Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Variety is the Spice of Life

Hope some readers may have been able to listen the The Food Programme as I'd like to hear what you thought about it.  Myself was a bit disappointed as hoped to hear more about the foods that older people would buy (or could afford to buy) and the meals made from them.  However, there were many points that I haven't considered enough - such as the difficulty of walking around the stores, and problems when cooking.

Very little mention was made of money spent, although one single lady said she had just £20 to spend on food a week, usually buying what she needed when she needed it, but later in the programme said she was able to cook several portions at one time and freeze away (meat) pies etc.
Meals on Wheels was mentioned, also the home-deliveries of ready-made meals from Wiltshire Farm Foods.  Even I've thought about ordering those instead of being 'bothered' each day to cook something, but of course they would work out more expensive than the same meal made at home, from scratch.  But still within the means of someone who eats smaller meals, and doesn't snack.

As I have difficulty myself in walking, it does seem the obvious answer is to go to a store that supplies a mobility scooter to use there.  Or - even better - order on-line and have the groceries delivered.  To get the most for our money, have found it is better to order a month's supply at a time, as then only one delivery charge, but as a credit cards can be used for payment, this could mean that the money doesn't have to be paid back to the card company until four or five weeks later (so could fit in to the 'weekly' budget of £20 (approx £90 of food could the be ordered to cover a 31 day month). Using a debit card means the money is taken straight away from the bank balance, so unless enough 'in there' to cover a month's groceries, perhaps not so easy.

As I was preparing our supper whilst listening to the programme, realised myself that the recipe I was using (posted yesterday) was more complicated than it need be.  So myself 'cut corners', and my version was (I presume) just as tasty.  We enjoyed it anyway.

Shirley's version of Sweet and Sour Pork:
Fry a quartered onion in a little oil, remove, fry diced/strips of  2 lean pork chops in the same pan, Remove. Add onions back to pan, add 1 small can of pineapple rings (cut into chunks), plus all the juice, a can of chopped tomatoes, and a good squirt of tomato ketchup.  Stir and bring to the boil.  Add 1 tablespoon of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of malt vinegar.  Add pork back to pan, cover, reduce heat and simmer very slowly for about an hour (or until the meat is very tender)."

This tasted so good and the sauce thick enough for me not to need to add the chicken stock, cinnamon for flavouring, or bother with the cornflour (all included in the earlier recipe).  Plenty in the pan for two of us - it would have served three with rice.  B did have his with Egg Fried Rice (microwave 2 minute rice), but did give him extra 'topping' as he likes large portions, and as I had no rice gave myself extra pork 'n sauce, so between us we ate it all.   Next time will make it exactly the same way, and more of it to freeze.
Incidentally, despite my seeming to eat more food yesterday, have lost another 2lbs, so hope by the end of this week to be halfway down the stone I'm trying to lose. 

As you say Sairy, the single person's pension can sometimes be adequate, sometimes not, I suppose it all depends upon what bills they have to pay.  We are lucky as somehow we seem to manage very well (so far).  B himself commented yesterday on how well I manage my 'food budget', making really good meals that don't cost a lot (mind you normally I make these only for him, if I ate the same and as much as he does, like every day, then I wouldn't be able to afford to).  Just as well I'm both diabetic and on a diet (even though protein is expensive compared to carbos I don't need to eat a lot of it to feel 'full').

A welcome to Diana, who also comments on pensions.  Those with some savings end up worse off in my opinion as this is taken if they have to go into residential care.  Sometimes I feel it is better to give the  'inheritance saved'  to our children well before we die, otherwise they may never be allowed to receive any of it.

The main problem today seems to be whether to spend money on 'extra' fuel to keep the home warm, or use it instead to buy the foods to help keep our internal body heat up.  Many people (and not always pensioners) cannot afford to do both. 
However, there are inexpensive foods that really do 'warm us up': porridge for breakfast, and a spicy, chilli flavoured mug of hot soup for lunch (I've found a mug of very hot water with half a teaspoon of Marmite stirred in makes a very warming 'between-meals' drink.  Better even than tea or coffee).  Maybe a jacket potato with a cheese (or other) topping for supper.  The old-fashioned suet puddings (both savoury and/or sweet) that used to be called 'stick to your ribs food', also helps warm us up.  Think this is something to do with the extra carbohydrate, although have to say as am not eating any carbos at the moment, I don't feel as cold as I used to do, and this perhaps is because I now seem to have more energy, and moving around makes me feel less chilly.  Still wrap myself up in a couple of quilts when settled in the living room though.

Good to hear from you again Lisa, this time your comment did arrive safely.  You seem to be getting slightly better weather than we are having.  Last night it was blowing gales, over 60mph, with gusts probably much higher.  Bitterly cold also - I could feel the wind hitting me as I came through the bedroom door (we always keep a top window slightly open), but once in bed and out of the direct wind, it was lovely and cosy.
The wind has dropped a bit this morning but still strong, clouds scuttling across the sky with blue bits peeping through.  Snow forecast for tomorrow in this region, but more on the hills. No doubt it won't fall on Morecambe.

Yes, there was an earlier book Pam, written with a co-author (Erica Griffiths).  Erica was the director of the first TV series I was in (Indoors, Outdoors), and it was she who suggested I write a cookbook.  As I had no knowledge of the literary world, Eric sorted out the publisher, and acted as half-way editor, tidying up my 'rambling recipes', also including one or two of her own.  So it was a joint publication.  The book was called 'More For Your Money', and although out of print, believe it can be bought second hand on Amazon or some such site.  For some reason a lot more expensive than the other three BBC books of mine (also out of print and available secondhand).
It was Erica who suggested me doing 'The Good Kitchen', this time she produced it (director was George someone or other).  From there I did several 'Pebble Mill at One's', and appeared many times in 'Bazaar' (another of Erica's programmes).  Later, Erica left the BBC, asking me to keep in touch, but unfortunately never got to know of her new place of employment or address, so since then have not been able to contact her. 

A welcome back to Christopher, who mentioned a recipe that was in one of my books - this being 'Jannsens' Tempation', an extremely easy but delicious dish where the overlying flavour is anchovies.
Anchovies are not the normal canned fish we keep on our shelves as not a lot of recipes use them, but once open the fish (with or without its oil) can be frozen (maybe stuffed in ice-cube trays?) to use later. 
Me, being me, have decided that canned sardines could be used in place of the anchovies, with - perhaps, but only if you have it - a good squirt of anchovy essence to impart the correct flavour, and it doesn't have to be sardines.  I'm giving a recipe that uses 'gravadlax' (cured salmon) instead of anchovies, but as this is not a million miles away from smoked salmon, this could also be used instead.  So another recipe worth experimenting with.

"Gravadlax Temptation": serves 4
1 lb 12oz (1.8kg) potatoes, Maris Piper etc
8 oz (225g) gravadlax
2 onions, finely chopped
1 oz (25g) butter
salt and pepper
1 x 284 pot of double cream
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
Peel the potatoes and cut into very thin chips.  If you have a mandolin, then cut into very thin slices, stack these up and cut across into sticks.  Put these into a bowl with a teaspoon of fine table salt, and cover with water, then leave to stand whilst preparing the other ingredients.
Cut the gravadlax into wide strips.  Melt half the butter in a small pan, add the onion, and gently fry for 5 minutes,
Use a little butter to grease the inside of a shallow, heat-proof dish (about 1.2ltr capacity). Drain the potatoes and spread a third of them over the base of the dish, adding plenty of seasoning. Scatter half the gravadlax and onion on top, then cover with half of the remaining potatoes. Finish with a further layer of gravadlax and onion, covering with the last of the potatoes.  Add a little more seasoning.
Put the cream and milk into a small pan to heat (but not boil). When hot pour over the potato layers, dot the top with remaining butter.  Bake for one hour at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until the potatoes are tender and the top golden.  Leave to cool in the dish for 5 minutes before serving with a green veg (broccoli, string beans, peas etc...).

Managed to take a few minutes off during yesterday afternoon and was able to see part of Rick Stein's 'Far Eastern Odyssey', where he was - for the most part - in Vietnam, but ending that episode in Bangkok (Thailand).  Working his way through the countries of that region, I discover he will be in Penang, Malaysia on Wednesday (3.15pm BBC 2),  so - as we now have the pleasure of receiving comments from Noor, who lives in Malaysia - am hoping to get a real 'feel of the place', and also imagine her eating the food that we will see cooked there.  Rick Stein usually makes one of the programme's dishes in his own kitchen here in the UK, so am myself hoping to be able to eventually cook something similar.

Mindful of the problems that can occur when cooking (especially when elderly), today have tried to come up with simple recipes that may at first seem a bit complicated, but when broken down into 'parts' (some of these can be prepared ahead and even frozen), it is not then difficult to 'throw' the lot together.

The first dish is 'Greek inspired'.  Koftas (meat balls - but this time flattened) baked with a tray of vegetables, rather than cooked separately on skewers.  If using fresh meat, the 'patties' can be made then frozen (defrost before cooking), or if using thawed minced meat, and working rapidly whilst the meat is still cold, can then be kept chilled overnight in the fridge, the next day cooked with the veg.  It takes very little time to prepare the veg, and if tossed with a little oil (instead of drizzling it over when ready to cook) these won't then discolour and will stand happily together in a bowl for several hours at room temperature until ready to bake.
At this time of year unlikely we'll have fresh mint (although some supermarkets sell it), and I would, instead, use a teaspoon of mint sauce or mint jelly.
There are certainly two types of Lancashire cheese, one firm the other crumbly - the latter somewhat similar to Wendsleydale in texture, so if you haven't any Feta, and have a 'crumbly' white cheese (there are also other kinds, including goat's) use one of these instead. 

Most of us are familiar with 'roasted vegetables', these usually 'Mediterranean': a mix of chunks of red or white onion, with red/yellow/orange bell peppers, courgettes, aubergines, and myself also add chunks of pumpkin or butternut squash, even parsnips.  So we needn't stick to the veggies given below, if we had others that will 'roast' in the same time, then why not use them instead of or as well as?

Greek Kofta Tray Bake: serves 4
2 oz (50g) fresh white breadcrumbs
9 oz (250g) minced lamb
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
2 onions, each cut in half
handful fresh mint leaves, chopped (see above)
2 large potatoes, cut into wedges
2 courgettes, cut into batons
12 cherry tomatoes
2 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
50g Feta cheese, crumbled
Put the breadcrumbs, meat, egg and plenty of seasoning into a bowl, and mix well together. Grate one of the onion halves and add this to the mixture, with half the mint.  Stir until well combined, then form into 8 even-sized balls, then flatten them into 'patties' (can be frozen at this point).
To complete the dish, put the patties (thawed if frozen) onto the base of a large, shallow roasting dish, cut the remaining onion into wedges and place around the patties, adding the tomatoes, courgettes and potatoes.  Drizzle with oil, adding seasoning to taste.
Bake for 40 minutes at 180C, 360F, gas 4 for 40 minutes, turning once, until the lamb is cooked and the vegetables tender.  Serve sprinkled with the crumbled Feta and remaining mint.

Most 'ethnic' recipes have a very similar version made/eaten in another country.  Above is 'Greek based', and this next is almost the same but a curried version.  Not as many vegetables but we could include more (and use less meat).
My first thought is this dish could be of Indian origin but as coconut milk is used, perhaps further east, say in Thailand?  Am now wondering what our UK version of this would be.  Lancashire Hot Pot perhaps?

The name of this dish is to do with the meat used, not the country, and chicken could be used instead.  The recipe suggests using a low-fat coconut milk, but if you wish to freeze this dish then you would need to use full-fat coconut milk.  Similar to above, the 'meatballs' can be made in advance and then frozen (or if using thawed frozen meat, kept chilled in the fridge to bake the following day).

Turkey Meatballs in a Korma Sauce: serves 4
1 lb (450g) minced turkey (or chicken)
2 oz (50g) fresh white breadcrumbs
1 heaped tblsp Korma paste
salt and pepper
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
1 large onion, half grated, the other half finely chopped
1 pint (500ml) chicken stock
1 x 175g can coconut milk (pref low-fat but see above)
large handful sugar snap peas
16 cherry tomatoes
1 tblsp toasted, flaked almonds
Put the minced turkey/chicken into a bowl with one teaspoon of the curry paste and the grated onion, adding seasoning to taste. When well combined, form into walnut-sized balls.
Heat the oil in a frying pan, and over medium heat, fry the meatballs for 5 minutes, until browned all over.  Remove from pan and set aside.
To the same pan add the remaining curry sauce and the chopped onion, reduce heat and fry gently for about 5 minutes until the onions are softened.  To avoid burning the curry paste you may need to add a teaspoon or so of stock.  Add all (or remaining) stock to the pan, together with the coconut milk.  Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to the lowest.  Add the meatballs and simmer for 10 minutes or until the turkey/chicken has cooked through and the sauce has begun to thicken.  Add the sugar snap peas (these can be cut diagonally in half if you wish) and tomatoes.  Cook for a further 3 minutes before serving with rice or what you will.

Final recipe today brings us back (nearly) to England where the sausage reigns supreme.  We have many different varieties/flavours of sausage, so we can choose the ones we prefer, but always, ALWAYS,  buy the best we can afford.  Four fat quality sausages are worth far more than a dozen 'value' sausages that are probably made from bits we'd rather not know about (even if they are edible). Pig's ears are edible, tripe is edible, lamb's tails are edible, and these are 'real' food, not the 'slurry' that ends up being preformed, but still most of us would avoid eating these, mainly because we never have and just don't like the thought.  If we have to be 'picky', then let's at least pick quality - and this usually means we can get away with less 'quantity'.

When it comes to the 'foreign' ingredient of this dish (lentils), there are many different kinds. Myself always keep the dried split red lentils in my larder, sometimes the dried whole flattish green (sometimes called brown) lentils, and rarely the more fashionable (and more expensive because of this) Puy lentils.  We can buy canned ready cooked lentils (usually the green ones), but these don't taste as good as those 'home-cooked'. 
So with this dish, we have a choice of what sausages to choose (we usually have some in the freezer), and which lentils (canned or dried in our larder).  An easy recipe to make (esp when using Puy lentils - or canned), and worth knowing 'how to' by students, or teenagers who want to cook themselves a meal when Ma is out, or just us 'wrinklies' who want to a make a warming, filling meal, without much effort.
Reading through the recipe in preparation to writing it out (adapting as I go), it crossed my mind we could use a can of mixed beans, or even baked beans instead of the lentils - in this case, omit the stock/wine and cook the sausages thoroughly before adding to the beans, as these just need heating through. Maybe a simpler way to make this dish, but not necessarily tastier.  However, this does show how we can adapt a recipe according to our needs.

Sausage Supper, with Lentils: serves 4
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
8 quality sausages, cook's choice of flavour
1 red (or white) onion, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
9 oz (250g) Puy lentils (or other, see above)
5 fl oz (150ml) vegetable stock
4 fl oz (100ml) red wine
Put half the oil in a large sauce pan and cook the sausages until browned (but not cooked through). Remove and set aside.  Add remaining oil to the pan with the onions, and pepper and sizzle for about 5 minutes, adding the garlic towards the end.  When softened, return the sausages to the pan with the lentils, and pour over the stock and wine.  Bring to the boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 - 30 minutes until the lentils have softened and the sausages cooked through.  Serve as-is or with some crisp salad leaves.

A few moments ago we had some sleet tapping furiously on the window in front of me, but this very soon went, and now we are back to higher cloud, more sun and blue sky, but still very high winds.  Seasonable enough I suppose, so we shouldn't grumble.  Whether it's age or the same for all, but the days seem to fly by at the moment, one minutes clearing up Christmas decorations before Twelfth Night, then in the blink of an eye it's February, and already 5 days into that month.  Suppose now the stores will be packing their shelves full of 'Foods for Valentine's Day'.  Soon after they will be urging us to buy eggs, milk, lemons, flour for Pancake Day, then we have Lent (not much they can tempt us with then), but they make up for it six weeks later at Easter.  We don't have to buy of course, we can always make the 'treats' ourselves.  So recipes for these will be given as we come closer to the feasting time.

Until then I'll carry on with a bit more baking, a bit more experiments, and as B has just come in with a mug of coffee for me and said "there's a bag of watercress in the freezer that needs using, like for supper today", I'll need to find out an 'interesting ' dish that it will fit into (but not watercress soup, B does not want that).
Tomorrow, B and daughter will be travelling to Barrow (with others on a coach) for the 'fitting' (of 1960's clothes) for the forthcoming filming.  They will be 'eating out' after their return (I've declined because I do not want to stop my diet as it is going so well - believe me, once I fall by the wayside, I always slip back into eating too much of the wrong things, adding lbs within a very few days then have to start all over again.  Story of my life).

Skies gone dark and menacing again, but at least, when in the kitchen, I won't see any bad weather (no windows except those in the conservatory that crosses the open end of the long strip of our 'L-shaped' kitchen.  Normally have to rely on using the strip lights under the cabinets (over the unit tops) or the ceiling lights (all twelve of them) when working at the table, normally don't need these during the lighter summer months, but certainly do now.

Keep trying to imagine what one or more of you are doing each day, perhaps close only when I've mentioned a radio or TV prog and hope that you might also be listening/watching at the same time. Well, it's a sort of 'togetherness' and maybe our spirits will hold hands even if our human bodies are too far apart to touch.  At least (normally) between 8.00 and now (11.30) you can visualise me sitting tapping away at the computer writing to YOU.  None of you are 'general', each I feel I know personally, and it is YOU I am writing to right now. 
So enjoy your day, and hope I'll be hearing from you tomorrow, or if not - at least hope you will be reading this.  TTFN with kisses.