Thursday, March 21, 2013

Eyes Wide Open...

Yesterday's 'trials' gave me more a feeling of depression than elation, although one outcome was better than expected. Foods 'trialled' were the hot-dog sausages, and meatballs.  Plus a sachet of crumble mix.

Decided that I'd try the hot dogs first, so opened the jar, removed a couple and - as ready to eat, hot or cold - cut a chunk off the end of one and ate it.  How I wish I hadn't.  It really wasn't nice at all. Not sure what I expected, but not as tasteless as that.  And a good brand too! So if a well-known brand has such lack of flavour, what hope for the cheaper ones?
To use up the couple of sausages, I chopped these into small chunks and put them into a pan of canned chopped tomatoes that I was heating up for my lunch (plus the addition of a tomato cuppa soup).  This at least did make more of meal of it, but other than 'texture' no extra flavour given by adding the 'bangers'.
This morning, read the ingredient list on the jar and saw the hot dogs had been made with 'mechanically retrieved chicken' (and a host of other things as well), so why did I expect them to be made with pork?

Had planned to serve the meatballs to my Beloved for his supper, and on opening the can saw they were in a type of sauce (the tin said 'bolognese sauce' - which it didn't resemble at all). Tasting one cold meatball found it just as unappetising as the hot dogs.  Expecting them to be made with beef, this morning read the tin and it said the meatballs were made with 'mechanically separated pork' (and a lot of other things).  Despite both products being made with different 'meats', the texture and flavour of both were almost identical.  Like no flavour at all!  So why do many people buy them (for the assistant said they were popular)?

Had already prepared B for the worst, telling him  "today you are to be my guinea pig, eating a meal made from only foods the Foodbank might give out, but I will try to make them more appetising".  Had to add something to the meatball 'sauce' for even I couldn't stomach the can contents as 'provided'.  Ended up adding a good squirt of HP sauce which surprisingly (or perhaps not) really did spark up the sauce and although this didn't affect the flavour (or 'non-flavour') of the meatballs themselves, these then eaten with the sauce plus some cooked pasta, did make each mouthful almost worth having.  B himself said"they weren't that bad". 
Not everyone would have HP sauce to hand, but am sure an oxtail cuppa soup (or two) would work almost as well.  Anything, ANYTHING, that would make the meatballs (and bangers) fit to eat would be worth adding.

The 'pudding' ended up being quite good.  I'd opened a can of fruit (any fruit would have done but I chose peach slices).  Drained the fruit (later added water to the reserved juice and used to make up a lemon jelly for B to have today).  Put the fruit in the bottom of a shallow bowl, topped it with the contents of a small bag of 'crumble mix', then baked this in the oven as per packet instructions.  There was enough to serve three, but B ate half (of course adding cream, but it could have been served with custard or evaporated milk, or just as-is), and said that really did taste nice.  Great sigh of relief from me.

I understand from your comments that supermarkets place the least favourite foods on higher shelves, but not sure this applies to Morrison's as their canned fish (tuna etc), canned meat (corned beef etc) both 'regular' purchases, as well as many other 'regulars' such as instant potato 'Smash' I noticed were all on the highest sheves.  The canned meats, over the long (floor) freezer cabinets (perhaps a good place to keep certain canned foods cool).  Yet there are other items that people would not normally buy that are at eye level, or even waist level.  Is this to make us more aware of them and be tempted, or is it that I choose high-shelf products that other people prefer not to eat?

The 'Delia' book you mentioned Les, I already have.  Somewhere.  'The Pauper's Cookbook' by (I think) Jocasta Innes, also have - somewhere.  But, as ever, these cooks always add those little 'extras' (not provided in the food 'allocation') to turn canned and packed foods into more interesting dishes.  Their hands not being so tightly tied as mine.

My favourite instant potato is Smash, Sammy Kaye, but find it still needs to be made with milk (and a knob of butter) plus plenty of seasoning to make it taste really palatable - especially when eaten as just 'mash', and not mixed with anything else. .  However, once made up, instant potato does freeze well, so I always use this when making fish cakes, or for topping Fish Pies, or Cottage Pies that I intend freezing.  
Not sure if Tesco sell fish scraps at their fresh fish counter.  Perhaps, like Morrison's, the best time to buy these is first thing in the morning as they are probably the 'offcuts' left when the fish is prepared - before opening - for counter-display that day.  Once these have been sold, there would probably be no more until early the next day.

Sorry Granny G, I did not check the price of the Stilton with Apricots that came from Morrison's other than briefly looking at the price on the label of the clingfilm wrapped cheese. If it was over £2 then I'd be unlikely to buy it, so it probably wasn't any more expensive than in any other store.
Normally I check prices on all labels as thoroughly as if searching for nits in hair (not that I've ever had to do that, but you get my drift), but - as I was treating myself - was a great deal more generous that I would normally have been.  I was fed up (no pun intended) with eating lesser quality foods than B, and took great pleasure yesterday in stuffing my face with quality cheeses and also dips (with crudites) while B was 'dining' on not-very-pleasant meatballs.  Deep down inside me, perhaps I'm not a very nice person.

Looking through the double glazed window, today looks as though it could be really warm as the sun is shining, and barely a cloud to be seen in the blue, blue sky.  Yet, the temperature outside is really low.  The coldest March for 50 years it is said. And no signs yet of it warming up.   With a fairly strong wind today, this means the 'wind-chill' is an even lower temperature. 

Before I forget, if anyone wants to look up recipes shown on 'Ade in Britain' the correct website to find these is .
Apparently Paul Hollywood is becoming as much a sex symbol to women as Nigella is to men. It has to be those eyes.  Have yet to view his prog. on iPlayer, will wait to see if it is repeated at the weekend as prefer to watch on TV rather than a computer screen as my comp now has the habit of 'freezing' every few minutes, and takes a few more minutes before it releases itself.  This happens whatever I'm doing at the time (playing games, watching iPlayer, writing this blog....).

Despite cup-cakes being today's favourite small cakes - these seem extremely popular in the US as many progs on the Food Network are about making cup-cakes.  What other country would have people queuing up in hundreds each morning to buy cupcakes for their 'snacks'?  Certainly not in the UK. We gave up queueing once the war was ended.  At least for food.

Nothing wrong with small cakes, but it's the OTT of the icing on cup-cakes that I personally feel is not necessary. Sometimes it looks as though there is more topping than cake.
If we stick to making something similar, but smaller, like our traditional 'fairy cakes', then we would use less ingredients (cheaper!), and also use less topping, or for that matter, no topping at all (making them even cheaper).

Children love to eat fairy cakes, and even though today's recipe has more of an adult flavour, am sure these cakes would be loved by all ages. 
Those used to baking cakes will realise the basic mix is virtually the same as when making a Victoria Sandwich cake, so flavours can be changed, using white caster sugar instead of that suggested, or omit the coffee and substitute some cooled cocoa, or include grated orange rind and some orange juice.  The choice of flavour is up to the cook, but the one suggested below is really yummy, mummy!
Coffee Cream Cupcakes: makes 12
2 teaspoons instant coffee
a bare 4 fl oz (100ml) boiling water
4 oz (100g) butter, softened
4 oz (100g) light muscovado sugar
4 oz (100g) self-raising flour
pinch of salt
2 large eggs
1 oz (25g) walnut pieces, chopped
12 walnut halves (for decoration)
butter icing:
6 oz (175g) icing sugar, sifted
4 oz (100g) very soft butter
3 tblsp coffee (from that made above)
Dissolve the instant coffee into the boiling water, then leave until cool.
Put the butter, sugar, flour, and eggs into a bowl with 4 tsp of the coffee and a pinch of salt, and beat together until creamy. Stir in the chopped walnuts.
Spoon the mixture into 12 fairy cake cases that are sitting in a 12-hole bun (or muffin) tin, then bake for 18 - 20 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until pale golden and springy.  Cool for five minutes in the tin before removing and leaving to cool completely on a cake airer.
Make the topping by putting the icing sugar into a bowl with 3 tblsp of the coffee. Gently fold together and when the sugar has been thoroughly mixed in, start to beat until the icing is creamy and smooth. Spoon or pipe the icing over the top of each fairy cake, and press a halved walnut into the centre as decoration.
Un-iced cakes will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container and then ice on day of serving.  These can also be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw, then - as with the freshly baked - ice the cakes shortly before serving.

As instant mashed potato has been mentioned earlier in today's blog, thought a recipe using this would be of interest. The recipe would have originally used 'proper' mashed spuds but we can choose which we prefer.  If gluten-free is not part of our diet, we could use ordinary baking powder in place of that shown.  Also best to check whether 'instant' potato contains any ingredient that should not be eaten by those on a gluten-free diet.
Gluten-free Lemon Drizzle Cake: serves 8 - 10
8 oz (225g) butter, softened
8 oz (225g) caster sugar
4 eggs
6 oz (175g) ground almonds
9 oz (250g) cold mashed potatoes
zest of 3 lemons
2 tsp gluten-free baking powder (see above)
4 tblsp granulated sugar
juice of 1 lemon
Put the sugar and butter into a bowl and beat together until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in the eggs, adding one at a time and beating well before adding the next.  Fold in the ground almonds, mashed potato, lemon zest, and the baking powder. When thoroughly - but lightly - combined, tip the mixture into a greased and lined 8" (20cm) deep round cake tin.  Level the surface, then bake for 40 -45 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 or until golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a cake airer.
Meanwhile, mix together the granulated sugar and lemon juice and spoon this over the top of the still-warm cake, allowing some to drizzle down the sides.  Leave to cool completely before cutting into slices.
For a slightly less 'messier' way to add the 'drizzle', you could leave the cake in the tin, and whilst still warm, spoon the lemon drizzle over the surface. Pricking the top of the cake with a skewer would allow the cake to absorb some of the lemon syrup and give a moister 'crumb'.  Remove from tin when the cake has cooled completely. 

Having discovered a recipe that makes a scrumptious dessert where the main ingredient is Mars Bars, see no reason why almost any similar chocolate bare couldn't be used in the same way, and also a very good way to use up those soft-centred chocs that often end up uneaten in a box of mixed chocs (or tin of Quality Street etc). 
Anyone watching the repeat of Food and Drink last week would have heard Michel Roux Jnr say that egg whites beat up better when they have first been frozen, as - after thawing - this then makes the whites more 'runny' and, when beaten, end up with more volume.  So as this recipe uses egg whites and no egg yolks, save freeze spare egg whites (in ice cube trays?), then they will always be available to make a dish such as this.
Mars Mousses: serves 6
4 standard (65g) Mars bars, chopped
2 fl oz (50ml) milk
4 tblsp cocoa powder
3 large egg whites (see above)
grated chocolate (for decoration)
Put the chopped Mars, the milk and cocoa, into a saucepan.  Heat very gently, stirring constantly, until melted, then tip into a bowl and leave to cool, but during that time give frequent whisks to make sure any bits of Mars 'fudge' that rise to the surface are blended back in to give a smooth mixture.
Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then - using a metal spoon - fold a couple of heaped tablespoons of beaten whites into the chocolate 'sauce' to slacken it, before gently folding in the remainder.
Spoon into one large bowl or 6 individual serving glasses or ramekins, then place in the fridge and chill for at least 2 hours until set.   Serve, topped with grated (or shavings of) chocolate.

For some reason have never been particularly fond of cooking leeks.  Maybe it is because - in the past - only the large, tougher, leeks were on sale.  Recently I've tried cooking the smaller, tender leeks and am (almost won over).  These often appear in the organic veggie boxes, and usually on sale all year round in supermarkets (although could be wrong, being a 'seasonal' vegetable). 

Instead of suggesting we use our own home-cooked ham (this is could fall into large pieces when cooked) for once suggest buying a pack of ready-sliced 'sandwich ham' as this is is normally in one piece, without any breaks in each slice).  Morrison's packs of sliced 'sandwich' ham were seen at the back of the cheese counter, very suitable for this dish, and at a reasonable price too.  The 'cheese sauce' is especially easy to make.  As the 'prep/assembly' time takes less than 8 minutes (cooking time 20 minutes or less), a dish well worth making when time is short.
Leeks and Ham in a Cheesy Sauce: serves 4
8 small leeks, white part only
8 slices cooked ham (see above)
4 oz (100g) cheddar cheese, grated
2 tblsp Dijon mustard
6 tblsp creme fraiche
salt and pepper
Cook the leeks in boiling water for 4 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and cool under running water, then drain again and pat dry with kitchen paper (or a clean towel),
Wrap each leek with a slice of ham, and arrange, side-by-side in a large, shallow, baking dish.
Mix the cheese, mustard and creme fraiche together until well combined,adding seasoning to taste, then spread this over the ham-wrapped leeks.  Bake for 15 - 20 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until bubbling and golden brown.  Serve immediately with chunks of crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

The one thing I'm realising is - due to this week's 'recipe testing' - is that it has become more obvious to me how so many people seem to rely on eating canned (and other) products that really don't taste very good at all.  These are of course 'edible', but only when a meal has been cooked 'properly' from scratch, using reasonably 'good' ingredients, can the difference be noted. 
Until this week, I've hardly ever resorted to eating canned foods other than the well flavoured an useful ones such as canned tomatoes, baked beans, chickpeas, red beans, tuna, sardines, and other canned fish.  Have to admit to liking Spam, but now not even sure about that as it is pretty tasteless compared to 'real' (and home-cooked) ham.  Canned corned beef doesn't seem to be as good as it used to be, or is it my taste buds are failing?

Yet, it does seem (after having a chat to the assistant who helped me) that loads of these flavourless canned foods are bought and eaten, but how can anyone say they actually ENJOY them.  Perhaps - when it comes to 'good food' it is a case of 'what we've never had, we never miss'. 
When brought up on a diet of ready-meals and flavourless canned products, no wonder people tend to include any foods that at least taste of something, like potato crisps, pizzas, burgers and chips, and almost certainly the flavours of these enhanced by the use of salt or MSG.  I've had to add salt to some 'trials' this week to help make them more palatable.  If not salt, certainly plenty of ground black pepper, and over the past few days my eyes have been opened wide as to what people choose to buy, possibly because they know of no better. 

Although I often feel hard done to having to make my Beloved meals 'from scratch' almost every day, and would love to take a week/month off serving him bought 'ready-meals' (those he could reheat in the microwave himself), now realise there is really nothing to beat 'home-made', as the flavour is far, far better than any 'bought' (other than those eaten at a Michelin starred restaurant). 
Perhaps, for the first time, I'm glad I can cook, and have a feeling (after last night's supper) that B is also glad too.  Today I will go back to making him a home-cooked meal (from scratch), although not sure yet what.

Time for me to get on with today's 'trials, tests, and experiments'.  Quite enjoying doing this although it does sadden me that many canned products are not as good (by way of flavour) as hoped for.  It saddens me even further to realise that in the early days of marriage a lot of these canned foods I did buy and serve to my children, and didn't seem to do them any harm, but they certainly enjoyed their meals a LOT more once I'd learnt to cook 'proper' meals.
Thoughts have gone back to those Vesta curries and Chow Mein that both B and I seemed to enjoy at that time, perhaps because they were 'ethnic' and very different to the traditional English meals we were used to.  Now, we'd have to be paid a handsome amount of money to be persuaded to eat these again, although as it is now over 60 years since we last ate them, if still on sale, maybe (and hopefully) they are now 'new improved'.

Keep getting mixed up, perhaps I was right when I said Easter was the weekend after next.  Or was it last week when I said this?  Anyway, Easter Sunday is the last day of this month, so not a long time to wait for an extended weekend holiday.  Longer holiday for school children, so a good time to get them 'helping' in the kitchen.  Anything a child cooks themselves they will usually eat.  Even Brussels sprouts.  But perhaps best to start learning how to make cakes.

Incidentally, since The Great British Bake-off, sales of cake ingredients have rocketed.  I noticed an aisle in Morrison's full of cake 'accessories', not just flour, dried fruit, cooking chocolate, but lots of tubes of 'ready to pipe' icing (in assorted colours) and many, many little 'containers' of different things to sprinkle, or press into the top of iced fairy/cup cakes.   Lots of cake flavourings and colourings, none of which are really 'needed', but give the manufacturers any profitable reason to open door to aid 'creativity' and they will flood the market with such non-essentials that are (in some eyes) so 'pretty' that mums feel that their children really SHOULD have every cake made topped with most of them.  Am certainly sure all children, young and old, would eat every crumb of home-made cake whether or not it had icing and a few silver balls stuck on top.
Thoughts again go back to the past when, truth be told, I did sprinkle hundreds and thousands on the top of 'iced fancies' that I used to make for our children.  So how am I to criticise?   It's just the 'quick, let us get in on the act before people get tired of baking' way the manufacturers are using to get us to part with our hard-earned money.
Today, sticking half a glace cherry on top of a water-iced fairy cake (for Red Nose Day) is about as far as I go.  If I want roses made of royal icing (or fondant icing), or any other trimming, many of these I can make myself.

Have reached 11.30pm so really have to 'get on' (didn't I think about doing that some paragraphs back?).  Hope you all have a good day and hope to 'meet up' with you all again tomorrow.  TTFN.