Saturday, March 23, 2013

Canny Cooking...

Perhaps someone should write a cook-book about using nothing but canned foods and call it 'Canny Cooking'.   Certainly, it does seem that there are plenty of meals that can be made using these - with the help of some dried 'packet' mixes.
Yesterday was 'testing' instant potato.  I'd bought three packs of Morrison's 'instant mash' in three different flavours: roasted onion, mustard, and cheese and onion.  Have to say was very impressed with the quality (and flavour) although did make mine up with half milk, half water instead of all water.  Prefer this to the Smash 'flavoured'.
Checking my bill, see that each 100g pack cost 55p, but the end of the bill showed a reduction of 65p for the 'mash offer' (that I hadn't noticed when buying them), making the actual price paid for each for each pack as 32p .  Well pleased with that especially as each pack made enough to make 4 - 6 portions.

Using slightly less liquid to make up the 'mustard' flavour mash, was able to form this into six 'burger' sized/shaped 'patties' which I fried in a very little fat.  No fat and I would have 'browned' them off under the grill, or just served hot as-is.  B ate four with his supper of beef rib trim in rich gravy with Brussels sprouts.  I ate two with some of the gravy.  Quite yummy!

Instant mash can be used in many ways, dried to help thicken soups, sauces and gravy, and when made up (fairly thickly) used for topping savoury pies (Cottage Pie etc), and shaping into patties and rissoles prior to frying.  Still have more experimenting to do with the 'instants'.

Not surprised the meatballs were so, well let's say 'insipid' in flavour, they were only 50p a can. The jar of hot dogs cost me £1.   Ate the rest of the hot dogs yesterday, first heating them, and then splitting in half and laying between buttered bread spread with mustard.  Have to admit they did taste a lot better eaten that way but only because the mustard overrode any flavour the meat had (or didn't have in that instance). 

Funny how my thoughts went yesterday to how the meals I cook are much the same, just keeping to the 'favourites'.  In the paper yesterday was a short article entitled "Think variety is the spice of life? Read on..."
It seems that while we believe we believe we like variety (with what we eat) we prefer to stick with what we know.   This is a phenomenon called 'the diversification bias', and explains why many of us have kitchen cupboards full of unopened packets, cans and jars.  And weekly trips to the supermarket is very likely to lead us to making choices we'll later regret (and of course pay money for these that we can't afford).

The article goes on to say "Let's say you buy half a kilo of Cheddar, 100g of Brie, and another cheese that takes your fancy.  You put them in the fridge, have a cheddar sandwich, and another, and another, until suddenly there is no cheddar left.
There are all those other cheeses in the fridge, but you go back to the supermarket and buy more cheddar cheese. 
People tend to choose more variety than they actually want to consume.!

The professor who did the research concluded by saying "Now I am willing to buy ten of the same thing.  That is not a bad lesson to learn - if you like something, choose more of it".

Pleased about that, it explains the many shelves in my larder with numerous unopened packets and jars that I don't even bother to remember to use (mostly the canned products are always used). Also pleased that my 'bulk buys' of baked beans and chopped/plum tomatoes is 'allowed' because I like them and use them often.

We still haven't had snow in Morecambe, other than seeing flakes falling now and again, none have settled, and so it is hard to believe the bad weather over the rest of the UK.  Watching the TV news we see that the gales have caused power line to fall, so no electricity for thousands of homes (think in Scotland), thousands of schools over the UK closed due to heavy falls of snow, and many roads almost impassable.  No snow in the south of the country, but really heavy falls of rain that have caused land-slides, causing property built on hill sides to collapse. 

Despite being in the snow-free part of the country, we are still shivering with cold.  Even with the heating on all day I am now needing 'three quilts and a hottie' ( sounds like a boy/girl band) to keep me warm when sitting in my chair (today must wear bed socks as well as there seems to be a very cold draught just around my feet, and from where I know not). 
Last night even put a hot water bottle into my bed to warm up where I put my feet, then cuddled the 'hottie' before going to sleep.  Did fall asleep quite rapidly, but believe that had more to do with the lavender I spray on my pillow. 
When my mind tends to concentrate on things - like the 'tests' I'm doing at the moment, and making up recipes to try - I can stay awake for hours, just 'thinking'.  Lavender spray works wonders, I can drop to sleep in almost seconds once my head hits the pillow.   For anyone with insomnia, do try and scent the room or pillow with lavender, you will be amazed how well it works.

Know what you mean Kathryn, about pastry 'flopping' or shrinking when baking.  This used to happen to me often.  I tried the cheffy trick of lining the tin with enough pastry to allow it to drape over the edges, so that when it cooked it would not shrink back below the level of the rim.  Once the filling has been put in and baked, the pastry can be carefully shaved away from the rim using a sharp knife. 
Also, it's a good idea to help the pastry fit the tin without being stretched too much by laying it loosely in the tin (rolled pastry is 'stretched' and will shrink back when cooked), then pressing it to fit (but without stretching) using a ball of pastry, not the fingers (as the fingers/nails can often make a slight - but unseen - crack in the pastry that widens when cooked. 
Chefs also say that if pastry (once in the tin) is chilled before baking, it is less likely to crack.

When my 'baked-blind' cases (for quiches and fruit tarts etc) do show small cracks after blind-baking, then I brush the insides of the case with beaten egg,  when the pastry is still hot the egg sets almost immediately, and if the cracks are biggish I give a second or third coating of egg.  The case can be put back into the oven to make sure the egg-seal is cooked, and if there is a large crack will spoon even more egg over it.  These layers of egg really do form a good coating, and once the case has been left to cool, any quiche (or fruit) filling will not then leach through.
If the case looks crack-free, but I'm uncertain, and especially if using a loose-bottomed tin, I would place the tin on a piece of kitchen foil, and fold this up the sides of the tin so no filling could escape and drip out.  If the ends of the foil are folded lightly over the pastry rim this prevents it baking too brown before the filling is set.

Your list Kathryn, of 'regular' meals you make was interesting (by the way, what are 'bier-rocks'?).
My own 'favourites to make' or perhaps I should say 'B's favourites to eat' are (in no particular order) shown below.  I do occasionally cook other things, but these are the ones cooked most often.:
Spag (or pasta) Bolognese
Chilli con Carne,
Beef  Casserole,
Prawn Cocktail
Roast chicken or beef with all the trimmings
Belly pork with vegetables
Lamb shank (or pork shank) with vegetables
Curry (assorted flavour),
Sausage, Egg, Beans and Chips
Fresh (from the freezer) poached or fried Salmon with salad. 
Cold Meat Platter with salad. 
Liver, Bacon, Cabbage and Potatoes

My own 'favourites' are salads with hard-boiled eggs, cold meats or tuna; soups and more soups (tomato made with canned chopped tomatoes being top of the list at the moment, mixed veg cooked in chicken stock a close second). Dips and/or hummus.  Spam sandwiches, ham sandwiches, corned beef sandwiches; cheese with grapes or tomatoes; occasionally pasta with pesto.  Hot meal faves are curries and chilli con carne.

Not sure whether anyone has tried this, but have heard it works in hot countries, and Pam et al might be interested...  when the weather is very hot, wet cloths draped over things will help to cool the air underneath.  We used to stand milk bottles and covered milk jugs in a bowl of shallow water, then drape soaking wet tea-towels or muslin over them, the ends of the cloth in the water to keep soaking it up as it dried.   We would do the same with butter dishes.
In hot countries, beds have muslin draped from an overhead bracket, covering the bed completely, this normally to keep away insects (mosquitoes) etc, but wet muslin, ends in water as above, would also make the air around the bed much cooler.  Perhaps wetting net curtains that cover windows (open to let the breeze blow through) would also help keep the room temperature down.

When on holiday in Tunisia, I was told the floor, walls, and ceilings of rooms were tiled because during the very hot weather, this meant water could be thrown over them so that as it evaporated, it cooled down the air.  Perhaps all the above is a bit simplistic and rather old-fashioned, but it still works an a lot less costly than air-conditioning.

Pea sprouts/shoots Pam, are the growing tips of the pea plant.  Pinching out the top growth causes more shoots to form from the side stems, so the more pinched out the more we get.   It's just the top few inches of the young growth that are used in salads.  When eaten they taste just like fresh peas.

Was shocked to read how much the cup-cakes cost.  Pam (in the US) said - if I read it right - £2.60p for ONE!  Margie (in Canada) said mini-cupcakes were £1, but if it takes 3 - 4 bites to eat a 'mini' and still end up with a nose tipped with frosting, then perhaps these 'minis' are what we think of a standard size cup-cakes (about the size of the American muffin).  Are there larger ones on sale in the US (the size of what we would call a 'proper' cake?).
But whatever, if the size of a mini-cupcake is the same a the US muffin, this would still cost us home-cooks (in the UK) under 10p each to make.  Add 'frosting', and the total shouldn't cost more than 15p (or less depending on the topping used).  Cost based on making/baking/frosting a dozen muffins at any one time.
Having said that, I have seen individual 'small' cakes (like not-so-small chocolate eclairs, vanilla slices etc...) on sale for around about £1 each, but usually only in small bakeries, cafes etc., in 'tourist spots' where there is more of a captive audience.  Although, it is usual practice for a 'mark-up' price to be worked out thus: one fifth of the price goes on ingredients, three fifths on 'overheads' (cost of fuel, wages, rent...), the final fifth being the 'profit'.

Proving that the 'croquembouche' made for B's 80th birthday, cost exactly £5 to make the 80 plus profiteroles filled with cream and drizzled with caramel (fraction over 6p each), and knowing that one batch of choux pastry would make 12 profiteroles or 4 eclairs, this means, when filled with cream with a topping of chocolate, home-made eclairs could work out at around 18p each.  So 'my' eclair, sold at shop price, would work out at about £1, which have to say is about right.  When it comes to the prices charged for the US/Canada cupcakes, it seems their 'profit margin' is a great deal more than ours.

It has always been said that those 'ready-meals' we buy are five times the cost of the ingredients used, the rest going on the 'overheads' which includes packaging and advertising.  So the obvious way to reduce our housekeeping is to cook as much 'from scratch' as possible. 
Not that everything we buy is 'five times as much'.  Certainly I couldn't make my own 'instant whip' dessert dry 'mix' for just 10p, even with the added milk this makes the dessert 22.5p total (or less depending on how much we pay for milk - Morrison's being £1 for a 4 pint container if we buy 3 at any one time - making it 25p pint).  B could eat up this dessert all by himself, but it could serve two.
Today am going to make up another sachet of this 'instant strawberry dessert', then freeze it to see if it will end up/eat like 'ice-cream'.

Interesting to find that the small pack of dried milk bought cost me £1.60, and made up with water as per packet instructions would end up with five pints, so more expensive than buying the same amount (when made up) of fresh milk.  However, like instant potato, the dried milk is very useful, and a little added to soups makes them creamier.  When milk is called for in a recipe (to make porridge, or when baking, or to make up instant potato, sauces ets), use dried milk to the dry ingredients and use water instead of milk.

Normally I tend to favour Batchelors cuppa soups, but when in Morrison's picked up a pack of (4) Campbells Tomato 'cuppa soups'.  Used one sachet yesterday to make a 'cuppa' and pleased to find it was really thick compared to my 'favourite' brand.  Not quite such good flavour, but the Campbells soup would make a very good 'sauce' to go with those meatballs when serving with pasta.
In fact the soup seemed so thick that I read the pack again to see if it was a Campbells 'condensed' soup in cuppa form.  But no, it needed just 200ml of boiling water to mix - making up one mugful.  Crossed my mind that made up with more water it could make enough soup to serve two, and having some concentrated chicken stock in the freezer, thawing that out and adding a little water, could make one sachet serve THREE.  Chicken stock and tomato cuppa go very well together (I call it 'chickato' soup).   Each day I'm learning new ways to make foods go further and at the same time taste better.  I would say 'even better', but in the case of the meatballs and hot-dogs, 'just a bit better' is about as far as I can manage, but who knows - with a bit more experimenting, miracles can happen.

With Janet off for a week's holiday in the Lake District, let us hope she manages to reach it, the M6 being snow-bound yesterday, but at least our main roads are speedily cleared as long as the snow stops falling.  Cannot believe that this time last year we were having a heat-wave, with temperatures in the mid-70s.  All due - we were told on TV - by the siting of the high-pressure areas.  Last year the HP was much lower down, towards mainland Europe, bringing warmth to the UK from the Sahara.  This year it is resting just above Scotland, bringing us the cold weather from Siberia (or thereabouts).  Generally, when we get the HP directly over the UK we do get good and usually sunny weather, but not always warm, much depends on the season.  But at least then it doesn't rain.

According to the news yesterday, due to a closing down of one gas pipe abroad (but it did reopen) this would cause a rise in gas prices.  Even without this, because we are using more fuel to keep ourselves warm this winter, prices are again set to rise, as much as 15%.  Thankfully I did, last autumn, sign on for a fixed rate price for 12 months with British Gas, this would not rise even when the price of gas did, and would be reduced if prices lessened (not chance of that at the moment). 

We pensioners are perhaps the lucky ones this year as our (married) state pension has risen by (I think) £10, so some (if not all) of this will help towards the extra fuel bills. As by next winter I'll have reached the age of 80, my winter fuel subsidy will also be a bit more (B got his 'extra' last year), why we both get this subsidy paid separately to each of us I don't know (although it ends up in the same bank account that our bills are paid from), as living together use as much heating as one person would.
Come next month I'll also get an extra 25p added to the pension because of my great(er) age.  Sometimes, being old can - financially - be worth while.  Unfortunately, that's about the only advantage I can think of at the moment.   Have got to the point of considering whether I'd get a discount from the funeral directors if I paid for my funeral 'up front'.

Switched over to Food Network last night (think it was 10.00pm and expecting to see the 'three D's) and it was 'Bitchin' Kitchen' again.  This time watched most of the prog as it really is 'different'.  Have come to the conclusion that the presenter (think her name is Nadia ?), is of Italian extraction, although the previous prog. I saw of hers I thought she might be Jewish.  The credits showed this was a Canadian production (so Margie will probably be familiar with the series).  Certainly this would appeal to 'the younger set', myself being more 'transfixed' with the watching, as some people, as can happen when gazing at snakes.  Anyone else watched this, and if so, love to hear your opinion.

Just one recipe today, this slightly unusual, but a useful one to use up egg whites, also spice and nuts (you could choose different ones than in the recipe).  I haven't made these yet myself but intend to as they sound perfect for next-time-making of canapes.  These, being a savoury 'crostini' could also make good 'nibbles', used to eat with dips, and even serve with soup.  If you haven't a 'bar' pan make your own using a similar size using a double thickness of kitchen foil, then stand this on a baking sheet.
Pistachio Bread: makes 35 slices
3 egg whites
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
quarter tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp finely grated orange rind/zest
4 oz (110g) plain flour
4 oz (110g) pistachio nuts
Beat the egg whites in a small bowl until soft peaks form, then - still beating - gradually add the sugar, beating until dissolved between each addition.  Fold in the cardamom, orange zest, flour and nuts, then spread the mixture into a greased and lined (base and sides) 'bar' pan  3" x 10" (8cm x 26cm). When lining pan use paper wide enough to sit 1" (5cm) above the long sides of the tin.
Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 30 minutes or until browned slightly.  Cool in the tin, then wrap in foil and leave overnight.
Next day using a serrated knife, cut the bread on an angle into thin (3mm) slices, then place these on ungreased shallow baking trays, and bake at 150C, 300F, gas 2 for about 15 minutes or until dry and crisp.  Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container for up to four days.
The uncut bread (after the first baking) can be frozen for up to 3 months.  Thaw, then slice and follow the above directions for the second cooking.

Saturday has always been a busy day in the kitchen as traditionally this is 'baking day', and this habit has stayed with me all my married life, although today more likely to bake puddings that will freeze (sticky toffee pud...) than cakes.  Almost certainly today will make B some scones as have a 'long-life' clotted cream that needs using up, and plenty of home-made jam.  Will probably try Paul Hollywood's recipe for scones where he uses strong bread flour (if I can find the recipe, have it somewhere).

So that's my blog completed for today.  Less 'rambling' than usual, for which I am sure readers will be grateful. 
The sailing season has already begun, but B says almost certainly no sailing tomorrow due the the cold weather and an even lower 'wind-chill' over the sea.  But he still has to go early to the club-house to make sure he is not needed to drive the safety-boat.
If I get up early enough tomorrow, my blog will be published by 9.00am.  If up too late will have to wait for Gill's phone call (ending at 10.00am) THEN write my blog, so it won't then be published much before (and maybe later than) noon. 
Being weekend you'll all be too busy to sit at your computers anyway, but if anyone does so and finds time to send a comment, then I'll be very pleased.  It's the only way I know anyone is 'out there' reading my blog, although I do have a 'number of hits each day' that is supplied to me.  Not that many hits compared to others who get millions of hits a week, I'm lucky to get 5.000.  But size isn't everything.  'Small is beautiful' they say (and being a 'large' lady that is one expression I really don't wish to hear).

Do hope that all readers are managing to cope with the atrocious weather we are having at the moment.  Several readers who live in the worst affected areas (Scotland, South West...), and who used to write regularly, have not commented for some time, so those of you who are still logging on, do let us know you are OK.  Even though not fortunate to meet you personally, I still think all readers are my 'friends', and really do worry when suddenly one 'disappears'.

Just remembered that a new series all about home-sewing will be starting on April 2nd (can't remember the channel).  Today saw a TV ad that said the Daily Mail (the paper we read) today is giving a free booklet on 'how to knit'.  So is this where some cookery programmes give way to other domestic skills?  Let us hope so.
Keep warm, keep cooking, keep enjoying your free time.  Join me again tomorrow for another 'taste' of our Morecambe life. Hope you can join me.  See you then.