Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What's In a Name?

Yesterday watched Guy Fieri in his new series of 'Guy's Best Bites', where he cooks in his home kitchen/s. He seems to have a least two, an indoor and and outdoor both amazingly well fitted.  The indoor one appears to have a television permanently switched on (can just see motor-racing or baseball or something on the screen), with a pool table also in the room. The outdoor kitchen has a large brick 'pizza type' oven that has a fire built inside and an open front.  Big hobs to cook on in both kitchens and plenty of work surfaces with 'necessary' ingredients (as used most of the time) like salt, pepper, spices, vinegars, oils... all arranged close to hand.  Oh I wish!

Yesterday Guy was cooking 'by request', several dishes, one of these being 'something with chocolate'.  So G's chose to make 'Mexican Chirros' (maybe I've not spelt this correctly, but as it sounded) and believe it or not this was EXACTLY the same mix as we would use to make choux pastry.  The only difference being the 'dough', after being put into a piping bag, was piped in finger length pieces into a pan of hot oil and fried, to then be put on a tray and dusted with a mixture of caster sugar and cinnamon.  The 'chocolate' part was these would then be dipped into a bowl of melted chocolate before being eaten. 

Almost every country had a dish similar to one from another regiona of the our world, often under a a different name.  Sometimes a country uses the same name but for another dish.  So not surprising we get mixed up.  A 'tortilla' in (say) Mexico, is a flat bread made with wheat or cornmeal, in Spain a tortilla is a type of omelette.
Flat breads are very similar in appearance, the only difference being (sometimes) the flour used, or maybe adding yeast. We are familiar with the soft flour (or corn) 'tortillas', the Indian chapatis not being that much different. Then there is the pitta bread, naan bread, flat but made with yeast, and pizza bases are not a million miles away from these.
Even in Britain we have our own 'flat bread', traditionally made with oats, and mainly regional.
Moving on to 'pastry', there are many countries who have their own version of our 'pasty'. Called different names, but inn appearance to our 'Cornish' (the one that is folded in half with the crimping along the open edge, not the one that is crimped on top). The only difference being the fillings.  Still usually 'meat and two veg', but some can be very spiced up.

Ingredients for one dish can be exactly the same as another, but with the additions of spices or sauces can then end up a completely different dish.  Most of us have gathered 'odds and ends' from our fridge and veggie baskets. One person would choose to make a vegetable soup from these, another a Chinese stir-fry.  A third might use these to make a Vegetable Curry. 

Almost everything we make is being cooked 'another way' in other parts of the globe, so even if we stick to ingredients we know and love, we don't have to keep strictly to our own traditional meals (thank goodness).  "Variety is the spice of life" they say.

Didn't manage to watch Paul Hollywood again last night, 'Corrie' taking precedence, so really must try to catch up on iPlayer. Just managed to catch the last 5 minutes to see pitta bread being made.
Earlier we were watching 'Pointless' (this and 'Eggheads' are two of our favourite progs as we like to see if we know the answers, and if not then we learn a great deal).
Although B and I both have much the same sense of humour, it doesn't always flow in the same direction. Yesterday on 'Pointless' B said "that woman's dress looks just like the top of a compost heap", and as I hadn't noticed it, took a look and said to B  "the dress reminds me of a coffee cream gateau".  Same dress, different viewpoints. 

We welcome Mandy, who has kindly sent in a comment.  Do hope you enjoy the books Mandy, and we hope to hear from you again (and again...).

Can't remember if it was the same film you mentioned Pam, but there was has been one made about the war in London, seen through the eyes of a young boy. It could well be the one that contained several things that happened to me, for this was the filmed version of a book written by a man who had requested people to write in and tell him of their war-time experiences, and I sent him at least two of mine. One was about the time when a barrage balloon's cables broke and it drifted down to settle on the roof of our house, our parrot screaming as the rooms went dark.  Another when a very low-flying German aircraft flew over our road and nearby guns blew it up as I watched.  The latter I still remember with sorrow as the plane had been so low (and slow as they were in those days) that I could clearly see the pilot.  The next second he was killed.  Someone found his hand in the next street.
Both these incidents were included in the film, but it may not have been in the one Pam mentioned..

Was interested to hear you are collecting material to make a quilt Pam.  Quilt-making has always seemed a very American craft, although - certainly in the north of England - quilt-making has been done for centuries, but normally just stitching pieces of material together randomly, not in the beautiful patterns used across America.  We also have a tradition of making 'rag rugs'.  I've had a go at making both the rugs and quilts, and they are very long-lasting, and a great way to use up clothes and household materials that have worn out.

My favourite quilt patterns are the 'Log cabin', and the 'Cathedral Window'.  Think it is the Amish that are known for their quilts, and believe they make a deliberate mistake in each quilt pattern, for some religious reason. Believe that somewhere (Bristol area) there is an American museum where there is a large display of American quilts.

This is the time of year that we normally change from GMT to BST Pam, and we have long days in summer (and shorter days in winter) due to us being further north than Texas.   Wouldn't have thought you would need any change of time as your days and nights would be much the same length.
Here in summer it gets light very early in the morning.  On a clear day dawn would be around 4.00am but at that time of the year the sun is never to far below the horizon, so even at night it can often be barely 'dark. Night fall would be about 11.00pm, although often it seems we hardly get any dark night at all for the reason given above.
The opposite happens during the winter months, but always day-light during most of our working hours (8.00am till 4.00am), so we don't really notice the lack of light as once indoors, curtains drawn, TV to watch, or even outdoors to go to the pub, cinema, night club (where the darkness almost adds an extra thrill).... the darkness doesn't disrupt our lives.   At full moon, with a clear sky, in the country, away from town lights, even in the darkest months, there is enough reflected light from the moon for us to see perfectly without the need of a torch.

This reminds me again of war-time.  Lights were forbidden during the war, to prevent enemy aircraft from discovering where towns were.  Everyone had to have 'black-out' curtains fitted (I hated these, the material had a very unpleasant smell).  Wardens used to patrol the street to shout "put that light out" if they saw a chink.  If they saw it again, the householder would have to pay a heavy fine.
There were no street lights, no lights anywhere in town, cars had to drive with dipped headlights, (petrol was rationed and in those days not many people owned cars anyway), same with cycles.  Even torches had to have the top half of their 'beam' covered, and these lights could only be shone down.  Much of the time we were staggering around in the dark, and in any case, few people ventured out in the dark those days due to the 'smog'.
Smog was a mixture of smoke and fog, and as everyone used to heat their homes by coal fires, every chimney was belching out smoke.  There seemed to be more fogs in those days, and this held the smoke down, and it was once - think in London - that the smog was so bad, many people died.  It was then (I believe) we had to begin burning 'smokeless' fuel.
We even have a 'traditional' soup called 'London Particular', named after the London 'smogs' that were sometimes so thick and almost yellowish green in colour that the was called a real 'pea-souper'.

Nowadays many new houses are being built without fireplaces, this is a pity as it could well be we will have to return to burning 'smokeless' coal, and logs to be able to cook and heat our homes more economically.  Not always necessary to have a chimney as suppose a 'flue' could be fixed to a multi-fuel stove that would go through an outside wall up to and beyond the eaves.

Yesterday I was muttering to B about 'stupid waste of government money'.  We hear of those 'wind farms' not able to work because the wind is too strong (it could break the blades).  The snow on the same blades is now causing some to break.  Millions being spent on a new nuclear power station, yet all around our island we have the sea.  Harness the tides and we have permanent power 'for free' once the installations have been paid for.  No nuclear waste, no ugly wind farms ruining our countryside.  Good healthily made fuel.
Why do we have to move forward to 'new technology' when we have 'the old' ready and waiting to provide what we need on our own doorstep?  Time to stop taking one step forward and return to taking two steps back methinks.

When I was very small (under six I think) my dad was explaining to me about how things worked. I'd seen how water wheels could move great millstones to grind flour, and understood how steam could drive railway engines. When I asked about how electricity was made, Dad explained about the use of coal and water to make this, and I asked why they didn't use the sea to make it instead of 'waterfalls'.  Dad said we didn't need to use the sea as we had so much coal in this country we didn't need water, there was enough coal to keep us going for centuries.   How wrong he was.  Or was he?
Maybe there is enough coal, but we have closed most of our coal mines and prefer to use nuclear power and imported gas and the much more expensive and could be said 'dangerous' fuels.  Am afraid 'advance technology' I tend to view as not always the wisest route to take.

Much of our 'advancement' seems to be the need for speed.  We need to get from A to B in the fastest time possible.  Why?  Do we end up getting more work done?  It could be we are trying to get more leisure time, but what do we do with that?  Seems many prefer to use this to sit and watch TV or play computer games. 

In the 'old day's life was slower, but individuals worked harder and during leisure time, more was achieved.  "The Devil makes work for idle hands" is as true now as it was then, and we can see this happening today.  Youngsters roaming the streets because they have nothing better to do, and put their natural youthful 'rebellion' into the wrong use.  Have to say it would be much better for our young unemployed if they were conscripted, much as is done in the US.  So why can't we put those who don't seem able to get a job (or won't) into the Territorial Army?  Anywhere where they would learn about discipline, and also get the chance to learn a trade. 
Believe it or not, children prefer to be 'disciplined' from a very early age.  It makes them feel secure.  Those who are left to do what they want, having no strong 'guide-lines', really have nothing secure in their lives at all, and this leads them into all sorts of dangers.  Of course, youngsters want to rebel, but far safer to rebel at a safe and low level, than have their only 'levels at a dangerous height to jump over.

When at school, my teachers were so strict that a pupil would be expelled for answering back (and was).  We were not allowd to eat ice-creams outdoors when wearing our school uniform.  Also got order marks when seen not wearing our school hats. 
Sometimes we did the 'naughties' above, and this was 'scary' enough just because we had broken a rule (or three), but it was 'safe' rebellion if you know what I mean, teachers being clever enough to know that although pupils would break rules (part of growing up), the more rules there were to break, normally everyone only broke the 'easy and unimportant'' ones. 

Nowadays it seems there are few rules to break (in schools, in home...) so only when big ones are left to break, who can blame those that do.  It is perfectly natural for children to break rules, part of growing up.  The blame has to go those adults who changed the rules and led us to believe that children should be allowed 'freedom of choice', and be given little discipline 'so that they can learn their errors in their own time'. 
Unfortunately 'doing wrong' is often more fun than 'doing right', and unless an awareness of how this can affect and distress others is instilled into a child, they can grow up feeling what they do (and capable of doing) is for their own pleasure and to hell with anyone else.  What was once a caring society now seems to be turning into a very selfish one.

Dearie me, seem to have go another bee in my bonnet today.  First believing we should control the sea, and now controlling children.  What next will I have to moan about I wonder?  Perhaps better I turn my thoughts back to cooking.  Serving home-cooked meals to a family sitting round a table and eating together will make a good start to child-control perhaps.  "Eat your greens or you won't get any pudding".  Well, this sometimes works.

So let's think about family meals, and with that in mind I'm about to give some suggestions for 'nibbles' that might normally be eaten in front of TV, but instead served as a family buffet.  Not to pick and eat 'on the hoof' or 'at the wander', but to still sit down and eat at table  - like TOGETHER!   Often there is more chance to chat to each other when eating 'nibbles' than when consuming a meal using a knife and fork.  And when eating 'buffet' food, suggest it's better to chat with (almost) a mouthful rather than not chat at all.

First recipe (more a suggestion) is a way to use up oddments of crumbly (or grated) cheese mixed with softer, cream cheese (Philly type).  The idea is to blend the cheeses together, form into small balls, and roll these into different 'coatings'.  Ideas given below, but you could also used crushed cornflakes, potato crisps, crushed cheese biscuits....  As these should be prepared well in advance, a good one to add to a 'buffet' table.
Cheese Balls in Overcoats: makes 64
1 lb (500g) cream cheese
1 lb (500g) crumbly 'firm' cheese
2 tsp finely grated lemon rind
2 tblsp lemon juice
pinch sea salt
Blend or process ingredients together until smooth, then chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours, until firm enough to roll.  Take rounded teaspoons of the mixture and roll in the hands to form balls. Place on a tray, cover and chill in the fridge until firm.  Roll each into chosen coating, the more the merrier, but at least four different ones.  Serve cold.
suggested coatings:
2 tsp cracked black pepper mixed with 1 tblsp poppy seeds.

1 tsp each dried oregano/marjoram, sweet paprika, and dried thyme, plus 1 tblsp toasted sesame seeds.

Quarter pint (150ml) measure finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley.  Or another herb of your choice (or mixed fresh herbs).

Quarter pint (150ml) measure unroasted sesame seeds.

No reason why a family meal can't include 'posh nosh'.  There is nothing 'posh' about the ingredients below (other than the smoked salmon, but then as it is only the cheaper offcuts bought, not much of them used - surplus will freeze - so a biggish buffet would still work out cheaper than if a 'meat and two veg' dinner was being served).  Because this is buffet fare (recipes expected to serve more than a just a 'family') we can reduce the amounts, as long as we are provide enough selection to satisfy appetites.

As the 'rosti' can be made several hours ahead, another useful buffet dish.  Finish assembling close to serving time.
Rosti with Smoked Salmon: makes 24
2 lb (900g) potatoes, peeled
half oz (15g) butter, melted
1 tblsp chopped fresh dill
4.5 oz (125ml) olive oil
7 oz (200g) creme fraiche or sour cream
7 oz (200g) smoked salmon offcuts
dill for garnish
Grate the potatoes then place in a clean towel and squeeze out excess liquid, then put the potatoes into a bowl with the butter and chopped dill.
Heat a little of the olive oil in a large frying pan, placing an oiled 2" (5cm) wide metal (scone) cutter into the pan and fill this with 1 tblsp of the potato mixture.  Press down with the back of a spoon to flatter.   Carefully remove the cutter (it will be hot) and repeat with remaining mixture adding more oil as necessary.  Cook rosti until golden on the base, then turn and cook until golden (both sides), drain on absorbent paper and leave to cool. 
When ready to assemble, put 1 teaspoon of creme fraiche on each rosti, top with a little curl of smoked salmon and s tiny sprig of dill.

Next buffet dish is a good one to make when we have puff pastry in the freezer, a bit of Stilton (or other blue cheese) to find a use for, and either a leek (instead could use several shallots) and garlic (especially worth making if a garlic lover).
The pastry bases can be made a day ahead (or a few days previously if kept in an airtight tin that has had a layer of salt put into the tin, covered by a sheet of kitchen paper, before putting in the pastry - the salt will absorb any moisture and keep the pastry crisp).
The garlic/leek mix can be made up to 8 hours ahead.  Assemble and reheat just before serving.
Garlic and Blue Cheese Bites: makes 24
1 oz (25g) butter
1 tblsp olive oil
8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 large leek (1lb/500g) sliced thinly (see above)
1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry
2 oz (50g) blue cheese, crumbled
Melt the butter in a large frying pan over low heat, then fry the garlic, continually stirring to prevent burning, for about 10 minutes or until soft and turning light brown.  Remove from pan and set aside. Add leek to the same pan, and stir-fry this, still over low heat, until softened, then add the sugar. Keep stirring from time to time, and cook for about 15 minutes or until the mixture caramelises.
Cut circles from the pastry sheet using a 4.5cm (just under 2") cutter, place these on a greased baking tray and place a similar tray on top - this prevents the pastry rising, but still cooks the pastry through.  Bake for about 10 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6, or until the pastry has browned lightly, removing the top tray after 8 minutes.
To assemble, sprinkle the cheese over the pastry rounds, then fop each with the caramelised leek and garlic.  Return to oven for about 2 minutes or until the cheese is soft.

Being a cost-cutting cook and hating waste, I often get irritated when recipes tell us to cut pastry into rounds, and tend myself to cut the pastry into squares, triangles or oblongs - any shape that has straight sides means no wasted pastry.  Doing this we can often make more 'shapes' than the recipes originally intended.
But if we do have pastry trimmings, it's not difficult to use up short pastry as when pressed together and re-rolled out we can use it/cook it in the normal way.  With puff pastry much harder to make use of. If the trimmings are large enough, I stack these on top of each other so that, when rolled, the 'layers' are still there.  Scrunched up the pastry would then spread every which way when baked.  However, this can be useful i grated cheese is kneaded into puff pastry scraps, rolled out very thinly and cut into fingers.  However mis-shaped these end up after baking, they make wonderful 'cheese straws'.

So my next 'family buffet' suggestion is to include an assortment of dips.  Served with strips of raw veg (aka 'crudites'), maybe some of the above cheese straws, some tortilla 'chips', or toasted wedges of pitta bread, these add extra colour and texture to the meal.  Why not include crispy potato 'skins' for dipping? 
To make these cook 'jacket potatoes' in the microwave or oven, then when tender, cool, cut each into 6 wedges, carefully remove the flesh (this can be mashed to use the following day).  Leave the skins intact and place on a wire rack over an oven tray, skin-side facing down, brushing the up-side (inside) with a little olive oil.  These can be prepared several hours ahead, then roast in a hot oven for about 20 minutes until crisp.  Serve with dips. 

We all have our favourite dips, mine being a tub of creme fraiche (could use Greek yogurt) in which I've blended a heaped teaspoon of mild curry paste (Korma, or hotter if you wish) and a teaspoon of mango chutney.
We probably only need to serve three dips at any one time, but each very different in colour and flavour. Here are a few suggestions:
Feta Cheese Dip:
7 oz (200g) feta cheese, crumbled
5 oz (150g) ricotta or cottage cheese
2 tblsp lemon juice
2 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
Put everything into a blender or food processor and blitz until smooth.  This can be made up to 2 days ahead when stored, covered, in the fridge.

Beetroot dip:
3 medium cooked beetroot, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
7 oz (200g) yogurt
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp lemon juice
Put everything into a blender or food processor, and blitz until smooth.  Store as above dip where it will keep for up to 2 days.

Cucumber Dip:
1 cucumber, skin and seeds removed
1 tblsp chopped fresh mint
7 oz (200g) yogurt
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tblsp lemon juice
As with the above, process until combined, preferably by pulsing as this gives a bit more texture, alternatively just chop the cucumber and mint finely, crush the garlic and fold into the yogurt.

Raita: similar to above but less ingredients
half pint (300ml) Greek yogurt
4 tblsp chopped fresh mint or coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
Mix ingredients together, cover and chill for 30 minutes. Can be made a day ahead and kept chilled in the fridge. 

Peanut (Satay) Dip:
3 oz (75g) roasted peanuts
2 tblsp Thai red curry paste
6 fl oz (175ml) coconut milk
2 fl oz (50ml) chicken stock
1 tblsp lime juice
1 tblsp brown sugar
Blend or process nuts until finely chopped, then add the curry paste, mixing until well combined. Meanwhile, heat the coconut milk to boiling, and then add the peanut mixture, whisking together until smooth. Reduce heat, add stock, and cook, stirring, for about 3 - 4 minutes or until the sauce has begun to thicken.  Stir in the juice and sugar, and when the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat. Cool and chill.  This will keep, when covered and chilled, in the fridge for a day before serving.

With the above recipe feel we could cut corners by using a crunchy peanut butter instead of processing the peanuts as by the time we have blended in the curry paste we would end up with much the same thing.  Maybe we wouldn't even need to add some of the other ingredients so could cut out the cooking.  Instead the mixture could be 'slackened' by folding in lime juice and perhaps a little coconut cream or yogurt.   Recipes such as these give us a chance to experiment/improvise and make each 'our own'. 

What better time than Easter to gather the family round the table and enjoy the above.  So time to start planning ahead and make as much in advance as possible.  

From the inside looking out we appear to be having another sunny day, but still mega-cold outside. Normally, at this time of year seeds will have been sown, and greenhouses possibly housing new growth, but none of this seems able to happen at the moment.  We are advised to wait before sowing seeds, and so this means that some crops will be have to be harvested much later this year. And only then if the weather has been kind.  Another cold and wet summer and prices for fresh foods will rise still further.
I've given up ordering the organic veggie boxes for the time being, as it's pretty certain that the boxes won't contain any 'just picked' produce (as normal) as the country is snow-bound.  Once things have got back to normal then will begin ordering again.  Perhaps not fair to the organic growers (am already feeling guilty), but really don't want to pay over the odds for 'fresh' produce that only tastes good when it is really 'fresh'.  Stored for a week and it tastes no better than that sold (cheaper) in the supermarkets.  Even veggies that have a long 'shelf-life' such as carrots, really lose flavour quite rapidly.

That's it for today.  I've had my moan, I've suggested meals we can serve,  given a nod to our weather.  Not a lot more to chat about, so will wave goodbye for today, then open my arms wide to give you a cuddle when you return to me tomorrow (which I hope you will do).  See you then.