing' TV cook and 'demonstrating' to someone the other side of the table, work surface or cooker, how you are making something, then do it all again (as TV cooks often have to do because the camera can't look in two places at once) EXACTLY the same.  Put the spoon back where it was before, the pepper mill back, the saucepan handle back, so that when the 'shots' are edited, the end result will appear seamless, as though taken as 'one-shot', not often three or four (as so often can happen).

Also thanks go to jane for details of her lifestyle.  Although not wishing to pry into people's lives, do feel that those who can share certain aspects, do help us to become more aware of each other.  You all pretty much know what I do:  first have my morning coffee, and maybe, breakfast, then write my blog, followed by trotting off into the kitchen to 'think' about what to cook for supper, and maybe do some preparation, then to the sitting room (perhaps clutching a big mug of soup for lunch) to watch TV news and 'Doctors', then back into the kitchen again, hopefully able to find time to return to watch a cookery prog.  Then make supper for B (and maybe myself if I didn't have lunch), and back to the sitting room to spend the rest of the evening watching TV or reading.  If there is a footie match on may go into the kitchen and do baking, or come in here and read some emails or watch iPlayer.  Or read a book (usually a cookbook).   Then bedtime.   The only difference is - now on Thursdays -Norma the Hair comes at 9.00 and I write my blog once she has gone.   What an uninteresting life I lead now it's all there in black and white.
When I go out on Norris, you are told about it, when I go to the supermarket ditto.  Anything else I do is mentioned on this blog mainly because it might add a bit more interest.  Or I hope it does.  Surely I could do SOMETHING interesting that is really worth writing about?  Will have to give that some thought.

Another lengthy blog, and am beginning myself think that writing is taking me over.  Suppose a blog is like a diary, but am sure if I wrote long-hand I'd never write this much.  Much blame has to be put on me being able to touch-type at great speed, even the comp can't always keep up, I have sometimes to have to wait for the last few characters to come up on screen, and as I write the thoughts that come into my mind at the time of writing (and am always thinking - again at speed) am afraid this is what you are having to put up with.  Perhaps it would be better if I decided what I was going to write about, make notes, then reply to comments, write up my notes, add the relevant recipes, and then sign off for the day.  One day I may try doing this.

As am fast running out of time, so just a couple of recipes today. The first being a topping for a fruit crumble.
A Fruit Crumble is one of our 'traditional' puddings, and although I usually do make this from scratch (although often make a bulk amount of the 'crumble mix' to keep in the fridge/freezer to save time), sometimes I stew the fruit separately, then top with a ready-baked 'crumble' (also cooked separately), both being able to be (separately) frozen, then - when thawed'- they can be assembled and just re-heated in the microwave.
So today am giving a recipe for a 'flapjack' crumble that can be made in advance (or used in the normal way) and goes wonderfully with stewed apples.

Flapjack Crumble: serves 6 as a 'topping'
5 oz (150g) porridge oats
4 oz (100g) plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 oz (100g) butter, cut into small chunks.
4 oz (100g) light muscovado sugar
1 tblsp golden syrup
Put the oats, flour, and cinnamon in a large bowl and mix together.  Add the butter and rub in until 'crumbs'. Stir in the syrup then give a further rub together.   If using immediately, sprinkle over the chosen fruits, and bake for 30 - 35 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4. 
If wishing to make ahead, spread the mixture evenly over a parchment lined baking tray, and bake at above temperatures for 10 minutes, then stir/turn the mixture (doesn't matter if it sticks in 'clusters')and give it a few more minutes cooking until it has begun to crisp up and become 'chewy' (don't, whatever you do, let it burn).  Store in an airtight container for up to a week in the fridge or for several weeks in the freezer, then use as required.

Because a mention was given the other day about smoked haddock (being expensive etc), thought it worth giving another recipe where this fish is used together with cabbage (normally one of the cheaper veggies at this time of year). Together they make a reasonably inexpensive dish - especially if we use less fish and more of the other ingredients).

Haddock and Cabbage Risotto: serves 4
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
10 oz (300g) risotto rice
1.75 pints (1 ltr) fish or vegetable stock
10 oz (280) Savoy (or other) cabbage, thickly sliced
14 oz (400g) skinless, smoked haddock
2 - 3 tblsp creme fraiche or Greek yogurt
ground black pepper
2 oz (50g) grated Parmesan cheese
Put the oil into a large heat-proof casserole dish, place over medium heat and fry the onion for about 5 minutes or until beginning to soften.  Add the rice and stir/fry for a further 2 minutes.  Pour in the stock, bring to the boil and add the cabbage.  Cover and place in a pre-heated oven (200C, 400F, gas 6 and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and stir cabbage into the rice.  Top with the fish, replace lid and bake for a further 7 minutes, then flake the fish, stirring it into the rice/cabbage with the creme fraiche and half the cheese.  Season with pepper, then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.  Serve immediately.

That has to be it for today.  It's now close to 11.30am and if recent days are anything to go by it will be at least another 15 minutes before this is published as either the Spellcheck wouldn't work (so have to check myself, the longer the blog the longer this takes) or when I click on 'publish' it won't, so have to go a convoluted route to get the blog finally on your screens.  Wish me luck. 
Tomorrow is a 'Norma' day so the blog will be started at least one hour later anyway.  Hope to 'see' you then.