Monday, March 25, 2013

More Than One Way....

Looking through the window above my desk you would think it would turn out to be a warm and sunny spring day.  Blue skies, sunshine and NO snow or frost.  What could look better?
Even so, much of the rest of the country are battling under snowdrifts, some of them 3 metres high.  On TV we see cars that have been completely covered by snow, and single storey houses with only the roof showing on one side where the snow has drifted.  
Many houses still without electricity, and have to say we, in Morecambe are blessed with having just bitterly cold winds and not a lot else.  Today, even the winds have now dropped to just 'a bit windy'.
The forecast is that the cold weather will continue until Easter (and maybe as well as and beyond...) but hopefully no more snow, but then - with our weather - we can never be sure a forecast is THAT accurate, and although assuredly it will stay cold, we may have more snow.  Just have to wait and see.

Thanks for comments.  Agree with you Pam that many 'solid' canned meat don't contain many additives.  When in Morrison's I purchased a can of Pek luncheon pork luncheon meat that said it was 80% pork (no mention of it being 'reclaimed'), but this was slightly more expensive than Spam and in my opinion didn't taste as nice.  For some reason Spam don't givenutritional details on their cans so I don't know how much fat/calories it contains (although maybe these would be found on the Internet but I just can't be bothered to look).
Thanks for the help re changing that 'roboty thingy', and hope that readers will now be able to work out the letters more easily.

Good to hear jane, that Daniel enjoys your home-cooked meals (who wouldn't?).  Even if he does prefer canned meatballs for breakfast, at least he will be getting a hot meal to start his day, and a good breakfast is supposed to help youngsters to 'be brighter' (as regards learning) at school.
Your mention of having a hot bath made me realise that when/if we get gas cuts, then it's not only cooking/heating we need be concerned about, but neither will we have hot water (unless that is heated in the old fashioned way by an electric immersion heater) for washing (ourselves, laundry, pots and pans...).  Most people have electric kettles, so we'd need to use the bathroom basin or kitchen sink and wash in small amounts.
In many ways, electric cuts could be worse, for many gas appliances are controlled by electric switches (such as gas central heating).
Several times, during my life, remember that 'deliberate' cuts (these being electric)lasted only four hours, and not all in the same parts of the country (or even town).  Annoying when it is time to prepare meals, but we always knew in advance when these would be and most people managed to cope.
When we had electricity cuts in Leeds, I quite enjoyed it, having old fashioned and 'primed' oil-lamps, and a real coal/log fire ready to light.  At that time we had an electric hob and oven, so experimented using tea-lights as 'heat' and discovered that using 6 of these tea-lights, placed closed together, and - with a metal cake airer placed - once lit, these gave off enough heat to boil water.
My B, never inclined to 'make the best of it', or even 'wait for it', would - if the cuts were to be at supper time - would take himself off to another part of Leeds where the electricity was still on so that he could have a 'proper' hot meal.  Myself found far more pleasure sitting in the light of the lamps, and toasting my toes and slices of bread by the glowing fire (the toast to be spread with cinnamon butter and sugar) by a roaring fire.
Remember also taking a grid from the oven and fixing it over the lounge fire, one end on the coals, the other on housebricks towards the front of the grate, placing soup (or maybe even  canned meatballs!!!) in a pan and placing this on the grid for the contents to heat up.  Honestly, this was a lot more fun than 'eating out'.  B doesn't know what he missed.  Well, knowing B he almost certainly wouldn't find it 'fun', he prefers his life to be somewhat 'easier' than that.  Me, I find extreme pleasure in finding 'ways to cope/survive' in the best (and most unusual ways) possible. 

Have mentioned this before, but perhaps worth repeating to show that even with gas cuts, we could still be worse off.  After the worst night of the air-raids (the Coventry Blitz) there was so much damage to the underground piping and overhead cables that Coventry had no gas, electricity or even water for at least three days (probably longer).  My mother, due to the previous night raids, and she being old enough to remember World War I (and why she had already piled up a good store of canned foods even before rationing began) had sensibly filled our bath full of cold water, perhaps to use if our house caught fire by the many incendiary bombs that fell most night to right and left of it.  This 'bath' water, boiled over a coal fire, kept us going until repairs to city pipes or water tanks gave us water again.  As my parents had taken in a couple of 'refugee' families (their homes being flattened by bombs) my mother had a house full of 6 adults, one baby, one child, two teenagers to feed and water for three days, with only a small coal fire to cook on, and the 'bath water' to wash/drink/cook with. Now THAT'S what I call 'coping', so forgive me if I sometimes give the impression that people who 'don't have much' to eat, really should be thankful for (and make the most of) what they have, as they could be so much worse off - as is happening now in many other parts of the world.  Here, in Britain, we are probably one of the more fortunate, even with our recession and rising prices.

Another thing I ranemember, when we moved to Leicester (still war time), we had a huge galvanised tank sitting on top of the flat roof of outhouse close to our house.  This collected rainwater, and a pipe led from the tank to our hot water cylinder in the bathroom.   The old fashioned range in our 'breakfast room' was lit each day to heat the water, and this used for washing, bathing, laundry etc.  Water for cooking/drinking always used from the cold tap.  Suppose it would make sense to do something similar today, especially if we pay our 'water rates' using a water meter.

Our 'breakfast room' was originally the kitchen.  An old range in the middle of one wall, with floor to ceiling cupboards set either side, drawers a the bottom and shelving behind glassed doors above.
My mother never used the range for cooking, although I remember it having at least one oven and two 'discs' on the flat surface above to heat pans.  All the oven was used for was drying wood to use for lighting the fire.  We had no central heating, fires in other rooms being lit only when the room was used (coal being rationed).
What my mum called the 'kitchen' was really a small scullery.  In there we had a gas stove (old fashioned by today's standards.  At the side of that was a big 'Belfast' sink supported by house bricks, I remember a shelf underneath holding 'Vim', carbolic soap and packets of 'Rinso'.
Next to the sink and fitted into a corner so it also went under the small window on an adjoining wall, was the laundry 'copper'.  The old style (as seen in 'Victoria Farm') were there was a place at the front where a fire would be lit, a big lid covering the copper (this lid we never removed), and across this lid, leading to the sink, was a huge wooden draining board.  This had to be regularly scrubbed down.
I remember at night, going into the kitchen, switching on the light and seeing strange 'things' scurrying to hide behind the draining board.  My mum said they were called 'silver fish'.  Living there - I think - due to the damp surroundings of the board.
The other side of the scullery there was only room for some shelving and mum's electric washing machine.  Very 'modern' for those times, a top loader that even had an electric mangle fitted at the back edge.
My parent's quite liked 'modern' (being able to afford it).  They were one of the first to have a fridge, and then a television.  Myself, tending to follow in their footsteps, although not having a washing machine when the children were small,  did at least save up and buy a spin dryer.  Then - when me moved to Leeds in the late '60s', bought a huge chest freezer to take with us.  Not many people had freezers in those days, and this really paid for itself.  It was still working nearly 40 years later when B decided he preferred one of the American style fridge/freezers and so got rid of the chest freezer and 50 year old reasonably large now 'retro style' fridge that we had, and that was also still working.

Have to say the fridge size of our US style fridge/freezer has more room than the old one, but the freezer is much smaller than B thought due to it housing the motors for both. So have had to purchase a four-drawer chest freezer to house the amount of frozen food I wish to keep.  Seeing there are normally just two of us to feed, the fridge/freezer would be more than large enough, it's just that I have the need of more 'storage food space' being a semi-professional cook that does occasional 'catering' and feels the need to 'experiment'. 

Sorry to hear from at least a couple of readers that they have stubborn coughs that won't go away. My B had the same that seemed to last for weeks, so it must be a bug going around.  Myself also began with it, but as I did my 'usual' (eating raw onions) this soon sent it packing.  Think it is the sulphur in raw onions that 'kills' the virus'.  Seems to anyway.   
Normally I never eat raw onions, other than occasionally adding thinly sliced RED onion to a salad (red onions being very mild).  A really strong 'cooking' onion that makes our eyes water when cutting it is the one to eat raw.  But make sure you have a supply of soft tissues to hand (paper hankies, loo roll ...) as within a very few minutes noses will start streaming.  You can almost hear the viruses screaming as they flood out in their millions desperate to get away from the onion fumes.

Can imagine the 'Bitchin' Kitchen' presenter being a comedienne Margie, and - like you - have never been able to watch the programme from start to finish.  It is really OTT, has a certain appeal - but in small doses.  Her 'male' assistants (not in the kitchen but 'snippets' included) make me smile, one called Hans describing something (is it wine?) who always ends up by stripping off his shirt to show his superb torso, amazing shiny body and rippling muscles.  Who cares about the food? Give me Hans any time!

Regarding the high prices charged for US and Canadian cakes/cookies compared to those in the UK.  Having seen supermarket cakes, these always seemed far better than any sold in our supermarkets. At the time we were in the US, we went into a cake shop in Kingston (NY state), and this had the most amazing cakes and breads.  German owned (as were many bakeries in that area), and these cakes/gateaux were virtually the same as those sold in the local supermarkets.
Germans are renowned for making quality cakes, and watching the 'cupcake' progs on the Food Network it does seem as though these are made with as much love and care, so almost certainly American/Canadian cakes are way and above better than those dreadful ones our supermarkets normally sell.  To buy really good cakes, we have to go to a speciality shop that sells them (and then they ARE expensive, probably more expensive than 'over the pond') or - better still - make them ourselves.

Did make some scones yesterday, but - as in a bit of a rush - decided to use self-raising flour plus a bit of extra baking powder, THEN added about a couple of tablespoons of white bread mix that I had in a little pot on the table (kept for dusting the board when I knocked back dough).  Made up the usual way with sugar, dried fruit, egg and milk, have to say the scones seemed slightly lighter than when made with just s.r.flour and b.p.  Hoped (well, expected) them to rise more than they normally did, but can't say there seemed much difference.  Will keep experimenting.

Today and tomorrow should see the last of my 'Foodbank' experiments, and have to say 'thankfully' as canned foods are now turning out to be my least favourite (other than tomatoes and baked beans - tuna and Spam!). 
Yesterday made a huge pot of vegetable soup, the veggies cooked in home-made chicken stock.  B ate some for his supper.  I intended to but our daughter dropped in just before supper time, bringing a big selection of cakes.  Recently our D has joined a local Lancaster 'cake club' where each month, members bake a cake to go with the chosen subject (this time it was 'sugar and spice' I think), and each time the venue is at a different place.  With quite a number of members, plenty of different cakes taken there to be sampled, leftovers can be taken home (as happened with our D).  So I cut each piece in half and ate those for my 'supper'.  Extremely good cakes, and many were very rich. Overnght have gained 3 lbs!
Will have to boil up the remaining soup and have it today for my lunch and probably supper as well as B has requested Chilli con Carne for his meal tonight, so hope I have minced beef in the freezer, to which I will add Beanfeast Mexican Chilli and a can each of chopped tomatoes and red beans.  No mince?  Then will make it anyway just using the Beanfeast plus the couple of cans.

As up early, time to give a few recipes today before I make a start to my 'kithen culinaries'.  The first being a frittata - this a type of deep omelette, but also the same as a quiche but without the pastry crust.  Unlike most 'frittata', this one is cooked in the oven, so it would also work if cooked in a pre-baked (blind) pastry case and then end up as an 'almost' quiche.
Personally I feel the cook who wrote the recipe used far too many eggs, but then the ingredients (put together) do make a thick frittata (more like a cake), intended to be cooked the day before being eaten, and - once cooked - can be stored in the fridge for up to three days to eat as a 'cut and come again'.  Cooked in a larger, shallower baking dish (or pastry crust), this could serve more people.
'Deconstructing' the recipe we see it is formed by layering the two types of potatoes with the rocket and herbs, so we could use different vegetables.  Still keeping the potatoes, but perhaps using thin slices of butternut squash (carrot or parsnip) instead of the sweet potatoes (steaming them in the same way).  We could also use include thin slices of 'sandwich' ham if we preferred something a bit more 'meaty'.
Vegetable Frittata: serves 4 or more
2 potatoes (about 1lb/450g total) peeled
same weight of orange sweet potato, peeled
10 eggs (see above)
5 fl oz (150ml) cream
3 oz (75g) Parmesan cheese, coarsely grated
3 oz (75g) Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
handful baby rocket leaves
2 tblsp thinly sliced basil
Cut potato and sweet potato into thin (1cm) slices, then boil or steam (separately) until just tender (al dente).  Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, cream together, folding in both cheeses.  Place into a jug for easy pouring. 
Layer the potato slices in a greased, and fully lined 8" (20cm) square deep cake pan, extending paper 2"/5cm above the edges. Top potato with rocket, then cover this with the sweet potato, then the basil. Stir the egg mixture to make sure the cheese hasn't settled to the bottom, then carefully pour this over the vegetables.
Bake, uncovered, at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 45 minutes, or until browned.  Cool at room temperature, then remove from tin and cut into triangles. Can be eaten warm or cold. If cold, refrigerate and eat the following day.
To store, refrigerate until cold, then store in an airtight container, in the fridge, up to three days.

As frittatas can be eaten warm or cold, these (chilled) make perfect additions to a packed lunch. So here is another version.  Again using more eggs than I would expect (but less than above), as eggs provide protein then worth using this amount.  As with the above recipe, these mini-frittatas will keep well in an airtight container, in the fridge, for up to three days.
These take less cooking time than the recipe above, but - if you prefer - make one large frittata and cook it for longer - until the filling has set.
Mini Pea Frittatas:  makes 8
6 eggs
5 fl oz (150ml) cream
2 oz (50g) grated Cheddar or other hard cheese
2 tblsp chopped fresh chives
2 tblsp chopped fresh mint or basil
3 oz (75g) frozen peas
Whisk eggs and cream together, then stir in the herbs and HALF of the peas.  Pour this mixture into 8 lightly greased holes of a muffin tin.
Bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for 15 minutes, then sprinkle the remaining peas over each mini-frittata, and continue baking for a further 15 minutes or until the egg is just set.  Leave in tin to stand for 5 minutes before turning out.  Can be eaten warm or cold. If cold chill and eat the following day..
To store: refrigerate until cold, then store in an airtight container, in the fridge, for up to three days.

And yet another frittata.  Works the same as above.  Make the day before when intending to be eaten cold, and this will also keep well in an airtight container, in the fridge, for up to three days.
The more variations given, the easier it is to 'mix and match' the fillings, so we could make these with a variety of different 'left-overs'.  As ever - always up to the cook as to use up/make the best of  what she/he has.
Ham, Cheese, and Baked Potato Frittata: serves 4
4 potatoes (approx 2 lb/800g)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
4 oz (100g) finely chopped ham (scraps?)
1 large tomato (5 oz/150g) finely chopped
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 tblsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
Grate the potatoes coarsley and place on a clean tea-towel, twist towel to squeeze out as much excess water from the potatoes as possible, then tip the 'grating's into a bowl, then add the eggs, ham, tomato, onion, parsley and HALF the cheese.  Mix well until combined then spread this into a lightly greased shallow 1.5ltr ovenproof dish.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, then bake, uncovered, for about 40 minutes until browned.  Cool to room temperature.  Cut into squares.  Can be eaten warm, or refrigerate until cold to eat the following day.  Store as above recipes.

When using as many eggs as in above recipes, I'd be inclined to try to save one or two eggs whites, making up the shortfall with milk if necessary.  Egg whites freeze well, so can be saved/frozen one a at a time, then thawed to use in a 'useful' recipe such as this next.  Because these contain no wheat, they are gluten-free.  Although can be made round or oblong, traditionally these are baked 'cresent-shaped'.  Not as crisp as our UK traditional 'biscuits', suppose they could be called 'cookies'.
Greek Almond Biscuits: makes 25
13 oz (375g) ground almonds
8 oz (225g) caster sugar
3 - 4 drops almond essence
3 egg whites, lightly beaten
3 oz (75g) flaked almonds
Put the ground almonds, sugar, and essence into a bowl, and add egg whites, stirring until mixture forms a firm paste.
Put the flaked almonds into a shallow dish, then take level tablespoons of the almond mixture and drop this into the flaked almonds, rolling it into 3"/8cm 'logs'.  When all are done, press any remaining almonds onto the tops of the 'logs', then shape each into a crescent shape.  Place onto parchment lined baking trays and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned, then cool on the trays.  These can be made a week ahead of eating, and also suitable for freezing.

Thankfully, my swollen lips/cheeks yesterday did not go into 'full bloom' and subsided fairly rapidly (at least my lips) and today am left with only slightly swollen cheeks.  This is as good as being 'Botoxed' as the swelling 'irons' out those creases between nose and corner of lips that us older folk get, so I end up (for a few days) looking ten, twenty, thirty years younger.
However, the swelling has now turned to 'hives', with a red weal starting at the base of my left thumb, and slowly moving down my arm, always moving onto the whiter, softer underside of arms for some reason, never the 'outside' where the skin is coarser.  It will probably cover most of the underside of the forearm before it disappears, and always 'itchy'.  When at its worst will take a phot of that too to show the doctor.

Despite it being bloomin' cold outdoors, as I sit at my desk the sun is shining through the d.glazed patio doors t(facing south) hat are on the side wall on my left.  It is shining on my neck and my back and feels very warm and pleasant.  Almost as good as sitting outside on a warm summer's day.  Unfortuately the sun will have moved past the window in about half an hour, but in the short time it has shone in this room, it certainly warms it up.   Find that interesting as it seems that double glazing allows outside heat into a rooom (or is that only the sun's 'radiant' heat that get's in?) but doesn't let any heat back out.
The problem with our sitting room is that it faces due east.  With a bungalow and garages opposite, little protection from blasts of cold air that hit the front of our property.  All our windows are double glazed (even in the conservatory) EXCEPT the window in the sitting room, and this is a HUGE bay window.  Wide and high it does have a small radiator beneath but any heat from this does little to warm any air coming into the room, and probably most of it goes out.  We do have floor to ceiling fully lined thick curtains which make a vast difference when closed, the room gets almost instantly warmer.
Because this window is the 1920 'orginal', all the panes being leaded and some also stained glass, it would cost a lot to have it double-glazed keeping the original panes. This could be expensive, and B is not keen on spending money.

It would make sense to move our 'sitting room' into here (the dining room/study) during the winter months, except there is no central heating in this room, only a gas fire.  This could prove to end up more expensive.  So will make the best of what we have and keep fingers crossed that the weather might make a sudden change and we have a long hot summer (certainly due for one). 

Next week (Easter weekend) believe we have to put our clocks forward (we remember this by 'spring forward', 'fall' - US autumn - back).  So this time next week it will be 11.00am. not 10.00am.
At least, now we have reached and past the Spring Equinox, our days will be getting longer and our nights shorter.  Already I wake to daylight, when not so long ago dawn had not yet broken.   The more sunlight we get, the better we will all feel, especially when we can go out and bask in it. 
The few days of really warm sunlight we had last year I used to go out and sit on the garden bench (the same bench I used to sit on as a child and teenager...), and stay as long as possible (several hours) in direct sunshine, getting browner each day, and it really did make me feel good.  Must have soaked up enough Vit.D to keep me going all winter. 
Do we have to be outside to get this Vit.D?  Could my body still absorb it when sitting indoors, by the patio doors?  If so will take an easy chair there and sit there as long as the sun shines on me, then move, later in the afternoon, into the conservatory to do the same.

Think I've rambled on enough for today.  On now into the kitchen to do some more 'trials', then by midweek hope to begin writing up the hints, tip and recipes.  Intention was to get these sent to the lady before Easter (who will thenget them printed into booklet form), but think this will now have to wait until after the holiday weekend, she'd probably be busy doing something else then anyway.  A few more days won't hurt as believe it is after the new benefit alterations and reductions start, believe early April, that this will mean more people needing the services of the Foodbanks over the country.  So this means a couple of weeks before the Foodbank get extra 'clients' and the recipes (hopefully) will then be of more use.

Trouble is, many people - brought up on a diet of 'the readies' - will not be at all interested in doing anything more than opening a can and heating it up (or eating it cold).  Just one small bit of action could make the world of difference to the flavour of canned foods, but with many this could be one step too far.  Why bother when we like meatballs as they come out of the can?  Sort of thing.
Will the 'clients' even bother to read the recipe booklet?  Any hints and tips mean that some sort of thought or action needs to be used, and when not used to giving any thought (to almost anythng) any suggestion might seem more like work than giving pleasure. 
However, there will (hopefully) be some people who ARE prepared to 'have a read' and maybe find one or two ideas worth trying.  Not all people who use the Foodbank are of the 'can't cook, won't cook' brigade.  Some are able cooks but a the given moment in time, unable to buy food because of certain circumstance, so as well as following guidelines would probably make an even better effort of using the 'allocation' than I have.  Almost certainly they will still have a few oddments in their food cupboards that could be used:  oil, herbs, spice, salt, pepper, flour...maybe a few pennies in pockets (or that have slipped behind cushions on the couch) to be able to buy eggs.  

Have had to smack myself on the hand again 'cos I am still 'rambling'.  Why can't I stop?  Really must take my leave of you for today, but hope to meet up with you all again tomorrow.  TTFN.