Monday, March 11, 2013

Easy Does It...

Up fairly early this morning due mainly to awakening to daylight instead of the winter dark.  Soon we will be putting our clocks forward and have to re-adjust to the new timing.  Often wonder what farmers do each time we change from GMT to BST and back.  The cows will still expect to be milked at the 'usual' time, so suppose the farmer ignores the clock and just obeys the herd.

A welcome to Joy, another new name to add to our happy band of cost-cutters.  When iving alone, food must work out more expensive (per portion) than if making the same dish to serve a family.  Please keep sending comments Joy and let us know if there are any areas of cooking you wish to cut costs without giving up what you like to eat.  It's surprising how easy it is to overcome difficulties - but only when we know how, although older folk do have a lot more experience re this as no-one ever wasted money in the 'olded days' and all home-cooking (or most of it) was done from scratch.

Yes, think I too should get myself a set of America cup measures Janet.  Some of my cook-books do show the three way to measure ingredients (imperial, metric AND cup) and am wondering if it would be useful for me to give cup measurements too whenever possible.  In fact do we still need the old 'imperials'?  Just because I still use them doesn't mean everyone else uses them.  Nowadays it seems all recipes give oven temps. in Celcius or gas, rarely do we see the 'F' word, although it seems (watching the Food Network) F is the normal oven temp. given in the US.
Let me know if there are any weights or oven temps that I don't now need to use, but even if only one reader still uses them, then they will remain as the less conversions readers have to make, the easier it is to follow a recipe, and I do like to keep things 'easy'.

The fairy cakes were a good idea as a 'birthday cake' Janet.  Anyone who watches the Food Network will have probably seen 'DC Cupcakes' (a cupcake shop) where they make all sorts of presentation cakes using just cupcakes, frosted in various colours to make up pictures, or three dimensional objects.  Sometimes these 'cococtions' are made using thousands of cup cakes.
Cup cakes seem to be 'big' in the US, not the size so much, but the apparent need to keep wanting to eat them.  Cup cake outlets all over the place selling many different flavours (the 'red velvet' seems to be very popular) with so many different frostings.  There is even a programme called 'Cup Cake Challenge' where competitors are invited to choose from an assortment of prepared ingredients (some could be savoury), and then invent a new cup-cake flavour.

The more I watch US Food Network programmes, the more I realise that whereas here in the UK we have nothing like the above.  Our favourite 'eats' would be fish and chips (although we are now getting overrun with the US burger bars and pizza bars, as well as the Indian and Chinese take-aways).  From what I see on TV, in the US it seems the most favourite foods are:  burgers, pizzas, 'mac 'n cheese', and cup-cakes. 

James Martin has just filmed a series where he recently travelled America to discover the different and regional cakes made in each state, The series is called 'James Martin's United Cakes of America', where he says that although a lot of home-cooking (from scratch) isn't done anymore,  the Americans still love to bake cakes, and here in the UK we have only just begun to do that (with the help of programmes like The Great British Bake-off' etc).  Unfortunately James' series is shown on the Good Food channel, and that is one I can't get on Freeview.

Would you believe that when I first began writing, barely half an hour ago, there was nothing to see but blue skies and sunshine, and now, although the sun is still shining, the sky has become slightly overcast and it is SNOWING!!  When Gill phoned yesterday she said it was snowing fairly heavily in Leicester.  Snow has been forecast for today mainly over towards the East Coast, so am hoping it stays that side of the Pennines for a while as our daughter is driving to Wales today for a short holiday.  The forecast is for higher temperatures towards the end of this week, so she should have a snow-free return journey.

Hope by tomorrow you will get your Internet back in action jane, and then able to read this blog daily.  Thankfully our washing machine was able to be repaired, and it is absolute bliss to be able to switch it on and then go and leave it to heat the water and complete the washing cycle without me having to sit close by it and keep nudging the cycle-knob on to the next bit, and also make sure the spinner had switched itself off (which it sometimes didn't). 

We have ducks and swans in our park lakes Pam, but no turtles.  These we see only in zoos, although have seen some tiny terrapins in a small indoor pond in a floral-animal complex close to Roundhay Park in Leeds near where we lived.  Not that the 'animals' consisted of more than a few tanks of fish, assorted reptiles (lizards, snakes...) and the larger spiders, all only visible through glass windows. They also had a dark room where some fruit bats could fly around. Hardly visible as we walked past the window, but interesting (I suppose). The only 'free to roam' were a few terrapins in a pond in one corner, although there was also a large, warm large conservatory full of beautiful plants and free-flying tropical butterflies. 

At one time people used to keep tortoises for pets, some probably still have one for they can live to a great age.  We did have one but it was pretty boring as it didn't do much, hibernated all winter, then hardly ran around much in the warmer weather.  Just used to wander slowly around a fenced area munching on a lettuce leaf etc.  It wandered off once and we never found it again. It could still be happily living with another family.
Think the sale of tortoises are now banned in this country.  Could be wrong, but have never seen any for sale for years..

Difficult to imagine homes built of wood in this country Pam, the ones in the US must collapse fairly easily in the tornado areas.  Over here in the UK, our homes are nearly always built of brick or stone according to the region. Here in the north, stone-built houses are more common and the stone itself can vary. In the Lake District the walls are built using the very thin slivers of Lakeland stone, these have a slate-blue colour and they look very attractive.  In Lancashire many of the older properties are built of local stone, but much larger blocks.

It is a real pleasure to travel through the countryside of England, driving through different counties to see small towns and villages change from one architectural style to another.  Black and white timbered houses in one area, thatched cottages in another, red-brick in the Midlands (as well as thatch). Further north the stone built, and even these varying from area to area.  You could drive me blind-fold anywhere in this country, plonk me in a village, then remove the blind-fold and I could tell you (roughly) which county it was. 

Don't know if anyone watched 'Countryfile' yesterday evening, it was a really special one as much of it filmed at the Prince of Wales' Highgrove Home Farm.  I've never seen Prince Charles look so relaxed and happy.  He truly does love the English countryside and the farming way of life, especially keeping it as organic and 'natural' as possible.  He has really done a lot to help keep the farming movement going this way (or back to how it used to be) and all power to his royal elbow. 
If anyone missed the above and can get iPlayer, then worth watching the prog. from start to finish (almost certainly it will be repeated anyway)  Especially wait to see the ending.  Prince Charles really is a very nice man.

Thanks to Closet Blitz Woman for her comment.  Don't worry about being a hopeless cook CBW, for you are approx the same age (42) as I was when I first learned to cook 'properly'. Until then had cooked only the usual 'meat and two veg' sort of meals (as basic as you could get), for B and children (B worked away from home during the week most of the time, so it was mainly cooking for the children, and have to say the last couple or so days of each month all they seemed to get was beans on toast, as the money had always run out by then).

Having to learn how to cook from scratch really did change my life.  It wasn't easy because I tried to do too much in a short time (learning how to make almost everything that I would normally have bought: bread, pasta, pastry (still can't make that well, so now buy it ready-made), yogurt, soft cheese, preserves, dog biscuits.... from the ingredients in my store cupboard and 'doorstep' milk), all within a month, and of course I was much slower then being so inexperienced.
Almost certainly, had I not been forced to learn (due to money having run out and having to wait a whole month before I got my next 'housekeeping') I would probably still be serving 'meat and two veg' and a lot of ready-processed 'heat in the microwave' meals as well.  Thank goodness I did manage to teach myself the 'basics', as since then never looked back and because of this the amount of money saved almost a king's ransom.

It is much easier to learn cooking from (almost scratch) when done in easy stages.  Baby steps if you like. So with this in mind today am giving some recipes (probably published before), that are really easy to make. Suggestions also given for adapting them if wished.  Novice cooks - please have a go.

First recipe is a pasta dish with meatballs.  No need to make the 'balls' as these are formed from sausages after the skins have been removed.  The pasta suggested is 'penne', but any similar (or pasta shape could be used such as macaroni, fusilli, or those pasta 'bows' or 'shells'.  If you want the pasta to have more sauce, then add a can of chopped tomatoes, and you could then serve this dish with the 'long' pasta such as spaghetti or tagliatelle (flat noodles), tossing the lot together so the sauce coats all the pasta.
Although spinach is part of the recipe below, we could omit this and use another green veg, maybe lightly cooked broccoli florets, chopped (frozen) string beans, or just peas.

Watching the repeat of 'Food and Drink' was able to see pasta being made by hand, and it was good to hear that while we here in the UK serve twice as much meat sauce as pasta, in Italy they serve twice as much pasta as the meat sauce "because pasta is the meal, not the meat". When it comes to dishes from other countries, the 'traditional' way is often the most economical way.  Something worth remembering.

Speedy Meatballs with Pasta: serves 2
8 oz (225g) pasta penne (or other shape)
3 fat sausages, skins removed
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
1 x 250g bag spinach. (see above)
salt and pepper
2 tblsp toasted pine nuts (or flaked almonds)
2 oz (50g) grated Parmesan (or Cheddar cheese)
Cook pasta as per packet instructions.  Meanwhile, roughly breaking the skinned sausages into 12 pieces (four from each sausage) and roll into balls.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the 'meatballs', then cook until golden, stirring or shaking the pan often so the meatballs are cooked to golden all over - this should take about 5 or so minutes.
Pile the spinach on top (or other chosen 'greens'), then cook, stirring often for 2 - 3 minutes until the spinach is completely wilted (or other greens cooked). Add seasoning to taste, then toss in the nuts.
Drain the pasta and add to the pan, with half the Parmesan, tossing everything together.  Serve in individual bowls, scattering the remaining Parmesan on top.

Some people wouldn't consider the following suggestions as 'cooking', but at least we are not buying jacket spuds already cooked (as these are another 'food item' that is now on sale).  Although these 'jackets' always taste much nicer when baked in the oven, this can take well over an hour (although if the potatoes are boiled in their skins for 10 mins prior to putting in the oven), this can take half an hour off the baking time.
Myself tend to 'bake' the spuds in the microwave, this usually taking less than 8 minutes to 'bake' two at a time on HIGH.  But there is a way to give 'oven-flavour' to these, and this is shown below with a choice of fillings.

Crispy Micro Baked Potatoes: serves 2
2 baking potatoes (each about 8oz/225g each)
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil, or melted butter
Prick the potatoes with a fork, and sit each on kitchen paper in the microwave.  Cook on HIGH for 8 - 10 minutes.  Check they are soft, then transfer to a baking tray and brush all over with the oil or butter. Heat grill to medium high, then grill for 5 minutes, turning a few times, until the skins are crisp all over.
To complete the dish, using a sharp knife, cut a cross along the side of each potato, then holding the base, squeeze open.  Pile in your chosen hot or cold filling (suggestions given below).

Stilton, chutney, and watercress: serves 2
3 oz (75g) Stilton, or other blue cheese
2 handfuls watercress, chopped
1 tblsp mango chutney
Mash 2 oz (50g) of the cheese with a fork, then spoon this into two hot baked potatoes.  Top with a teaspoon of chutney on each, then the watercress, then crumble the remaining Stilton over the top finishing with a topping of the remaining chutney. Or if it is easier, mash half the chutney in with the Stilton and watercress, pile this onto the potatoes and finish with the remaining chutney.

Bacon and Mushrooms: serves 2
4 oz (100g) streaky bacon
knob of butter
4 oz (100g) mushrooms, sliced
tomato salsa (or other chosen relish)
Fry the bacon in a frying pan until just beginning to crisp up.  Add the butter and sliced mushrooms and continue frying until the mushrooms are brown.   Spoon into two hot potatoes and top with spoonfuls of chosen salsa or relish.

Salami, pepper and pesto: serves 2
2 ready-roasted red bell peppers (from a jar)
6 slices of salami (or ready-to-each chorizo)
6 black olives, pitted and halved
2 tblsp creme fraiche (or Greek yogurt)
1 tsp pesto
Slice the peppers and tear the salami into strips. Gently fold together the creme fraiche and pesto, then pile the peppers and salami into 2 hot potatoes, top with the olives and spoon the pesto 'creme' on top.

Next dish is an easy 'hot-pot'.  Use minced steak rather than minced 'beef', as the steak will be more tender and take less time to cook.  If using the cheaper mince, add the water and stock cube after frying the meat and simmer for half an hour BEFORE adding the vegetables, then continue as per recipe.

Beef and Bean Hot-Pot: serves 4
12 oz (350g) lean minced beef (see above)
1 beef stock cube
1 large onion, roughly chopped
8 oz (225g) carrots, thickly sliced
1lb 8oz (675g) potatoes, cut into large chunks
approx 1 pt (600ml) boiling water
1 x 400g can baked beans
Worcestershire sauce or Tabasco to taste
salt and pepper
handful fresh parsley, chopped (opt)
Heat a large frying pan and fry the beef over medium heat until browned.  Keep breaking up the mince with a spoon to prevent the meat sticking together in clumps, and stir often.  When changed colour, crumble in the stock cube and mix well, then add the vegetables and enough boiling water to cover (if using cheaper mince, cover with water and cook for half an hour THEN add the veggies, adding more boiling water to cover).
Stir the vegetables into the mince, bring to the boil, then reduce heat.  Cover pan and simmer gently for about half an hour or until the vegetables are tender.   Stir in the baked beans (and their sauce) with a good splash of W. sauce or Tabasco (adding more if you prefer a really peppery, hot taste), and heat through.  Add seasoning to taste and serve sprinkled with parsley (opt).

Final recipe today (and one I'll be making B for his supper tonight) is a strogonoff made with all mushrooms and no meat.  Sometimes I will use cook some thin strips of fillet steak (buy the fillet 'tails' they are cheaper and a little goes a long way in this dish), to which I add sliced mushrooms cooked in the meat juices (so they pick up the flavour).  Use chestnut mushrooms whenever possible as they are much firmer and have a 'meatier' flavour than the normal white mushrooms.  The big flat (white) field mushrooms are more 'meatier', as are the 'portobello' (these being the large 'flat' chestnut mushrooms). The larger the mushroom, the more they look like strips of fillet steak when cooked, and using more mushrooms and less fillet steak can make the meat look a lot more than is really there.  The mushrooms, when cooked in the meat-pan juices, also absorb the flavour of the meat, and you can believe it is ALL meat.

To make a 'meat-free' strogonoff (but still retain the flavour of meat) the mushrooms are cooked in a rich meat stock (use my own home-made stock, but half a beef stock cube dissolved in 5 fl oz (150ml) is almost as good as.
If no sour cream, then use creme fraiche or yogurt.  We can make our own 'sour cream' by stirring a little lemon juice into double cream.

Mushroom Strogonoff: serves 2
1 onion, sliced
1 oz (25g) butter
1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)
9 oz (250g) chestnut mushrooms, more if you wish
half tsp paprika pepper
1 tblsp vegetable oil
5 fl oz (150ml) beef stock (see above)
1 x 142ml (approx 5 fl oz) soured cream
salt and pepper
small handful chopped fresh parsley (opt)
tagliatelle or rice, to serve
Fry the onion in the butter until softened, then stir in the garlic (if using).  Slice the mushrooms and fry over high heat until browned.  Add the paprika and cook for 30 seconds, then pour in the stock and boil over high heat until the liquid has reduced by two-thirds.  Remove from heat, stir in the cream and seasoning to taste.  Fold in the parsley (if using) then serve immediately with cooked pasta or rice.

Blue sky again, so hopefully no more snow, although flakes have been falling off and on almost all the time since I began my blog, but nothing has settled.  Still very cold out, and very breezy with the wind coming from the north, but otherwise a beautiful day.  Tomorrow and Wednesday my Beloved is taking a training course to get another certificate to allow him to drive the safety boat (he already is qualified but new laws means he needs another certificate).  He will need to wrap up warm as the breeze will seem much colder once he is on the water, but as high tide is late morning, at least the sun may have warmed things up a bit.  If - of course - the sun decided to shine those days.

Will love you and leave you for today to get on with your own lives, but we will be able to meet up again tomorrow.  See you then?  Do hope so.