Friday, April 19, 2013

Count Down to Club Curry...

Had another trip out yesterday.  Regular readers will know that is something I rarely do having only left the house about five times previously since Christmas Eve, and only then for a special reason. 
There was good reason yesterday as had to call in the surgery to book appointments, on the way collecting my conical sieve that I'd ordered from the new cook shop in Morecambe.   After the surgery we drove to Half Moon Bay as the wind was blowing, the tide going out, and lots of white horses on the water.  Never seen the water look so attractive, a wide blue strip over the foreshore (sand/mud flats just covered by water, the colour from reflected blue of the sky), then a wide strip of deep green (deep water) sea, and behind that a strip of yellow (sandbanks just emerging from the receding tide). 

Looks like May is going to be a busy month for me.  Not only do I have four appointments at the surgery: one to see the doctor to see if anything can be done about my continuing 'allergy', another to have my annual (diabetic) eye test, and two re my six months diabetic check (one for the nurse to take blood and test the nerves on my feet, the other to see the diabetic nurse once she has the results) Although I think the last of those is early June due to no earlier appointment being available. As well as the above, my daughter has booked for me to go with her (as a guest) to one of her monthly 'Clandestine Cake Club' visits (I think she feels it is time for me to go out more and 'get a life' and she hopes I'll also make a cake to take). Also in four weeks there will be B's social club 'Indian Feast' meal to cater for, and as I should now be starting to make/freeze what I can (samosas, naan bread, chapatis...)), also go to Barton Grange (another trip out) probably next week to buy the bulk chicken/beef/lamb needed for the curries (good quality and good value for money from BG), you can see my life has suddenly taken a 'U' turn from the 'doing absolutely nothing' (other than writing my blog), to beginning to do 'have something useful to do' again.
Time for me to start making lists (again) and really taking control, rather than just doing what I feel like doing as and when (which is not a lot).

For B's supper yesterday made one of his favourite meals:  Fish Risotto.   Our daughter had recently been on a short holiday where the hotel had a 'well-known chef' (never heard of him) who demonstrated how to make risotto.  When I asked our D what he did, he did nothing more than I do, so perhaps I'd already learnt the correct way.
Risotto is SO easy to make, the only thing is we need to do is stand over the pan, continually giving it a stir until the rice is cooked.  My daughter said she didn't bother to keep stirring, but this really does make a difference as then the liquid evaporates more rapidly and the starch that comes from the rice helps to thicken the 'sauce' as it cooks.

My way of 'standing' over the pan is sitting by the hob, with a large glass of wine at my side. Into the frying pan goes a knob of butter, a dash of oil (to prevent the butter burning), then - when the butter has melted - in goes a handful of Arborio rice (short-grain 'risotto' rice). Stir this for a couple of minutes so all the rice grains are covered with butter, than add HALF the wine, and let the lot bubble away (while the risotto is cooking, I sit and drink the rest of the wine - Ooh, I do enjoy cooking risottos!). Once the rice has absorbed most of the wine, then I begin adding a ladleful of hot (home-made) chicken stock.  Usually I add a fairly concentrated stock so that once that's been used up I can add the 'fish stock' in which I've been poaching the small fillets of smoked haddock, salmon, and 'white fish'.
After about 15 - 20 minutes the rice is nearly ready (it needs to be very soft), so I flake the poached fish, add a final ladle of stock to the pan, then the fish,some diced red bell pepper and frozen (but thawed) peas (both to give colour), and allow the liquid to bubble down until almost (but not quite) absorbed.   Unlike rice served with curry (dry, grains separate), risotto rice is served like 'creamed rice' in its own 'sauce' - this sauce wonderfully flavoured with butter, wine, chicken stock and fish.  A delight to eat, and eat time I make it I wish I'd made enough for myself, but usually only make it for B.  However, I do enjoy drinking the wine. 
By the way, the wine does not entail opening a bottle.  I always keep a couple of boxes of wine (both red and white) in a kitchen cupboard ready to draw from the 'tap' a glassful (or more) when needed for cooking.  It is never around long enough to go 'off' as B also takes a glass now and then to drink with his meal as he did yesterday (I used to buy this wine myself, but as B tends to drink more than I use, I ask him to replace it when the box is empty).
Another way to keep wine for cooking is to pour a little into an ice-cube tray when a bottle has just been opened (waiting until the bottle is nearly finished may be too late!), then freezing the wine and bagging up the cubes of wine to add later to whatever meal is crying out for it).

When it comes to our British weather we just can't win.  The north-east 'flat-lands' are now suffering from almost 'dust-storms' of dry soil, due to the high winds blowing across the fields.  Dottiebird is getting this happening in the York area.  At least the high winds over the UK now seem to have dropped, still breezy but 'seasonal'.   Not sure what impact this dry weather will have on agricultural crops.  Last year they all got drowned, and this year perhaps the seed sowing has been done and many of the seeds have been blown away before they got a chance to sprout.  Quite honestly, got past caring.  There is little we can do about this other than begin to grow more food ourselves where we hopefully have more control.  And am not even sure about that as last week was just about to ask B to put the plastic cover over the greenhouse frame (as the winter winds would now have abated), and was very glad I forgot to ask as the winds over the past few days would have lifted the greenhouse and perhaps even blown it over the fence into next-door's garden.  Certainly the cover would have been ruined.

Have to say that my 25p pension increase (as commented by T.Mills),  has given me much food for thought, and think as an ongoing 'challenge' (spend the 'monthly £1) throughout this year (this is something I definitely will be doing.  So watch this space, who knows, miracles might happen.
The April 'spendos' has already been decided - the 99p of Mixed Salad Leaves (will buy those from Barton Grange next week).  Just can't wait for May, to think up another bit of 'canny shopping'. 

It's amazing how such a little amount of money could  - no, think positive - CAN turn into many £££s being able to be saved over the year, once thought has been given on how to do this.  Much depends upon what is worth buying at the time, but when we give ourselves a very good reason to search for 'bargains', above and beyond what we normally do, we discover so much more.   It does seem today that we tend to shop wearing blinkers, noticing only the 'offers' we might be seeking, and ignoring many others that could work to our advantage (and it doesn't always have to be food).

Had to smile when I read your comment simplesuffolksmallholder.  I've surprised myself that I'm still living.  But very thankful for it.  Still feel I have plenty of 'cost-cutting-chat' to share, but having read a page of 'cleaning tips' from a book to be published by Superscrimpers, and with most of these already having been given on this blog, years back, feel there is very little new to be discovered.

Our daughter brought me a signed copy of a book written by the chef who did the above mentioned 'risotto' demo, and this was all about 'worlds best cookery tips' and could swear he had taken some of mine as a couple were almost word for word from my own cookbooks/articles written over 30 years ago.  But as I said, there is nothing new when it comes to cooking, it's all been done before (but not always the way I did it/do it, so possibly a bit of plagiarism?  Not that I care.  Much.)

Pleased you are finding your new shift (hours) are working well jane.  Often it is good to change an old routine (not that I have any routine, so can't speak from experience).  When, in Leeds, when the dawn broke earlier, and the weather was warm, getting up an hour earlier and taking my morning coffee into the garden to sit and enjoy the peace before the rest of the neighbourhood woke up),was - for me - a wonderful time of the day.  Bees were buzzing round the flowers on the herb bushes close to where I sat.  Baby squirrels bounded along the top of the fence, once even saw a little vole.  All the birds seemed to be singing and flying around.  THEN, at around 7.30 began signs of human life, I could hear radios from open windows, car alarms going off, cars driving down roads.  All the 'natural life' immediately stopped.  The birds disappeared, even it seemed did the bees.  Time for me to leave my 'secret garden' and return to civilisation.  In the great scheme of things, not sure that being so 'civilised' really has done much for us other than give us a more comfortable life, but is all the worry, hassle and stress that also comes with this package, worth it?  Am sure tribes in (say) the Amazon, who have rarely (if ever) come across a modern way of life, are completely content with their lot. 

Would look up the details for 'cross-bread' Anona if I knew where my copy of 'Goode for One' is. I have only one copy of each of my four cook-books, and none of them I can find.  Just show how much I rate my writing!
Have a feeling that the 'cross-bread' might have something to do with some variety of 'pancakes' that I once made, using a mixture of flour and a sausage (or other protein), mashed together and rolled into a thin pancake to fry and use as a 'wrap'.  Remember demonstrating this to a large number of people at the Edinburgh (fringe) Festival.  This was held in a large tent (marquee?) and on that day there was a howling gale, and the guy-ropes snapped and the wind got into the tent and lifted it up (and it nearly started to turn over), and - well - this helped turn the demo as a way to cook through adversity to say the least.

A welcome to Jenn, who I believe lives in Virginia (US).  Believe it was the Blue Grass Mountains where 'The Waltons' used to live.  When watching the series, how I used to wish I lived there too, and during the same period (and way of life).
One of my bridge friends had a daughter who lived in Virginia. She - with a friend - ran a 'holiday-exchange' company called 'Trade to Travel', and, when visiting England, they both stayed with us in Leeds (we did the occasional B & B in those days).  The daughter told me quite a bit about the way of life in Va, and mentioned how - living close to a lake - their home, including the verandas, had to be fully screened to keep out the midges.    It's only in certain parts of Scotland that have midges to contend with (due to having so many lochs I suppose), and then only for a few weeks of each year.

Quite often, on TV we see filming done in Africa, India and other hot places where the residents seem to often have flies crawling over their arms and even faces, and they don't even bother to swat them away.  Even if one fly (and we usually only have small ones) comes near to us we do our utmost to kill it before it touches us.  Having it actually land on us gives me the creeps.

The mention of scented roses - or lack of them, reminds me how - just like vegetables - flowers are now being bred more for appearance.  As long as they LOOK good, who cares what the vegetables taste like, or whether the flowers have lost their perfume.  Another bit of modern life that is fast removing the best of the past. 

Still working my way through the Woman's Own supplement, see that on three consecutive 'seasonal pages' the same basic cake mix was used, but each ending up as a different cake or gateau.   The 'Spring' page gave the basic recipe, seen below with the 'verbals', followed by the Summer, and Autumn variations.  The Winter page had a different cake.

More Than Just a Cake Mix:
'this cake is based on the old method of using equal weights of fat, sugar, flour and eggs.'
basic mix:
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
4 oz (100g) soft margarine
4 oz (100g = 2medium) eggs, beaten
1 tblsp tepid water
4 oz (100g) self-raising flour
plus 1 tsp baking powder
The traditional method is to cream the sugar with the margarine then beat in the eggs and the water before folding in the flour.  It works just as well to beat the lot together.

The first variation requires two cakes being made, one using the basic mix as above, the other also using the basic mix but adding cocoa powder.  After backing, cutting and assembling, the cake ends up looking a bit like a Battenburg (without the marzipan).
Harlequin Cake (Spring): serves 8
'This is a method of using the basic mix above, and flavouring it with cocoa powder to turn it into something spectacular.'
To make a 6" x 8" (15x20cm) oblong plain sponge use: 1 quantity of basic cake mix.
Then make a chocolate sponge using the basic mix PLUS 2 tblsp cocoa powder.
Cook cakes at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 25-30 minutes or until they spring back when lightly pressed in the centre. Remove from oven and leave to cool.
Meanwhile make the icing, using:
6 oz (175g) butter, softened
4 oz (100g) icing sugar
1 tblsp orange juice
2 tblsp chocolate vermicelli
6 glace cherries
Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, beat in the OJ.
Assemble the cakes by trimming the sides and cutting each cake into 4 x 1.5"(4cm) strips.  Sandwich one chocolate strip and one plain strip side by side using a little of the icing.  Spread a bit of icing over the top and lay a plain cake strip on top of the chocolate, and a choc. strip over the plain to create a harlequin effect.  Repeat icing and layers of cake.
Spread top and sides with rest of the icing, and sprinkle with the choc. vermicelli.  Top with glaces cherries.  Serve sliced.

This summer variation of the basic mix suggests saving the egg whites to make the Pavlova (recipe for this in the supplement but not given today).  The sponge cakes used are the normal round 'sandwich' cakes, make from the basic recipe substituting 1 rounded tblsp cocoa for 1 of flour).
Chocolate Slice: serves 8
6 oz (175g) plain cooking chocolate
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp cocoa
2 tblsp milk
3 egg yolks, beaten
2 oz (50g) butter, softened
2 chocolate sponge cakes (see above)
5 fl oz (150ml) whipping cream
1 tblsp chocolate flakes (or grated choc) opt.
Break chocolate into small pieces and put in a pan with the cornflour, cocoa and milk. Place over a very low heat and stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture has thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in the beaten egg yolks.  Return to a very low heat, and cook for a couple of minutes, continually stirring.  DO NOT BOIL!  Remove from heat and leave to cool.
Beat the butter until light and fluffy and then fold in the chocolate mixture.  Use a little of this to sandwich the two cakes together.  Take a folded strip of greaseproof, an inch (2.5cm) deeper than the cake to wrap around it.  Secure with paper clips. 
Whip the cream and fold into the chocolate mixture, and when well blended pile it onto the top of the cake.  Smooth the surface level, and sprinkle with the chocolate flakes.  Chill until set before removing the paper, then serve.

The Autumn variation of the basic mix is as easy as you can get.  Using the basic (plain) mix cook two round 'sandwich' sponge cakes, then continue...
Blackberry Gateau: serves 8
"I always choose this gateau to demonstrate that there's no skill needed to produce something impressive in a short amount of time - and of course you can use any soft fruits you like".
2 x 8" (20cm) pre-baked sponge cakes
5 fl oz (150ml) double cream
1 oz (25g) icing sugar, sifted
1 fl oz (25ml) milk
12 oz (350g) blackberries
2-3 oz (50-70g) finely crushed biscuit crumbs
Whip the cream with the sugar and when beginning to thicken, slowly beat in the milk, and continue beating until thick.  Spread a little cream on one sponge layer and cover with half the blackberries. Spread more cream on the underside of the other layer and place on top (sandwiching the berries between the two layers of cream holds the berries in place and prevents the top layer of cake sliding off).
Thickly spread the sides of the cake with cream (but save some for the top), then coat with the crumbs.  Place on a serving plate and spread remaining cream on top of the cake, piping small rosettes of cream around the edge.  Decorate the top with the remaining berries.  Keep the gateau chilled until ready to serve.

Nowadays I'd be suggesting we make sponge cakes for the above, in advance, then freeze until needed.  A frozen cake is far easier to handle when wishing to coat the sides with crumbs or grated chocolate, cocoa or what you will.  The above blackberry gateau could have the whipped cream and berry filling assembled, then frozen (the cream and berries thaw successfully), then when solid I would put the crumbs (or whatever is being used) into a shallow dish, coat the sides of the still frozen cake with the cream, then hold the flat top and bottom sides of the cake between both hands (as though it was a wheel), and keep rolling the the cake round in the crumbs until fully covered. You will need to give the dish a shake now and then (to keep the base covered) as the cake picks up crumbs which can leave gaps.

Have to admit the cakes (above) are not the best approach to cost-cutting (all that cream and chocolate!), but then a home-made 'gateau' will always be FAR cheaper than buying even a much smaller version of the same thing, so feel we could be allowed to treat ourselves now and then. Quite often we can pick up a carton of double cream that has been reduced down to a very few pennies just because it has reached its 'use-by' date.  Double cream can be frozen, so eagle-eyed canny shoppers should take advantage of offers such as these, then make treats with them later.

Time for me to take my leave.  Have now to go and sit in the kitchen and start making those lists.  Or shall I first have a cup of coffee and see what the Food Network has to offer me?  Very tempting thought.  Just as long as it is not Nigella.  Think by now - with all the repeats - I know her recipes backwards.
Came across 'Bitchin' Kitchen' again the other night (think it might have been around midnight), and have to say do find the presenter quite 'watchable'.  Her cookery prog is just so 'different'.
Incidentally, can any American reader tell me where Georgetown is?  The series called 'DC Cupcakes' is about two sisters who have a cupcake shop called 'Georgetown Cupcakes', and yesterday they mentioned a 'gay marathon' being run (locally?) in 'DC'.  I assumed the DC meant the District of Columbia, but possibly not. 
My Beloved said he thought Georgetown was in Alabama, but as the sisters were complaining about the cold (and am sure I've seen snow in some of their progs) feel that their Georgetown must be further north. 

Have just had to speak firmly to myself.  I want to stay and chat and the 'inner me' is saying I have to get up and get on with what needs to be done.  So had better do as I'm told.  Do hope you will find time to join me again tomorrow as I'm hoping today to have done something worth writing about. See you then.