Saturday, February 23, 2013

We CAN do it!

It had to happen!  Yesterday the washing machine refused to work, as it is well over 20 years old now and had been playing up for some months (but still working with a bit of help) we will now have to have a replacement.  Am so sorry as I've grown fond of the machine (as I do - well, many of my kitchen appliances do the work that 'below stairs' used to do for us in the old days, so I tend to give them all a name.  Readers will have already been introduced to 'Boris' (our fridge/freezer), and 'Norris' (my mobility scooter). 
Thankfully, the insurance I took out to cover repairs etc, will - it says in the small print - supply us with a brand new washing machine should the one we have not be able to be repaired.  That's something.   Unfortunately the repair man cannot come to take a look until next Friday, and until then (or even later) will have to go back to doing my washing in the sink (or bath).  Luckily, was almost up to date with it, so only a few 'smalls' to wash by hand.

Was able to watch the regional final of Great British Chef  (not sure if that is the name of the prog, on each weekday evening on BBC 2).  As ever, really 'cheffy' dishes are served up, and I was thrilled to bits to see one of the starters being a very clear chicken consomme, with a big sliver of roast chicken skin tucked in as 'garnish'.  As you know home-made chicken stock is VERY cheap to make, and chicken skin certainly one of those bits many people discard, never being counted as being worth anything, so proof positive that we DON'T need to spend more than a very few pennies serving really 'posh nosh' when entertaining.  As with most meals served in the top restaurants, we are paying for the time, skill, and imagination of the chef, not necessarily the ingredients.  It's what they do with what they've got.  And we can do the same.

A few suggestions coming up on how to make something that little bit different, using simple ingredients, the first being a dish of cooked cucumber.  Normally, a cucumber - eaten raw - is often sliced thinly, so a little goes a long way.  One way to use it up is to cut into 'batons' to add to other 'crudites' when serving dips, but how many of us serve cucumber as a cooked veg?  Try this dish and discover how delicious this tastes after cooking, especially with herbs.
Because this is so different, another good dish to serve as a starter when entertaining.
Herbed Cucumber: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 small onion, or shallot, thinly sliced
2 tblsp chopped fresh herbs
half teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon salt
Heat the oil in a pan and add the cucumber and onion, stirring and tossing together for 3 minutes.  Sprinkle over the herbs, Tabasco and salt, then cover pan and reduce heat to very low, and steam for 4 minutes, giving the pan a shake from time to time.   Serve immediately.

Next dish is another that would make a good 'starter', but also good to serve as nibbles when watching TV.  The given name (in Italian) because the melted mozzarella resembles telephone wires when the balls are split and pulled apart.
Those of us who plan our meals ahead (maybe the menu for the whole week) could arrange to make these when rice has been cooked for a previous day's meal, allow a bit extra to make these.  As with any cooked rice you wish to use later, always cool rapidly then keep chilled.  The best rice to use this is medium grain.  If you haven't fresh herbs, use a tsp of dried.
A good tip for fast-chilling cooked rice is to spread it over a baking sheet in a thin layer, then flap a piece of card over it so the cool air moving across rapidly brings down the temperature, then put the cold rice in the fridge (or freeze it).
Suppli al Telephono: makes 8 balls
1 tblsp olive oil
2 oz (50g) frozen peas
1 clove garlic, crushed
half-pint measure cooked white rice
1 oz (25g) grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 tblsp finely chopped fresh oregano or marjoram
2 oz (50g) mozzarella cheese
2 oz (50g) stale breadcrumbs
sunflower oil, for frying
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, then add the peas and garlic and cook until the peas are just tender and the garlic 'fragrant'.  Then put the peas/garlic into a bowl with their oil, add the rice, Parmesan, egg, and herbs, then mix well to combine.  Divide into eight and form each into a ball..
Cut the mozzarella into 8 cubes, then press a hole into the middle of each ball and into each shove in a cube of the cheese, re-shaping the rice round to cover the hole/cheese.   Roll in the breadcrumbs until coated all over, then deep-fry in hot oil, in batches, until golden brown and heated through.  Drain in kitchen paper and serve immediately.

Discovered another recipe that uses smoked salmon, again to be cooked.  Because this is such a simple dish to make, and serves up to 15 (yes, FIFTEEN), a perfect dish for that summer buffet, or scaled down by half, then made in a 1lb loaf tin, when sliced would serve 6 - 8 as a dinner party  'starter'. 
Considering how many it serves, not expensive by any means, and if we have 'value' white fish in our freezer, canned salmon (bought on offer), in our larder, and bought smoked salmon 'offcuts' (the vacuum packs of these will also freeze)', we could be on to a winner here, especially as we have 'free' egg whites to use up, just think of all those meringues and macaroons we could make with these! 
Fish Terrine: serves 15
1.5 lb (550g) cod (or similar) fillet, thawed if frozen
1 onion, quartered
2 bay leaves
4 oz (100g) butter
4 oz (100g) plain flour
1 pint (600ml) milk
salt and pepper
good pinch freshly grated nutmeg
zest of 1 lemon
8 eggs, yolks only
4 oz (100g) breadcrumbs
1 x 400g can red salmon, skinned, boned, the mashed
Tabasco sauce
4 oz (100g) smoked salmon, thinly sliced (or thin pieces)
Put the cod, onion, and bay leaves in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then place on lid and leave to stand until cold, then drain.  Remove skin and bones, the mash the flesh well..
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan, then stir in the flour and cook for 1 minutes. Slowly stir in the milk, then bring to the boil, continually stirring until thickened and there are no lumps. Remove from heat, add seasoning to taste, then stir in the nutmeg, lemon zest, egg yolks and breadcrumbs.
Add the mashed cod to two-thirds of the sauce, then mix the Tabasco and the mashed, canned salmon, into the remaining third of the sauce.
Place half the cod mixture in a greased and lined 2lb (900g) loaf tin, then top with half the smoked salmon slices. Cover these with the salmon mixture, then the remaining smoked salmon, finished with the reserved half of the white fish mixture.  Cover with a piece of buttered greaseproof paper, then place loaf tin in a roasting tin and pour enough cold water in the larger tin to come up about halfway up the sides of the loaf tin (at least an inch depth of water needed).
Place in centre of oven and cook at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for two to two and a half hours or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the 'mousse' comes out clean.  Cool in the tin, then chill before turning out.  Served sliced.

Moving from the sublime to (almost) the ridiculous (when it comes to cost), this next dish is made with split peas, one of the cheaper 'pulses'.  Very much like a meat-loaf in texture, the flavour is surprisingly good, so worth making as either a 'starter', or could be served with egg curry. Also makes good buffet 'nibbles' or TV 'snacks'.  As these can be frozen, then worth considering whether to make some, like now, and we can decide how to serve them later.
Split Pea 'Spicies': makes 36
8 oz (225g) split peas, soaked overnight
1 large onion, grated
1 tsp each ground cumin and ground coriander
half tsp chilli powder
good pinch each salt and pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 egg, beaten
flour (pref wholewheat)
oil for frying
Drain the soaked peas, then put them into a pan, adding fresh, cold water to just cover.  Bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for approx 1 hour or until just tender, and all the liquid has been absorbed.
Mash with a fork, then add the rest of the ingredients and beat well (or put into a food processor or blender and blitz until smooth).  Shape into small balls about the size of a walnut.  They can be frozen at this point, by open-freezing until solid, then bag up and seal.  Use within 3 months.  Cook from frozen for 7 - 8 minutes, following directions below..
To cook (fresh or frozen): dip into beaten egg and then in flour. Fry for 3 - 4 minutes (longer if frozen), in 2 or 3 batches, turning once or twice, until golden all over.  Drain on kitchen paper.  Can be served hot or cold, with salad and pitta bread, or on cocktail sticks as a party snack.

As you say Sarina, 'dining in' is certainly the best way to have a great meal, as then we have complete control over what we cook/serve.  When we take the trouble, we can cook superb meals that really don't cost a lot (and certainly MUCH cheaper than we would pay when dining 'out').  The down side is that the cook doesn't have the pleasure of having a meal cooked for him/her.  We cooks really do enjoy being able to let someone else do the work for a chance, but am discovering that only when the food served is better than I could have made it, do I really feel it's been worth spending the money (even if someone else has been paying). This only applies when eating in restaurants, eating someone else's home-cooked food I always enjoy, at whatever level.

Interesting that you also felt that your meal at Hest Bank wasn't as good as usual gillibob. Someone else I spoke to recently said the same, so perhaps they have a new chef.  jSuch a pity when a good reputation has been built, for it to lapse because a good chef has left, or maybe the (new?) owners are cutting costs?

Thanks Eileen for letting Pam know that McD's do serve breakfasts. Have to admit I've never eaten in a McD's ever, so have no idea what they serve other than burgers and chips (and only know this because of their ads).  No doubt the UK 'breakfast' served would be different than those served in the US as we haven't yet reached the stage (thankfully) when pancakes with maple syrup break our fast.  If we ate these at all they would be the 'pudding/dessert' after our main (usually) evening meal.

Recently been watching the Food Network again as there are a few programmes that I've not seen before (far too many repeats, esp of Nigella).  Noticed that the Barefoot Contessa was looking more slender, and she seemed to live in a different house, but after noticing the date at the end of her prog. (2003) realised these were filmed when she was a good 10 years younger.   Believe Ina mentioned she lived in New York (but this could have meant N.Y. state, not the city), and in recent progs she often talks about living in East Hampton (is that on Long Island?), and seeing her often walking on a beach, feel she lives close by the sea.  Am hoping that bad storm that flooded many areas on the east coast of America some months ago didn't ruin her house and garden.

Not quite sure why, but am getting quite fond of watching Guy Ferreri (?), the presenter of 'Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives', who I have discovered does other shows (Guy's Bites?) where he cooks in his own home, along with his two young sons, and it's so good to see how well they work together.   
Quite often on that network, there are several chefs who tell us of their favourite dishes, and where they eat them (seems most chefs prefer to 'eat out' rather than cook their own), and once I saw Guy F's sister (different surname) telling us of her favourite, and she looked very like her brother, but much prettier.  Same spiky (but longer) fair hair (bleached of course).  A really pleasant lady, think she also had he own own cookery prog (or restaurant).

The other day had a double bonus as happened to switch to the Food Network just as Guy was showing Sunny Anderson how to cook a certain meal (forgotten what).  Liking both presenters, I looked forward to enjoying watching, but have to say that Guy did tend to 'talk down to' Sunny and not give her the credit she deserves.  This slightly lowered my opintion of him, but I still enjoy watching his programmes.

Back to the Goode kitchen.  The other day gave a recipe for a 'basic mix' for pastry, that could then be used to make several other things, and today am giving yet another suggestion.  This is a 'Jalousie', basically an oblong 'pie' where the pastry has been slashed into strips across the centre, so that these open slightly when cooking so we can see the filling.   The recipe given is for a dessert, but instead of making the filling from scratch (as given) we could instead used mincemeat left over from Christmas? You need to look up the 'basic' recipe, but if you haven't saved it, just use normal shortcrust pastry, approx 12 oz in weight when made.
OR - we could use a savouring filling, this time using proper 'mince(d) meat', such as a spag.bol meat sauce, or maybe even meat with beans (chilli).
Citrus Jalousie: gives 6 - 8 slices
1 quantity of Basic Mix 
1 orange, peeled, flesh chopped
zest of 1 lemon
2 oz (50g) each sultanas and chopped dates
2 oz (50g) demerara sugar
beaten egg, for glazing
Chill the pastry before rolling out to a flour rectangle 14" x 12" (36.5 x 30cm).  Trim to neaten edges, then cut in half lengthways (ending with two strips 14" x 7").
Place one half on a greased baking sheet.  Mix filling ingredients together and spread this over the pastry, leaving a half-inch (1cm) border. Dampen these edges.
Fold remaining pastry in half lengthways, then make diagonal cuts along the whole length, from folded edge to within half inch of the cut edges.  Open out and place on top of the filled pastry, pressing edges together to seal.  Knock up edges with a knife, then glaze with beaten egg.
Bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 25 minutes until golden.brown.  Cool on tin for five minutes before transferring to a cake airer.  Serve sliced, hot or cold.

Another recipe using the 'basic' mix is a speedy way to make a ginger cake.  Speedy in that we already have the basic mix prepared and kept in fridge or freezer.  Either way, bring to room temperature before making this cake.  Pastry, used as pastry is best when the ingredients are kept chilled, but when making cakes, ingredients should always be at room temperature (unless otherwise stated).

Although we could omit the stem ginger and syrup (use orange juice instead to make the icing), if there is a jar of stem ginger in your larder, we could use this to make extra ginger syrup.  What I do is tip the contents of the jar into a sieve, then get a couple or three similar sized jars and divide the syrup between them.  I then chop or slice the stem ginger (sometimes do both), also dividing this between the jars (some with slices, some with chopped), then top up with some home-made stock sugar syrup).  Screw on the lids, give a shake so the original syup and home-made get well mixed with the ginger, then replace in the larder.  Over time the stem ginger flavours the extra syrup so we end up with loads more than we began with.
Alternatively, if a recipe uses ginger syrup from a bought jar but none of the stem ginger, then just top up the jar with the home-made syrup until all the ginger is completely covered, and in a few days you will have more ginger-flavoured syrup you can use.
Iced Ginger Cake: serves 9
1 quantity of Basic Mix
2 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
3 tblsp golden syrup
3 oz (75g) soft brown sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
2 oz (50g) icing sugar, sifted
ginger syrup (see above)
2 tblsp stem ginger, finely chopped
Put the basic mix into a bowl with the eggs, baking powder, syrup, sugar, and ground ginger, and beat together. Spoon into a greased and lined 7" (18cm) square cake tin.  Level the surface, then bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for half an hour or until cooked.  Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cake airer to cool completely.
Beat the icing sugar and ginger syrup together until smooth, then sprinkle the chopped ginger on the cake, drizzling the icing over in a zig-zag pattern.   When icing has set, the cake can then be cut into 9 squares or plated up whole..
If wishing to freeze, cool completely then wrap in cling-film or foil, and place in a rigid container. Use within 3 months.  Unwrap and thaw uncut cake for 4 hours at room temp, or smaller squares between 1 - 2 hours.

If you wish to make your own stock sugar syrup, just put equal measures (by volume, not weight) of water and sugar (caster or granulated) into a pan and heat gently WITHOUT STIRRING until the sugar has dissolved.  If we stir there is a good chance that sugar crystals will stick to the spoon or sides of the pan, and if one drops in it could then start the syrup turning back into crystals as it is stored.  This once happened to me. discovering one huge crystal, about the size of my little finger, growing in the centre of a jar of marmalade that I'd made some months before.
Swirling the sugar/water in the pan helps to dissolve, but keeps the sugar crystals beneath the surface.
Once dissolved turn up the heat to medium and boil, fairly rapidly for five minutes, then remove from heat, cool and store in sterilised jars,  When sealed, this syrup will keep for months in a cool place (larder is fine, no need to keep it chilled).

A thought came into my mind yesterday evening (as so often happens), and with this constant urging to the return to home-cooking (not just by me, but now mentioned almost every day in the media, due mainly to the horsemeat scandal), began to think 'outside the box', realising that those who prefer to buy their food already made/processed/prepared, aren't really doing anything different that all those (that includes me) who prefer to buy their clothes ready-made.  In the old days (like when I was a 'gel' (and in my early married years), mothers made many of their own clothes, and certainly their childrens, and instead of buying jumpers, scarves, gloves and hats, these would be  hand-knitted or crocheted.  In those days, of course - meals were nearly always cooked at home 'from scratch', and if there was enough land, people also grew their own fruit and veg, so do feel that perhaps we shouldn't be so down on people because they haven't learned to cook.  Many haven't learned to knit or sew, and no-body complains about this.

As the years roll by, there is always a lot less D.I.Y because it's just become 'easier' to let someone else do all the work.  Sometimes this does mean that both parents have to work to pay for it all, but there is no reason why some of the skills cannot be relearned (esp. cooking) and it's been proved that if one parent (usually the female) gives up the paid work, more money that was earned can be saved when 'the home-made' takes the place of 'the bought'.  Food being one example.

'Domestic history' always interests me, by this I mean 'domestic' as in home-life, not just the history of our country.  Whatever age, there will always be people who remember how things used to be done.  In this 21st century we buy our knitwear, in the last half of the 20th century we used to knit garments using from pre-wound balls of wool. In the first half of the century we had to wind the wool from hanks (I remember hours of holding the hanks between my hands as my mother wound it into balls).
Prior to that, people used a spinning wheel to spin wool from a bought sheep's fleece, and some people still do this (as a 'hobby') today.  Before that I suppose people kept sheep so they could shear it every year to spin more wool. 

Now we buy bread from the bakers/supermarket, with a slight swing back to 'baking our own' using a bread machine.  Some people even knead the dough by hand.  Before that we started with the flour, either buying it from a miller, or growing our own wheat and milling it by hand.
The further back in time we go, the more we have to do to get the 'end product' that is so easily purchased today, so sometimes technology can be very useful.  After washing some 'smalls' in the bath yesterday, wringing out as much water as possible being quite difficult with my old achind hands (and joints) realised that those 'good old days' may not have been quite so good after all.

You may recall me mentioning a book I have published by the Canned Foods Advisory Service, and at the end of the introduction, describes the 'economics of the canning industry'.
Things may be very different today - perhaps the cans are now made in another country, but this makes interesting reading:
"The use of British canned foods benefits several industries, and is a great factor in the reduction of unemployment. The South Wales tinplate mills in 1935 were called on to supply 142,605 tons of tinplate for the industry's cans. Steelmakers and coalminers benefited too: 98% of tinplate is steel and the steel industry had to supply this.  Coke is needed to make the pig iron for the tinplate.  Coal is needed for the coke.
The can manufacturers also need can-making machinery.  The machinery manufacturers benefit as well in supplying the machinery which actually does the canning.
Lastly, the fruit growers and the canners themselves get their livelihood from the industry. 
A few years ago thousands of acres of orchards and fruit plantations were going out of cultivation every year.  Fruit was rotting on the trees.  In a glut year the price was not sufficient to pay the cost of picking.  The canning industry has arrested that decline.
Every time the housewife buys a can of British packed food, she helps four major industries:  steel, coal, tinplate and agriculture."

Somehow, I feel it isn't quite like that any more.  It could be, it should be if we kept the industry to this country, but now it seems so much is imported because it is cheaper for a manufacturer to do this.
On the other hand, with so many canned foods on sale today compared with the relatively few varieties on sale when the book was first published, am wondering why we still get perfectly good fresh fruit and vegetables left rotting in the fields.  Why are these not being canned?

At least it's opened my eyes to the fact that if we want our country to pull itself out of its recession, we do need to keep our industrie's heads above water, and to do this we have to spend our 'disposable' income.  Nothing wrong with that, it's just that most of us have very little money to spare these days.
What is interesting is what is happening to the supermarkets.  Every day we hear of more food being removed from the shelves due to 'undeclared' ingredients being found in them. Yesterday read about someone finding a dead bird in a bag of salad leaves bought from a supermarket.  Very soon we will begin to suspect everything that has been pre-packed. I certainly am. This could mean we see the return of the small, privately owned, grocers, greengrocers, fishmongers, butchers and bakers return to our local shopping parade.  All we have now are estate agents, travel agents, solicitors, chiropodists, sn off licence, betting shops, with only a newsagent and pharmacy that has kept tight hold.  Not forgetting 'the corner shop', the mini-supermarket that sells 'the necessary' at very inflated prices.                                    

A busy weekend for me as famly visiting for a couple or so days.  Much depends upon how I get on today as to whether I'll find time to write my blog tomorrow. I'll try to find time to write something as I'll definitely be taking Monday and Tuesday off to spend time with the family and three days seems a long time without 'having a chat'.  However, if there is no blog tomorrow, you'll understand why.  But will be back again on Wednesday if the comp is still working.

Everything goes in threes, they say.  The electric kettle blew up early last week, the washing machine now has popped its clogs, and the comp seems very close to doing the same.  Fingers crossed it will keep going until we managed to get a replacement.

Not sure whether we had a fall of snow during the night, or a very severe frost.  Feel it could have been frost as the terrace outside our patio door was as dry as a bone first thing, but the wall along the side (about 3ft away from the wall)  was wet - possibly because it is almost directly under the pipe sticking out of our house wall that blows out hot air/steam from our central heating boiler.
But whatever, all signs of snow or frost have disappeared from roof and fence tops, and so far the weather seems to be staying dry, although the rain clouds suggest otherwise.  Suprise, suprise, as I write snow is just beginning to fall, only a few flakes but pretty to watch.

Maybe tomorrow, or maybe not until Wednesday.  But - I'll be back!  Enjoy your weekend.  TTFN.