Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cheap and Cheerful

Bit of a late start this morning due to me having a really good night's sleep (due to lavender spray on my pillow), and - when I woke - was so warm and comfortable, decided to stay in bed for a bit longer (so fell asleep and had more dreams). I enjoy dreaming, a lot more 'interesting' things happen than in real life, especially as I dream in colour, can even smell things, taste things.  Food often takes part in my dreams.  Some noises I do hear in dreams, but perhaps these are 'real' ones that I pick up while still asleep, as people's voices - although 'speaking' - seem more like 'hearing' words in my brain, as when 'talking' to myself when I think.

Enough of that as these past few days have been so busy with my 'tests and experiments', that I've fallen sadly behind in all other aspects of my life.  I know I haven't many of those, but the kitchen looks as though a bomb has hit it, and I do need to do quite a bit of tidying up of the rest of our home.   So (hopefully, but can't promise) today's blog may be a bit shorter than usual.

Felt quite good when I read your comment Kathryn, only wish Paul Hollywood WAS looking at me when his programme was recorded.  But I can dream, can't I?

I don't know the age of readers who write in about their interest in World War II, and only those of 80 plus can probably remember much about it, [especially those who lived in the towns that were badly bombed.   My B, who lived in Leicester, keeps telling me that his city was also bombed during the war "remember one bomb falling in Victoria Park" but he can't remember any (or many) others falling.  We moved to Leicester before war ended, and certainly then we never had an air- raid.

Each time I write about that time, more memories come flooding back.  The time when my mother had brought home some sausages.  War-time sausages contained mostly bread ('rusk'), fat, water, and very little meat, these used to 'explode' in the pan when fried, so they got called 'bangers', this name today used as a familiar term for sausages:  Sausage and Mash we call  'bangers and mash'.
My mother was eating a sausage she had just cooked, and found - what she said - was a mouse's tooth in hers.  My dad looked at it and agreed with her (it might have been a rat's?)/  What meat went into sausages we never queried.  We were just glad to have them.

In Coventry (London and other big towns as well I suppose) we had air-raids every night for weeks.  My mum would put me to bed at 7.00pm, already dressed in my 'siren-suit' (this a one-piece garment, like a baby-gro but child size. Think Winston Churchill might have 'invented' this, he certainly used to wear one).  At 7.30pm, almost to the minute, the air-raid warning (sirens) would sound and my mum would wake me up and we would all go outside to the Anderson Shelter that my dad had built.

I remember Dad building the shelter, I used to sit inside on a bench as he built another bench on the other side of the space. Can still remember the lovely smell of new wood as he sawed and planed it.  When he fitted the door to the frame, I used to enjoy sitting close to it, kicking the door with my foot, and watching it spring back open (it had not been fitted with handles at that point).  One day I went to into the shelter, and 'played' kicking the door open and shut, and suddenly it stuck and wouldn't open.  I couldn't get out, trapped inside I dare not scream for my mum as she had forbidden me to play in the shelter.
Seemed to sit there for ages, not knowing what to do, then heard my mother come down the steps to release me.  She said she had been watching from the window, seen what happened, and left me there to 'teach me to do as I was told in the future".   Which was a lesson well learned.

After weeks of night-time raids, suddenly the Germans began day-light raids AS WELL - an unexpected surprise, and because of where we lived (outskirts of the city with farm land the other side of the main road (our road being parallel to that), the planes would fly low over the fields (called 'hedgehopping', so that they couldn't be picked up by the primitive radar of that time.  When they reached the first houses, the planes would rise up and just skim the chimney tops.  We lived fairly close to the factories that formally made cars but now made parts for planes etc.  These were the targets for the bombers.
(Viewing the area where we lived on Google Earth, see that the above mentioned fields are now longer there, all that areas has been built up with housing estates.

The first daylight raid, no-one was prepared, and no sirens souded, so the planes reached the factories and dropped their bombs (without causing too much damage) and then scarpered off before anyone realised what was happening.  The next day we had a second daylight raid, and this time the 'gunners' were prepared (the guns were sited on top of the factory roofs).  Still no sirens, so that was why my dad and I were in the front garden, and saw the plane fly low over our house, then almost immediately blown to smithereens (as mentioned in a previous posting).

Perhaps, because I was a child, and always believed what I was told (never knew what lies were in those days), never remember feeling much fear when we were in the Anderson Shelter as my dad said we'd be perfectly safe there.  One night remember hearing a bomb whistling down, and this must have exploded fairly close to us as I felt the ground under the shelter (and the shelter itself) move up at least a foot before settling down again.  To me that was quite fun!  Couldn't understand why mother and a neighbour seemed so terrified.  "It's alright Mum", I said "we're perfectly safe here, Dad said so".

Although we were now hearing sirens to give warning of daylight raids, one day they didn't sound until the enemy planes were flying over our house, and my mother was then too scared to go outdoors (always the danger of being fired on by the pilots), so pushed me into the cupboard under the stairs.  Remember screaming at my mum to let me out as "we'll be safe in the shelter", while she calmly removed tin after tin of stored foods from the shelves in there so they wouldn't fall on my head. 
Think this was the last straw.  For the last few weeks, the bombing had been so bad, this had turned my mother into a nervous wreck, and for a few weeks we had begun to leave our house each evening at about 6.00 to sleep in a little room rented over the village shop in Berkswell (a few miles north of Coventry), returning home each morning at about 7.00am, my mother firmly expecting to find our house bombed flat.
Do remember us 'sleeping away' on Christmas Eve.  I was very concerned that Father Christmas wouldn't leave me anything in my stocking as I wasn't at home, and - bless him - he actually KNEW I was sleeping that night at Berkswell, for in the morning found my stocking - that I'd hopefully hung at the end of my camp bed - just in case - had been filled.  Am ashamed to say that I hoped fervently that Father Christmas would have also filled the stocking I'd left hanging on the end of my bed in our 'real' home.  The first thing I did when we returned was to dash upstairs to find out, and was very disappointed when I found it still hanging empty. 

Daylight raids left us nowhere to escape to, so the decision was made to leave Coventry and go and live in Leamington Spa, where my parents first rented a couple of rooms in a private house (my mum and the lady of the house did not like each other at all) so we soon rented a house of our own. house.  We stayed there for 2 years, and I went to a RC school that was just over the road where we lived (taught by nuns, and me being the only non-catholic, that's another story!!!).  After two years in Leamington, my parents bought a house in Leicester. I was then nine years old.

Can't believe it was the film you saw that had some of 'my' war-time memories in it Pam. I've only seen the film twice (on TV), but do remember it was very much like how it was in those times, the only difference being we lived in a semi in Coventry whereas the film was set in a row of terraced houses in London.  Hope the film is shown again, as although not the best of times, it is somehow rather nice to return to 'how we used to live, then''.

Unlike the film, children didn't (as far as I know) do much wandering about the streets, hunting for bits to collect.  Many children in Coventry had been evacuated, and those who weren't stayed pretty close to home, at least in the area we lived.  Much of the city had been bombed flat, and during  just one night, there was so much damage, leading to thousands of homeless people who (presumably) had been sheltering in the large, street communal shelters as the bombs fell.  They had only the clothes they stood up in, and any belongings they had taken with them - in a shoe box - at that time. 
We had a large piece of open land about a mile where we lived. This called Hershall Common (or similar name, at the end of Broad Lane). This is where the barrage balloons were 'flown', and the day after the blitz, this area was full of the above 'refugees', and where my parents drove to collect the two families to care for (mentioned in an earlier blog) until they were able to travel to meet up with members of their family who lived in a safer area.
Can shut my eyes and all the above is as if it only happened yesterday. 

Have heard of the US liking for 'peanut butter and jelly' sandwiches Pam.  Have tried making these myself, but use ordinary 'jam' with bits in, and this doesn't seem to work.  We don't seem to have 'grape jelly/jam' sold over here. although it sounds as though this would work with the peanut butter.
Have often made myself sandwiches using peanut butter with mashed banana, and this is not so 'cloying' as peanut butter alone, and also enjoy sandwiches made with mashed banana and Marmite!
Useful to know that peanut butter, weight for weight, contains more protein than minced beef, cheese or chicken, and as much fibre as wholewheat bread.

Yes jane, it was the Fray Bentos meatballs I 'tested', and these only because they were sold under a well-known brand name, so expected to be better than others less well known.  This does prove that cheaper brands, and often 'own-brands' (usually the cheapest of all) can often be as good as, and very occasionally (as with the above meatballs) even better.
Yesterday 'flavour-tested' a can of Morrison's own and cheapest baked beans.  Checked the weight against the average can of Heinz beans (415g), M's being 410g.  Not a lot of difference in weight or even nutritional content, but a HUGE difference in price, Morrison's beans being only 25p a can while Heinz were twice that price when ON OFFER!!

Yhe 'baked' beans vary hardly at all whatever brand of 'baked beans' are bought, the difference always in the flavour of the sauce.  Have to say was disappointed in the taste of the Morrison's beans, knowing that Tesco's 'not-quite-their-cheapest' has a much better flavoured sauce. 
Decided to try adding a tablespoon of tomato ketchup to M's beans, and then heated these and ate them for my lunch.  Couldn't believe it - the beans then (or rather the sauce) tasted as good as any of the top brand/s.  Perhaps leaning more towards Branston Baked beans than Heinz (surprisingly since it was Heinz ketchup used), but a tip worth remembering.  
Not that we need take much notice any more of best-before dates, but the M's beans had the year 2015 as the 'b.b' life, with very recently bought Heinz showing a year earlier: 2014.  Perhaps useful only if we wish to stock up with the 'cheap and cheerful' while it is still 'cheap'.

Good to hear from you again Eileen, was thinking about you yesterday as we haven't been in (personal) touch recently.  Once my 'tests/experiments' are over we must meet up again.
Pleased that some of my 'family buffet' ideas you might find useful this coming weekend.  However,  the weather is not set to warm up much (if at all), so perhaps some hot food dishes should also be included, even if only mugs of soup.
Watching the news, it's hard to believe how much snow has fallen so close to Morecambe and we still haven't had any.  We see farmers on the Isle of Man having to dig out sheep that have been completely covered by snow, and the expectation is that thousands of sheep will have been lost in snow and died these past days.  Why is it that my thoughts instantly turn to "that'll then mean we have to pay more for lamb,", when I should have been feeling sorry for the sheep. Am I getting to obsessed about the cost of everything edible?

As peanuts have been mentioned, will finish with a few recipes containing these.  For the first recipe choose fresh or frozen veg: such as green beans, mangetout, courgettes... Use half a teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano if you have no fresh.
Peanut 'Paella: serves 4
2 tsp sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
3 oz (75g) shelled peanuts
5 oz (150g) long-grain rice (pref brown)
2 ribs celery, sliced diagonally
8 oz (225g) mixed veg (see above)
1 green or red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp fresh marjoram, chopped (see above)
1 pint (600ml) boiling water
1 tblsp soy sauce
salt and pepper
3 tsp lemon juice
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion until softened.  Stir in the peanuts and rice and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the celery, bell pepper, cumin and marjoram, and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes, then add most of the boiling water (you may need less if using white rice). Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20 - 30 minutes (depending upon whether using white or brown rice) or until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked.
Stir in the soy sauce, seasoning to taste, and the lemon juice, then serve immediately on warmed dishes.

For this dish, first make a 'peanut pastry' by making shortcrust in normal way with 12 oz (350g) of plain (pref wholemeal) flour, and half its weight (6 oz/175g) of hard margarine.  Rubbing this together until like breadcrumbs, THEN stir in 2 tblsp cruncy peanut butter and enough cold water to mix to a firm dough.  Roll out two-thirds to line a 9" (23cm) flan dish, and cut the trimmings into strip to lay across the filling lattice fashion.
Lattice Peanut Pie: serves 6 - 8
peanut pastry (see above)
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 lb (450g) chopped frozen spinach (thawed/squeezed)
salt and pepper
5 oz (150g) peanuts, roughly chopped
2 eggs, beaten
half tsp ground nutmeg
8 oz (225g) ricotta or cottage cheese
2 oz (50g) grated Parmesan cheese
Heat oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion until softened.  Add garlic and spinach (after squeezing out as much water as possible) and cook for 10 minutes, then add remaining ingredients.
Spoon this mixture into the prepared pastry case (see above) and cover with the pastry strips. Brush with egg and bake for 45 - 50 minutes or until set and firm to the touch.  Can be served hot or cold.

With this final recipe, as with many other 'stir-fries', we can use other vegetables.  Myself slice broccoli stalks into strips and stir-fry these as well as the florets.  Do the same if using cauliflower.
The pasta shape (aka 'fusilli') is the one suggested, but penne or macaroni (or other shape/s you have) could be used instead.
Peanut Plus Stir-Fry: serves 4
4 tblsp sunflower oil
6 oz (175g) broccoli florets, stalks removed
2 courgettes, sliced diagonally
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 leeks, sliced diagonally
6 oz (175g) button mushrooms, quartered
4 oz (100g) peanuts
1 lb (450g) cooked pasta spirals drained
2 tblsp crunchy peanut butter
5 tblsp orange juice
segments from one large orange (opt)
Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan.  Stir-fry the broccoli and courgettes for 3 - 4 minutes, then add the garlic, leeks, and mushrooms, continuing to stir-fry for 1 - 2 minutes or until just beginning to soften, then add the whole peanuts, the cooked pasta, peanut butter and orange juice (also orange segments if using).  Toss all together and serve immediately hot warmed serving plates.

Final recipe am including because I saw Guy Fieri preparing something similar (but his had a different filling), and because easy to make, contains peanuts, and looks very colourful and appetising, thought this peanut version would be of interest, especially as a good way to use up those green bell peppers we are not so fond of using.  As well as green, in this dish use another colour to give contrast, red bell peppers would be perfect, but orange and/or yellow could also be used.
Ths would make a good hot 'family' buffet dish as the quantities given serves 8 as a starter (or 4 as a main course).
Stuffed Peppers:
4 red or green peppers (or other colour)
half oz (15g) butter
half oz (15g) plain flour
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
4 oz (100g) peanuts, chopped
2 red eating apples, cored and diced
3 ribs celery, diced
4 spring onions (or two shallots) sliced
salt and pepper
Halve the peppers lengthways, and remove seeds and 'pithy' bits, then blanch in boiling water for 4 minutes.  Drain well and set aside.
Make the filling by melting the butter in a small pan, stirring in the flour, then cook for 2 minutes before gradually beating in the milk.  Bring to the simmer and cook until slightly thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. adding seasoning to taste.. 
Divide the filling between the peppers, then place the filled pepper in an ovenproof dish, adding a little water to the dish (to provide a bit of steam as the peppers cook). Cover with foil and bake for 25 - 30 minutes at 190C, 375F, gas 5.  Serve hot.

That's it for today.  Depending how well I cope this week, it could be I'll take an Easter break from my blogging as really need to take time to write up recipes for the Foodbank, and also allow myself a little 'me time' to get myself back on track.   But who knows - the enjoyment of chatting with you all is a lot more fun than doing domestic 'chores'.  See how I feel by the end of this week. 

As tomorrow will be Norma the Hair day, almost certainly won't be 'chatting' to you until after she has left, so publishing will be just before or just after mid-day.  See you then.