Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Still Here...

Back again.  Thanks for waiting.  Nearly thought I wouldn't be able to blog today, it has take me nearly 45 minutes to get this computer to work properly.  Seems that age has caught up with it, but until our grandson visits in a few weeks to check it out, hope it manages to keep going until then.

It was lovely to see our daughter again, and fortunately the weather has been absolutely lovely for their visit especially as they were able to go out with B and our other daughter for part of the time. There was a magnificent sunset on the Tuesday evening with a huge orange globe of sun just about to settle on the horizon in the Bay (the sea end so plenty of reflections of orange clouds etc).  We saw it as we went to the Honey Tree Chinese Restaurant for an evening meal together.  It was 'Happy Hour' (the meals then being cheaper, and extra free helping if you wish...) so most of us chose different dishes, and then sampled each others.  Whether it was something in one I don't know, but during the night started with the mother of allergies, and first my upper lip swelled to enormous proportions, just about covering my lower lip.  I looked just like a fish!!

This meant I couldn't drink without dribbling, and could hardly speak.  Within an hour or two the top lip subsided slightly but both my cheeks and under lip then swelled out, I really looked a mess.  This morning my lips have gone down but my cheeks still swollen, but going down.

We too photos of my face as this is the only way I can get the doctor to see it at its worst, so next time I go to the surgery (end of April), I will see if I can persuade them to see if they can find out the cause, or at least give me a different anti-histamine as the ones prescribed don't seem to work.  I do take extra when the allergy hits me (as told to), but this makes me very drowsy and quite 'down', so am not in the best of spirits this morning.

At least it was lovely being able to cook for at least part of our family again,  with B, two of our daughters, and one spouse round the table.  The 'full English breakfast for our visitors, and a chicken curry for a late lunch before they left. 
It's not been an altogether happy visit as our daughter came over from Ireland with her husband for his mother's funeral - this being tomorrow. On the good side they are able to stay with my daughter's son (our grandson Steve who is the computer buff) for a few days, who lives close to where they need to be, and as he works mostly from home, they will be able to spend some time with him. 
he last week of April being all sunshine for many year,, then last year moved back to the last week in March, and didn't I forecast that this year it will be the end of February?  Meant it as a joke, but it's happened?  Not that it is warm enough to be called 'summer', so perhaps the high pressure will return again and we will have summer this year when it should be.
Despite the still very cold weather, the sun seems to have warmed the garden containers enough for the crocuses to be in bloom, also some of the small daffodils, with other spring bulb pushing their leaves above the soil.   So at least a sign that winter is over (or nearly), despite the heavy frosts we are still getting these clear nights.

Not sure whether this tip is useful or not, but when making the curry, wanted to serve some yogurt with it to help cool it down (not that it was a hot curry, just a mild Tikka Masala), but had forgotten to make some Greek yogurt (as planned).  Instead I used half a tub of low-fat Tesco cream cheese (similar to Philadelphia), and blended this with a little double cream, then added a little milk, folding in a couple of teaspoons of mince sauce (from a bottle), adding a teaspoon of caster sugar.  This turned it into a 'Raita', and although not made the correct way, tasted as good as.  This, plus mango chutney, and Peshwari Naan bread, made good 'sides' to go with the curry and basmati rice that I'd cooke.  
The naan bread I'd taken from the freezer to thaw, and they needed a couple of minutes under a grill, but as I was doing several things at once (dishing out the curry, rice, etc), pre-heated the grill, then  put the naan on the oven grid under the grill, then turned off the grill, closed the door and left the naan in the oven to heat through.  They were perfect, just beginning to brown and slightly crusty on the surface, but hot and soft inside.

This morning, because I was up early and fed up with my allergy, decided to sit and watch the Food network on TV (6.00am...).  Well, not sure if the American folk find it difficult to understand any language that has an accent other than their own, but when today they showed some actors being interviewed at a Harry Potter film premiere (Chef Duff's firm had made a 'Hogwart' cake for this), there were subtitles shown only when the British actors spoke, presumably so that everyone could know what they were saying. For goodness sake! Are we that difficult to understand?  Does that mean that English actors in US films all have to be subtitled? 

Have noticed this happening in several US cookery programmes. If there is an Italian or French cook who speak English but with a strong accent, these too are subtitled. Yet we in the UK can understand perfectly what is being said.  Are Nigella's cookery progs also subtitled? 

Generally, we can understand every foreigner who speaks English, their accents don't seem cause difficulty.  Having said that, in our own country often it can be quite hard to understand several of our own regional dialects.  Hearing the 'broad' Cornish, and the Scottish Glaswegian is - to me - like hearing a completely different language that neither I nor B can 'translate' at all.

Over last weekend did manage to sort out my freezer (drawers only, shelves still left to do), and am not sure whether I mentioned this previously or not.  At least I've now written down everything that is in each drawer, so this does make it far simpler to find what I need, saving a lot of time as well.  I just have to remember to cross off the list what has been removed from the drawers (and also write down when I add other things).

Today (or tomorrow) will be sorting out the freezer shelves, then will have a very idea of what space I have so that I can order more DR meat when the right offer comes along.  Their meat is one I really can trust.  No doubt a local butcher will be as trustworthy, but now feel that any processed foods that contain meat (ready-meals and maybe even canned) that are sold in supermarkets (or those cooked in take-aways, burger parlours etc) could be very suspect, and although many will have ingredients exactly 'as on the label', how can we now be sure?   Sadly this is not the fault of the retailer, or maybe even the manufacturer, it is the supplier/processor of the original meat where the current meat fiasco seems to have begun, and like many things 'no smoke without fire' or 'one rotten apple can ruin the whole barrel', so we feel safer trusting none, rather than find out we've been conned (again!).

Recipes today are - naturally - inexpensive, and made with ingredients that most of us keep in our fridge, freezer, and larder.  When it comes to using stock, always best to make home-made (esp. chicken) but a stock cube could be used instead.  The Marigold vegetable stock powder is a good one, less salty than the cubes.

Instead of using risotto rice, use quinoa or pearl barley.  The barley being cheaper than either of the other two grains, and has a 'nuttier' flavour, although it may take slightly longer to cook (quinoa is the dearer grain, has more protein, but takes less time to cook, so less stock may be needed). The butter gives flavour, but use less if you wish (but do use some).  The oil prevents the butter from burning.
Unlike most risottos, once the stock has been added, it doesn't need constant stirring, but check towards the end in case more stock or hot water needs to be added.
Risotto with bacon and peas: serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
1 oz (25g) butter
1 onion, finely chopped
6 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
10 oz (300g) risotto rice
1.75 pts (1 ltr) hot vegetable stock
4 oz (100g) frozen peas
ground black pepper
grated Parmesan or Cheddar (opt)
Heat the oil and the butter in a deep frying pan (or saucepan if you prefer), and add the onion.  Fry over medium heat for 7 minutes until lightly browned, then add the bacon and fry for a further 5 minutes until crisp.  Stir in the rice and stock and bring to the boil, give a final stir, then cover the pan and reduce heat. Simmer for 15 - 20 minutes until the rice is almost tender (if using pearl barley, you will need to cook slightly longer, and maybe need more stock).
Stir in the peas, season with pepper to taste, and continue cooking for a further 3 minutes or until the peas are cooked, then serve in individual bowls, sprinkled with grated cheese (if you wish).

Next recipe could be a light lunch, supper dish when served with a side salad, or a teenage 'snack' served on its own.
Recipes from many countries have similarities - the one given below resembles an Italian 'pizza' but also a 'quesadilla' (a Mexican toasted 'sandwich' but this time without a tortilla 'topping').  It's tempting to call this dish a 'Mexican Ploughman's, which it might be if we used Branston pickle, but think we'll just enjoy it the way as shown, and enjoy.
A good recipe to use when you have chicken and/or ham scraps that you have salvaged from a cooked chicken carcase, or ham that you have cooked yourself (the scraps could be frozen, as an the tortillas, and grated cheese).  You could use a mixture of both if you wish.
As I do not always keep spring onions in the fridge, tend to use some  finely chopped shallot, these being tender and sweeter then most of the larger onions.
Cheese and Chutney Tostados: serves 2
2 small flour tortillas (about 8"/20cm diam)
olive oil
2 heaped tblsp mango chutney
4 oz (100g) cooked chicken or ham, shredded
4 oz (100g) cheddar cheese, grated
2 spring onions (or 1 shallot) chopped/diced
Brush the tortillas with a little olive oil, then put them oil side down on a large baking tray. Spread the top side evenly with the chutney, then scatter over the chicken or ham (or mixture of both), then the onions and finally the cheese.
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 8 minutes, then cut into wedges and eat whilst they are still hot and crispy.

Considering the cost of beef, you might think this doesn't count as 'cheap nosh', but when it comes to using quality, well-hung beef, this has so much flavour that a smaller amount gives a lot more flavour than when using the correct amount of a cheaper meat, and I don't mean a cheaper 'cut', just meat of lesser quality.  One of the reasons I 'deliberately' save money so that I can then afford to buy D.R's meat (but can only afford to do this when 'on offer', but very well worth waiting until it is).
This casserole contains plenty of onions and carrots, and these, together with good meat, and the ale, make up an absolutely gorgeous casserole.  The meat used is 'stewing beef', this being less tender than stewing 'steak' (which is more expensive), so ask your butcher's advice for the cheapest 'stewing' beef' if you are not sure.  It could be that brisket might be cheaper (by weight) and this, being a rolled joint - can be unrolled and cubed for this dish.
Once the casserole has been cooked and chilled, it can be frozen for up to 3 months.  Defrost completely before reheating, and make sure it is piping hot throughout before serving.
Beef and Ale Casserole, with Carrots: serves 4 - 6
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1lb 8oz (675g) stewing beef, cut into chunks
2 large onions, roughly chopped
12 carrots, cut into large chunks
2 tblsp plain flour
1 x 500ml can stout (brown ale)
1 beef stock cube
2 tsp muscovado or demerara sugar
3 bay leaves
1 large sprig fresh thyme
salt and pepper
Put the oil in a large heat-proof casserole dish and place on the hob.  Brown the meat really well, doing this in small batches (or it begins to 'stew' rather than fry).  Then remove the meat from the pan and set aside.
To the pan add the onions and carrots, and fry until changing colour, then sprinkle the flour over, give a stir.  Put back the meat and any juices that may have leached out, and give another stir before pouring in the stout/ale.  Crumble in the stock cube, and add the herbs, sugar, and seasoning to taste, then bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and remove from heat, placing the casserole in a pre-heated oven (160C, 325F, gas 3) and leave to cook for about 3 hours or until the meat is really tender (some cuts of beef may taken longer).
When ready to serve, leave the casserole to settle a bit, then serve with mashed potatoes (or baked spuds), and a green vegetable (such as broccoli, cabbage....).

With the 'meat scare' that is ongoing at the moment, have a feeling that many people may opt out of eating meat altogether, and turn to the vegetarian meat substitutes.  Whether or not this will happen, it has been mentioned that beef cubes could be another 'suspect', so felt that a recipe for vegetarian gravy might be worth including today.
Vegetarian Gravy: serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp thyme leaves
2 tblsp plain flour
4 fl oz (125ml) white wine
11 fl oz (300ml) vegetable stock
half teaspoon Marmite
Put the oil in a saucepan and add the onions and thyme.  Fry over medium heat for 10 - 15 minutes until the onion is soft and transparent.   Stir in the flour and cook/stir for 2 minutes, then blend in the wine, stock and Marmite.  Bring to the boil, stirring continuously, and simmer for about 5 minutes until thickened.

Have to say that having a 'chat' with you has cheered me up immensely, even though I still look like a hamster with cheeks full of stored food.  

Forgot to mention that last weekend B somehow managed to spill half a pint of double cream on the kitchen carpet, and after being asked to mop it up before he did anything else (he was about to get himself a late snack, and I was going to bed), discovered the next morning that all he'd done was put newspaper over the cream then left it.  Very little moisture (if any) had been sucked up by the paper and the cream had almost set to a cheese.  Did not myself feel inclined to get on my knees and scrape it all up (if I had I wouldn't have been able to easily get up again, and anyway it wasn't my mess), so B said he'd do it, but he didn't (he long ago told me his 'trick' of getting out of doing things : "if I wait long enough, someone else will always do it", so it was two days before he tried to clear away some but still leaving newspaper over the rest of it, and this with only hours before our visitors arrived, So decided the only thing to do was scrub it myself to clear it away.  At least it's now back to normal. 

It has crossed my mind that stress could also be a reason for my allergy, so what with the washing machine breaking, the cream all over the carpet, and visitors expected, perhaps I was a mite stressed over the last few days. Not that visiting family should cause me stress, but it all depends on what 'stress' is.  In my case, this could be more adrenalin flowing through my veins, not always caused by something that I wish didn't happen, just something that adds a little more to my life than normal.  Whatever the real cause of the allergy, it seems that I can't find it yet, so will have to cope with the annoyance each time it happens.

B has work to do at the sailing club this morning, a meeting at lunch time, and then on to the gym this afternoon, so I have most of the day to myself.  He's also said he'll get his own supper (as he's eaten rather more than usual these last few days).  Might as well make this a relaxing day for myself.  Then back to cooking again tomorrow.

Only one comment since I last wrote, this from jane, who is off for a holiday this coming weekend I think she said, so hope the weather still stays fair for her.  Cannot believe it will be the start of March on Friday, this year seems to be passing by at a speed of knots.

Hope to receive more comments from readers, I love reading them and sure you all enjoy keeping in touch with each other this way.  As ever, hope you have a pleasant day, and looking forward to our 'chat' again tomorrow.  See you then.