Friday, March 22, 2013

For Research Purposes...!

What a difference a day makes. This time yesterday we had sunshine and blue skies, all was right with our world.  Later in the day the wind got up to gale force, and snow was forecast for our area overnight.  It seemed bitterly cold, even indoors with the heating on, B and I were huddled under (me) quilts (clutchng a 'hottie') and B was wearing his outdoor fleece jacket. 
The gales continued throughout the night, but seem to have died down now to just 'windy'. No sign of any snow when I got up, but as I write I see small flakes blown hither and thither in the breeze, hardly visible at first, but now a few more, and slightly larger.
The forecast is for heavy snow in the north-west, today AND tomorrow, so will have to wait and see whether we managed to avoid the worst (hillier regions always get the most, and we are almost at sea level where we live).  Yesterday B said he could see the Lakeland hills covered with snow as he looked across the bay, so expect Cheesepare (Millom area) could be ankle high in the stuff (maybe knee-high, who knows).

Do envy you Pam, having what we call 'summer temperature' in the UK.  But possibly this rises much higher in a few more months over in the US, something we are not used to and probably wouldn't be able to cope with as most UK houses don't have air-conditioning (if that's what it's called).  The only way we can keep our rooms cool is by switching on portable fans that can be carried around to whichever room we are in.   We have two of these (brought with us when we moved), and can honestly say that they've only once been used since we moved here (but not on all the time), when we had one very hot week.  

It is true that I base my reasoning for those 'cup-cake queues' on what I see on TV (Food Network). There is one cupcake programme: 'D.C. Cupcakes' (think based in Washington DC) where a couple of sisters (with the help of a rather useless mother) run a (now) large cup-cake store.  They have taken on a lot of extra staff, and have a great deal of cooking 'appliances', so must be making a good profit.  They appear (with the help of good programme editing) to have people queueing up for cakes much of the time.  Perhaps sales depends upon temperature.  In warmer states people would probably not wish to buy cup-cakes as the frosting (we call this icing) could soften too much and make them messy to eat. 

Margie (in Canada) does have a cup-cake shop in her town where people queue for mini-cup cakes, and having watched Cup-Cake Wars (Food Network) where the judges eat their cup-cakes using a fork, think the only way to eat an American cup-cake (piled high with 'frosting') IS with a fork.  Biting straight into the larger cup-cake (as we would with our fairy-cakes) we would end up with frosting all over our noses.  Perhaps why the mini-cup cakes are more popular.
Even so, as they are so easy to make, why don't people make their own to take to work as a 'snack'? Is it just that it is more fun to sample all the different flavours, in the same way as so many of us over here go and BUY a pack of sandwiches instead of making our own to take to work?  It would be interesting to know how much a cup-cake cost to buy in the US (hopefully the price converted to UK £££s or we won't be able to compare our own home-made against our bought cup-cakes).

Thanks for your query Tess (is thata 'welcome' to you, or 'welcome back?). Our local Foodbank is producing their own recipe book that will be offered to their 'clients', and as I'm compiling most (maybe all) of the recipes, the ideas for these are being mentioned in my blog as I do my 'experimenting', also hints and tips.  So keep watching this space!

Think the reason why many children enjoy eating meatballs Sammy Kaye, is that these are so very soft to eat, much more 'mouth friendly' than some 'real' meatballs can often be. Possibly, when mashed up, canned meatballs might be one of the foods offered to spoon-fed toddlers, who then grow up familiar with the texture and taste (if any).  Often children will only eat what they have grown to know and (presumably) like, so the earlier they can be introduced to 'the real thing' the better.   This is why it is always better to make 'baby and toddler' foods from home-made meals that their parents have eaten (but pureed/mashed of course in the earlier stages, and with NO added salt).  Then, as they grow up, children will usually be happy eating the same meals as the rest of the family, without a whimper. 
Of course in 'my day', when children refused food they were given, it was served up to them again at the next meal, and the next until it WAS eaten, or they got nothing else to eat.  This used to work, but suppose nowadays this would be called 'child abuse', so no wonder there seem to be so many 'picky' children these days.  However decided that it was best to allow children the freedom to do what they want should be force fed on canned meatballs for the rest of his/her life.

No reason why reconstituted Smash (or any instant potato) couldn't be used when making Bubble and Squeak, although it would cook more like 'Champ' (mashed potato with spring onions). With the Bubble.. cooked potatoes are 'crushed' (usually with cooked sprouts) to make it more 'lumpy'.  More like a 'hash' than a 'mash'.  
Perhaps the best way to use mashed potato with cooked sprouts or other veg is to chop the veg, then mix into the Smash and form into rounds or wedges and fry like 'patties' or 'hash browns'.

Have given several recipes on this blog that use slices or chunks and even scraps of ham.  Sliced ham will freeze (pack only enough slices to thaw at any one time in each pack).  Home-cooked gammon (once cooked this is called 'ham') will keep well, wrapped and unsliced, in the fridge for several days.  When we had quite a lot of family staying with us over Christmas to New Year some many years ago, so always used to cook a gammon, and this would be started on Christmas Day (probably to make sarnies for tea) and continue being sliced until it just about ran out at New Year.  As our (then smaller) fridge was full of other things, used to keep the ham in our porch (this being very cold as winters were in those days).

Loved hearing about your 'gardening' experience with your schoolchildren Janet.  Will you be doing any 'classroom growing'?  Many seeds germinate quite rapidly, and so mustard and cress grown in empty egg shells, or on damp kitchen paper could prove interesting to children.  Also sprouting mung beans in a jar.
Myself once bought a pack of dried and mixed beans from the supermarket, think it was intended for making a 'bean broth' or something.  Just because I'm me, I emptied the packet onto a tray then spent considerable time sorting the different bean into individual piles.  There were red beans, haricot beans, butter beans, and speckled beans, black-eyed beans, and others whose name I don't know.  I took one of each and laid them onto a sheet of very damp kitchen paper that I'd laid on a plastic lid, then covered the beans with another damp sheet, putting the lot into a plastic bag to keep in the moisture.  Kept it in a warm place (shelf over a radiator) and the next day ALL had sprouted, some throwing off quite long roots.  I found this very interesting, and am sure children would find it so too. Each bean could then be planted in soil, each in one small pot, and then see how quickly they grow and hopefully then transplanted to larger pots and each left to grow on to flower and produce more beans.   Maybe each child could be 'carer' of a single bean, and take it home at holiday to give it water etc.  Or maybe the teacher could keep them in a box/basket to take home each day, and return when the next class is held.
By the way, dried peas (sold in supermarkets for soaking/cooking) will also sprout easily and - when sown in soil - will quite rapidly grow into small plants, and the 'pea-shoots' can be picked and eaten.  Great added to salads.  These 'pea-shoots' are now being sold to eat, and for a high price, so well worth growing these for our own use.

When children are interested in growing anything edible (and they do love growing things as long as they grow rapidly - children not having much patience), they will probably eat what they grow, so another good idea is to grow small trays of mixed Salad leaves (I use the cartons mushrooms are sold in to grow mine on the windowsill).  These take a little longer to sprout than cress or mung beans, but could be included as by the time the cress is ready to 'harvest', the salad leaves will have sprouted.  These can then be picked when young, and as each pack has a wide variety of leaves, each will look and also taste different.  So each leaf can be 'sampled' and children can give their opinion as with an adult 'taste trial'.
You've probably already given thought to the above Janet, so if 'don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs' comes to mind, my apologies. (and how did that expression originate I wonder, I'm a grandmother and have never sucked an egg, or - for that matter - ever wished to).

My daughter emailed me explicit instructions on how to print an A4 sheet of paper sideways so that it can be folded to form pages in the recipe booklet.  This 'turn-around' is called 'landscape', so am pretty sure I'll be able to do this manoeuvre.  Hope so anyway.  If not, can always type the recipes 'to fit' (upright on a page) and hope those that print will be able to scan them to fit the purpose.  As they seem used to printing things out, am sure they will be able to.  There are very few computer owners who are as computer 'illiterate' as I am.  It's a wonder I can do what I already can do with this comp, and I can count these on the fingers of one hand.  If any one of those goes wrong, the chances of me getting it back to how it was is minimal.  That's how stupid I am.
Mind you, in the kitchen I can usually reclaim any culinary disaster and turn it into something really worth eating.  So each to his own.

Because I've mentioned dried beans today, thought a recipe using these might be useful as this makes a very inexpensive 'meal in its own right', and serves up to 6!  Even if cooking for two (or just one), as this can be frozen, worth making the amount shown, as this saves a lot of 'fuel-time' (expensive) when wishing to make/eat it again.

Dried beans are cheaper than ready processed (canned/cooked), but of course need soaking and fairly lengthy cooking to soften (after an initial fast boil of 10 minutes on the hob, they can then be left to slow-cook overnight in a slow cooker).  Mung beans can also be cooked as a 'bean' instead of being grown into mung bean shoots.  The difference between the two bean 'types' is that the normal dried beans (haricot, borlotti, cannellini, butter beans, red beans etc) is that they don't have a very long shelf-life.  The longer they are kept, the harder they become and after a couple (or so years) they can often become too hard and however long they are soaked/cooked they will never soften.  On the other hand, I've had mung beans in my cupboard for over 20 years, and these have sprouted just as though they were freshly bought seeds.
If you have no mung bean seeds, just omit them from this recipe. Other dried (pref white) beans could be used instead of the haricot (it is the haricot bean that is used to make canned baked beans and all are the same, it is the slightly different flavour of the sauce in the can that can make the difference, and why we often choose to pay more for much the same thing).

Beanpot Soup: serves 4 - 6
2 oz (50g) white haricot beans, soaked overnight
4 oz (100g) pearl barley
3 x 400g cans tomato passata (or chopped tomatoes)
2 oz (50g) mung beans, soaked overnight
1 onion, chopped
4 large carrots, thinly sliced or chopped
4 ribs celery, thickly sliced
1 bay leaf (opt)
salt and pepper
Drain the haricot beans and put into a large saucepan with the pearl barley and tomato juice (if using chopped tomatoes, these are best pureed to turn them into a thick 'juice/passata'). Bring to the boil and cook for 20 minutes.  Add the drained mung beans, the onion, carrot, celery and bay leaf (if using), adding seasoning to taste.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for an hour (or slightly longer) until the beans are tender.  During that time, keep an eye on the liquid level (don't want it to boil dry), and top up with water (hot or cold) during the cooking if necessary. Serve hot with crusty bread, or can be frozen.
To freeze: cool, then spoon into rigid containers leaving an inch (2.5cm) head space.  Or pack in a 'boiling bag', seal and label.  Use within three months.
Reheat gently from frozen, stirring from time to time, or put the 'boilling bag' into boiling water to heat through, then 'snip 'n serve'.

Many years ago I used to buy those Fray Bentos meat pies to serve to my Beloved.  Although there is enough (just) in each to give two portions - especially when served with extra veggies - today found that after buying, then cooking a couple of these - one chicken (for me) and one beef and onion (for B) - was again sadly disappointed.  The top crust of the chicken pie rose amazingly, the beef pie's pastry top didn't (for some reason) rise so high but still crusty.  The fillings were quite tasty, but oh, dear!!!  The 'under' pastry with both ended up having very soggy bottoms.  I did eat mine but B left his in a mangled mess on the side of his plate, and don't blame him.

The good thing is I now have two wonderful metal pie 'dishes', the Fray Bentos tins being far too good to discard.  Just the right size to make fruit pies (enough for two portions), or one largish, individual meat pie that also contains vegetables (carrots and onions), then serve with a green veg. No real need to serve potatoes as well, as the pastry provides the carbos.
This time I would first line the tin with pastry and bake blind so that it will end up with a crusty bottom.  Then, when removed from the oven paint the inside with beaten egg to seal.  When cooled can fill the case with a cooked (cooled) meat, veg and gravy, then place the pastry lid on the top. This can then be frozen, thawed then cooked in a hot oven to heat the filling and cook the pastry lid.
Or, could - after brushing the just cooked pastry base with egg, fill with a hot cooked meat filling, place on the lid and cook in the oven ready for supper.

It's surprising how many containers we throw away that can be used again.  I am a bit OTT with this as my revolving corner (floor) cupboard will show once the doors are opened.  Apart from holding all my mixing bowls (all sizes from huge down to quite small), I save the plastic cartons (always with their lids - and all thoroughly cleaned of course) that held cream cheeses, smaller ones that held potted Morecambe Bay shrimps (only have a few of these as the shrimps are very expensive, but what we had were given as a gift).  Cartons that held masculine and ricotta cheese,
even tiny little plastic pots that held jellied concentrated stock (Knorr free samples).  Recently have been treating myself to the Seriously Strong Spreadable Cheddar - this I find really tasty and lovely spread on toast et al), but only when on offer as it is not cheap.  This comes in solid containers with a good lid, so again worth keeping. 
Don't normally keep the tubs/lids that soft margarine is packed in as these are rather light-weight, but could be useful for storing home-made ice-cream I suppose.  Normally keep the larger 'bought' ice-cream tubs for this purpose, but as my B tends to help himself to very large portions of ice-cream (whether bought or home-made), am now packing the home-made into the smaller tubs I've saved so he can eat only that amount at any one time.  He is satisfied with that as it is still a good helping, but at least less than he would normally have if left to help himself from a large tub.  Smaller helpings mean the ice-cream go further/last longer.  
Could 'decant' bought ice-cream in the same way I suppose, but so far haven't yet done that, as B tends to pay for that if he's brought some home and it was not on my 'list of things needed'.

Incidentally, B went into Morrison's yesterday, so I asked him to check the fish counter to see if they had any of those cod 'scraps' mentioned the other day.  He phoned back and said they had some 'cod pieces', but these were very much more expensive than I was told (or maybe I misheard the assistant).  Told him not to buy any, and shortly after he phoned back to say they had 'fish pie mix' (salmon, smoked haddock, and cod I think) that was cheaper - by weight - than the 'cod pieces', but still a bit dear for me as I have enough 'white fish', smoked haddock, and salmon in the freezer to make up my own 'mix' (it works out cheaper to do this than buy it ready mixed - well, it would do, wouldn't it, for then we don't have to pay someone to make and pack the 'mix' up for us).

We all enjoy eating cheese on toast, but if we have some leftover canned sweetcorn or scraps of ham we could have 'more than' just cheese on toast.  Try these couple of suggestions then start making up your own versions...

cheese and sweetcorn 'toasties': serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter, softened
1 teaspoon made mustard
pinch each salt and cayenne pepper
dash Worcestershire sauce
6 oz (175g) grated Cheddar cheese
2 tblsp milk
1 small can sweetcorn kernels, drained
4 slices white or brown toasting bread
Put the butter into a bowl and beat in the mustard, salt and pepper, and mix with a fork until fairly light and creamy, then stir in the W. sauce, cheese, milk, and sweetcorn.
Toast the bread on one side only, then spread equal amounts of the cheese mixture over the untoasted sides of the bread, then place under a pre-heated hot grill and cook until brown and bubbling.
Garnish with sliced rings of green and red bell pepper (opt)

cheese and ham 'toasties' with gherkins: serves 4
Follow above recipe but substitute a small jar of gherkins (drained) for the sweetcorn, and add 2 oz (50g) cubed ham (or ham scraps).  Keep four whole gherkins for garnish (opt), and chop the remainder, then - following the above method, mix the chopped gherkins and ham with remaining ingredients, and use as the 'topping'. Slice each remaining gherkin through lengthways into four and fan out to place each 'fan' on top of the cooked 'toastie' (optional).

Many TV cookery progs (both in the UK and in the US) have used something to coat their rissoles/patties etc (previous to frying) with something called Japanese 'panko crumbs'.  This seems to be a more crunchy equivalent to those dried 'coatings' (often orange in colour) sold for the purpose.  Can anyone tell me if this 'panko' is easily available in this country.  Not that it really matters in the great scheme of cookery things as dried crust of bread, fairly finely ground would serve the same purpose.  But I do like to try new things from time to time and use 'for research purposes' as my excuse.

Perhaps I should do more research, but then this could prove to be expensive, and surely, SURELY, we have enough variety of foods already on sale without us needing more. 
It is said that most of us cook much the same meals all the time, usually sticking to about five or so different dishes, and this could be true.  Even I tend to keep dishing up the same old 'favourites', probably because I can cook them without needing to even think much about what I'm doing because they have become habitual.  Shame on me.
Maybe this is why I am enjoying my 'experiments with canned foods' so much this week, purely because I have to think a bit harder about how to make them palatable, and not sure how they will taste when I've finished messing about with them.  Research again I suppose, but at least using ingredients I am familiar with (even though I don't always enjoy the processed version, and today am having to have another go at trying to make those meatballs more interesting - having bought more than one can - so all sympathies gratefully received, because it's me that's going to end up eating them.  Still have the remaining hot dogs to eat up to.  When I chomp on a mouthful, the feeling comes over me that I wish I hadn't offered to 'recipe-test'', but in all honesty am very pleased to be able to get the chance to do this 'research' because it is teaching me a lot).

Here are a few hints and tips for using kitchen foil.  This has many uses other than those we normally put it to.  Myself have found that a triple layer of foil can be shaped (by wrapping over an upturned base of a small box etc, then removed, the ends folded over to make more firm, can then be used as a baking tin. 
Also, when freezing meals in the ready-made foil tins (that come with foil-backed card lids), make these last a lot longer by first lining with 'layering tissue', baking parchment, or a freezer bag before adding the chosen 'filling', covering also with the chosen 'lining' before fitting on the lid.  Write the name of the contents on the top corner of the lid, then freeze.  Once solid, remove contents with its wrapping, and store in a freezer bag with similar (adding a label to make sure you now what it is).  You are left with a clean foil container and lid (you can always cross the written word when using again for a different filling) that can be used again, and again, and again.
Worth noting that anything that contains a lot of tomatoes (like spag bol sauce) will cause 'pitting' on the metal/foil it touches (the acid in the tomatoes 'eats' away at the metal), so always use a container that is not metal or has been lined when freezing..
Also worth remembering that when using foil to protect a cake that is browning too fast, always place the foil over with the shiny side UP so that it reflects away the heat.  Placing it shiny side DOWN, can make whatever underneath brown even quicker.  Useful when wishing to brown the top of pastry or a chicken or whatever. But not cakes, biscuits....

uses for kitchen foil:
Line cake tins with foil instead of greasing, this makes it less messier and easier to remove the cakes.

Meringues and biscuits won't stick if the baking sheets are lined with foil (shiny side down unless you want a crisp base).

Cracked eggs can be boiled if they are first tightly wrapped in foil to prevent any white escaping when placed in the water.

Crumple clean foil and use as a 'filler' for pastry cases when baking 'blind'.

Icing bags can be made from foil,, and old cake boards re-covered with foil will make them look good-as-new.  Also 'instant' table mats can be made by covering cardboard with foil.

Strips of doubled foil can be made into 'slings' for lifting basins out of boiling water, and eggs can be poached in foil 'cups'.
Strips of single foil can also be tied to lengths of string and used in the garden to scare birds away from fruit bushes etc.
Wrap thin strips of foil tightly round a knitting needle or small piece of dowelling etc then slide off and carefully pull down to make a foil 'spiral'.  These make good Christmas tree (or other ) decorations.

Line grill pans with foil to catch the drips.  Saves a lot of washing up.  Used foil can be crumpled up (dirty side inside) and used as pan scourers.

Ice-cream is less lightly to soften when brought home from the supermarket, if the wrapped in several layers of foil to help keep it cool (bubble wrap also works well as insulation).

Melon that has been cut before it is ripe can be wrapped in foil, then left to ripe without discolouration.

Brown sugar will stay soft and moist if the bag is wrapped tightly in foil.  If already gone hard, remove wrapping and place sugar in a bowl, put a damp cloth top of bowl, cover tightly with foil and leave overnight.  Next day the sugar should have softened back to how it should be.

Make funnels to fit bottle tops by twisting a couple of layers of foil into a cone shape then inserting into the neck of the jar, easing it open at the pointed end to allow space to pour through.

Silver wrapped tightly in foil will remain untarnished (useful if storing away for any length of time).  Little used steel knives, wrapped in foil will prevent them rusting.

When potting up home-made jams and marmalade using recyled jars but have lost the lids, cover the jars tightly with foil, and press/pleat foil against the side of the jar. No need then to use elastic bands.

Seem to have written a lot today, and quite a lot of it useful I hope.  Time has moved on to almost noon, so that's most of my morning already gone.  Still got some of the afternoon to 'play with', and the good thing about canned foods is they only need a short time to heat up.

The wind has gained strength again, and the little snow that fell (most of it seemed blown back up to the sky instead of settling) had either thawed, certainly none visible.  For a while the snow seemed to have stopped falling, but now I see an occasional flake , oh yes, as I gaze out of the window a few more are appearing (but only a very few).  Maybe we will have that blizzard after all.  Hoping so, purely for the pleasure of seeing a good thick layer of snow covering everything.  That's the child in me. 
Better start thinking adult again and get on with my real life.  Cooking!  Until tomorrow - enjoy your chilly day.  TTFN.