Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Inside and Outside the Box.

Yesterday evening, watching the final of 'The Great British Sewing Bee', felt that it had a worthy winner, but as she was 81 (even older than me!!), with 75 years (she said) of sewing experience behind her, this was to be expected.  However, the programme did grow on me, and by the last episode do hope it inspired many younger folk to begin taking up their needle and start making their own clothes.   The producers are asking for people to offer themselves for the new series, so do hope that at least one of my readers will have a go (how about you Kathryn?).  Nothing to lose, especially when we see how most of the other contestants have now started up either their own small businesses or are giving tuition.

Am not sure whether I'm right, but tend to believe that most people who are 'Jack of all trades, and master of none' (like myself) feel that although they can do quite a lot of different crafts etc, none are good enough to pass muster.  In today's world just about EVERYTHING 'home-crafted' is worth something, just because it is.  Of course there are people who can do a great deal better than we can, but these are usually who we consider to be at 'professionals level''.  Just because we consider ourselve 'amateurs' doesn't mean that we are lacking. 

In today's 'recession', although often we cannot earn 'real' money, we can barter our efforts, and recalling a time - must be over 30 years ago  - when I found a way to completely furnish a room by bartering my basic domestic skills, not doing anything that most of you couldn't do.  Perhaps I was lucky and things just fell into place at the right time, but it just goes to show that many of us can help out others who perhaps aren't able, or just haven't the time to do it themselves.

When it comes to bartering with someone 'in business', this can be profitable for both.  As an example, with the above 'room make-over', I was asked to make and decorate a 21st birthday cake for the daughter of a man who had recently lost his wife.  This I was happy to do, and refused any cash payment (the daughter being a friend of one of our offspring), but as the man owned (or worked in) a carpet warehouse, asked if he had a small piece of lilac coloured carpet (to fit the small room, hardly much more than a boxroom) in exchange for the cake.  The carpet would have been too expenisve for me to buy (for full price at that time), and the cake - ordered from a shop - would have cost the man more than the carpet (at his trade price) so, by 'bartering' we both saved money.
In return for helping a neighbour, in return was 'paid' with enough paint to decorate the room, and also got given a second-hand Z bed (with new mattress) as another 'barter'.  Finishing off the room with a chest-of-drawers and material for curtains and a patchwork quilt (also by bartering). 
Have to admit getting far more pleasure out of furnishing that room in that way than if I'd had the money to buy everything outright.

There is a series on BBC 1 at the moment where two professional chefs compete against each other to see how much profit they can make when they choose to make/serve their own meals at a chosen restaurant.  We are told how much the chefs are allowed to spend (like £400 for a three course meal to feed 60 people, and far too much money in my opinion), the idea then is to sell the meals in the restaurant at a high enough price to make a profit, this then going to charity.  We see the chefs going to various stores to buy their ingredients and 'haggle' to bring down the prices.  Because most of the time the ingredients are bought in bulk, the shopkeepers will give good discounts (but I wonder if they would do if the cameras were not there!).  Even then the shopkeepers themselves, still make a (smaller) profit as the price eventually charged will still be more than the wholesale price paid, so as all individually owned shops (not supermarkets) have control over the prices they charge, these are the places to go to when we wish to do any 'haggling'. 
Haggling is not something we Brits are accustomed to do, but it is done a lot abroad, especially in the Middle Eastern countries, and from what I see on TV, this is becoming something that seems to be worth doing here.  We have nothing to lose if we try a good 'haggle', and possibly a lot to gain.  Have any readers being haggling recently?  And has it worked?

They say that we are now to expect some really hot weather. 'Hotter than California' it said in yesterday's paper.  Unfortunately not in the north of Britain, mainly from the Midlands and down south.  That means we'll miss it no doubt.  Today again overcast, windy and I feel quite cold, although that's not unusual for me, it can be really warm outdoors and indoors seems to want to stay on the cool side.  The only 'room' in our home that gets most of the morning and afternoon sun is the conservatory, at the end of the kitchen, so not a lot of use to me as this is where B insists we keep our over-large dining table he bought, and therefore no room there to have a comfortable easy chair to lounge in and enjoy a cosy and warm nap.  When I wish to sit in the sun, all I have to sit on are the very uncomfortable wooden dining chairs (B bought them because he liked the look of them - and they were on offer - he has bought a lot of things just because they were 'cheaper', not because we need or even want them). 

Funny how an overcast day, wind and the threat of rain puts me in a bad mood.  It doesn't help, when sitting in the living room on a really sunny day, seeing the sun shining on the houses opposite, but not in our room.  Even worse, the sun reflects on the windows of said houses, one also has a glass globe hanging in the window and the warmth of the sun sends it moving slowly round, and both the globe and some windows reflect the sun itself and these flash into my eyes and I have to move my chair or lean sideways in my seat until the sun has moved over.  
You see, I can even moan about when the sun is shining, at least today - if the clouds stay - then I won't be bothered with reflected sun.  Something to be pleased about.  Perhaps I should be more like 'Pollyanna' and keep playing 'the glad game' (and doesn't 'glad' look a funny word when you've looked at it several times?).

Aplogies to Kate (in Oz) whose comment I did not reply to yesterday.  Only discovered it after I'd published the blog and returned to my email page.  Do hope my allergy isn't due to preservatives in food as these seem to be in most of the 'processed' foods we buy today.  Easy enough (I suppose) to make all my meals from scratch, but it does help if I can have the occasional cuppa soup, or use a jar of ready-made curry sauce etc.

Good to hear about that lady Alison, who you saw feeding her baby with mashed avocado and then banana. She has obviously the right approach when it comes to feeding her family. 
When my children were small, one of the first 'solids' (and hardly that) was the yolk of softly boiled eggs, then, as they grew older, they could dip their bread 'soldiers' into the egg yolk and feed themselves.  Some many years ago - due to that salmonella scare - we were told that young children and old folk should not eat soft-boiled eggs, but now the little red lion is stamped on eggs from salmonella-free chickens, feel that these should now be safe enough, but have still not heard that these should be eaten by the very young and very old.   Pity, as eggs have really good food value.

Appreciate you letting us know that soya cream is on sale Christopher.  That means those 'dip' recipes given yesterday can be made using that instead of yogurt/sour cream, and therefore suitable for those who are lactose intolerant.

It is difficult when entertaining friends who have a faith that prohibits eating certain foods.  When we first moved to Leeds our house was surrounded by many Jewish people, and when their children (who became friends with ours) came to a party, I had to make sure I used the correct kosher ingredients when making a buffet. 
Over time, discovered that sometimes (quite often in fact) that 'good manners' seemed more important than 'keeping the faith', so even non-kosher foods would be eaten (esp by the adults) as 'respect' for the person who made and offered them.  Myself tended to believe this was more an excuse to have what was wanted to be eaten but otherwise shouldn't have been.  In a recent book, written by a Muslim lady, she told of her devout grandmother (who used to pray 5 times a day), eating and very much enjoying bacon, because "as long as I don't think it comes from a pig, then it's alright". Bless.

Now that food has entered my mind, think it is time for me to give a few suggestions for alternative ways to serve food.  Any of you who watch 'Hairy Bikers' may have seen them make soda bread rolls, then scoop out most of the crumb and fill the centre with a chunky soup.  Not sure why they didn't make bread 'cups' by baking the bread wrapped round individual pudding basins, so the hole was already there after baking, but am sure they would have saved the surplus 'crumb', perhaps frozen it to use in other dishes (but unfortunately they didn't give that tip).

Myself went through a period of serving food in 'containers'.  I used to cut very thick slices from an uncut loaf, then - using the tip of a sharp knife - cut down into the chunk of bread, leaving about half an inch of bread-border, and half an inch base, brush this 'box' with oil then bake in the oven until light cold and fairly crispy.  Made one for each person, then filled them with a beef casserole (or something similar).  The bread would soak up an surplus gravy, so end up as part of the meal, only green veggies needed as an accompaniment.
I'd do something similar making large, but still individual Yorkshire puddings, using smaller sandwich tins to hold the batter.  When baked, the sides would have risen and be very crisp, leaving a centre that was softer (but still cooked), in which would be filled with beef casserole.  Again with chosen veggies at the side.  (Incidentally, I've been keeping those Fray Bentos meat pie tins - these pies bought for 'research purposes', and these tins are the perfect size to make individual 'Yorkies' (to be filled), and also a good size to make fruit pies to serve two or three people.  Or for that matter, make one meat pie for B).

Here is a recipe for a dessert version of a 'filled bap'.  Ideally, use the individual brioche rolls as this bread is sweeter than the ordinary ones, but readers who make their own bread could make 'brioche', or use an ordinary bread mix, but made up with milk, adding a little butter and a spoon of sugar, this then making a sweeter and moister bread that can be used for this recipe.
If you have no small brioche buns, then cut thick slices from a brioche loaf and remove the centre crumb to make a container for the fruit.
Summer Fruit-filled Brioche: serves 4
4 individual brioche buns
11 oz (300g) small ripe strawberries, halved 
2 tblsp caster sugar
4 tblsp water
4 oz (100g) raspberries
Remove the tops of the brioche, and scoop out the crumb using a teaspoon, leaving a half-inch/1cm case.  Lightly toast under the grill, turning once.  Keep watching them as these can become brown very quickly.  If you wish to keep the 'caps' to serve with the dessert, then toast these as well.
Put the strawberries in a pan with the sugar and water, then heat gently for 1 minute until the strawberries have begun to soften, but still holding their shape.  Remove pan from heat, fold in the raspberries, then leave to cool.
When ready to serve, place the brioche cases on a plate and pile the fruits into each, spooning in plenty of the juice to soak into the brioche, any left over juice can be drizzled onto the plates adding any left over fruits.  Serve immediately, with or without the brioche 'caps' resting against the side of each fruit-filled 'cup'.  Goes without saying a bowl of whipped cream should be served to 'help yourself'.

Can't remember the time when I bought a fresh pineapple, but do remember that when making a fresh fruit salad, used to halve the pineapple down its lengthy, cutting through the leafy top, leaving the leaves still on the fruit, then - after scooping out the flesh - would pile the pineapple 'container' full of assorted fruits (cut into even sized pieces) making it a very attractive presentation.  If the pineapples were fairly small, one of the half-shells, when filled would make a very good dessert for one person.

Melon shells can also be filled with not just melon balls, but mixed perhaps with orange segments, kiwi fruits etc.  Even large oranges, cut through the centre, flesh carefully removed and all the membrane, can then be filled with assorted fruits.  Again making a pretty presentation for (say) a buffet.  Hardly need serving on a plate as the orange 'cup' is easily held in one hand and the fruits speared with a cocktail stick or tiny fork held in the other hand.

When it comes to savouries, the pumpkin shells left over after Halloween make a good 'tureen' for holding pumpkin soup, and - on a very much smaller scale -, after removing most of the potato from a microwaved 'jacket' spud (use this 'mash' for another dish), these potato 'cases' can then be refilled with almost any savoury you wish (chilli con carne, spag bol meat sauce, mac 'n cheese, or just mashed potato with lots of added cheese, onion or bacon).

Many recipes keep appearing in cookery mags that show bell peppers - once the seeds/membranes have been removed - have been stuffed with a savoury filling.  Aubergines, onions, the big beef tomatoes, marrows or over-sized courgettes, once the 'innards' have been scooped out, all make good 'containers' for savoury meals (and of course these 'innards' can become part of the dish or used for another - NEVER throw them away).  So perhaps we should think not always 'outside the box', but more about what could go in 'them'.

Returning to thoughts of '.....Sewing Bee' it was a real joy to see the garments being make correctly. Have to admit that is something I rarely do - whatever it is I'm doing.  Trouble is I have little patience, and when younger would start embroidering a tray-cloth, then once one corner was done, didn't want to do the remaining three (done one corner, the others will the be boring), so would move on to embroidering another cloth.  Used to drive my mother to distraction as she usually had to finish the cloths herself.   As I grew older and made my own clothes would never quite get them finished.  I'd often not put on buttons on the band of my skirts, fastening them with a safety pin (easier). Once even sewed myself into a skirt because it was quicker than sewing in a zip.

In recent years have found the best way to do things properly is to pretend I'm teaching someone else how to do it.  This means talking to myself, out loud,  so tend to do this when I'm alone, otherwise B would think I'm losing my marbles. Come to think of it, B has for years gone around talking to himself, so perhaps he won't notice, especially as he is getting very deaf, especially in one ear (and won't do anything about that because he is too vain to want to wear a hearing aid). 

Taking my own advice, have now spoken firmly (and loudly) to myself, telling me to return to stop rambling and return to recipe writing, so will finish today with a couple of suggestions for fillings for those scooped out potato shells, mentioned above (you will need to use the cooked flesh).  Each fills the shells of 4 potatoes = 8 halves. 
If using cooked minced beef, this will shorten the time taken in the oven, and if you normally (as I do) bake your 'jacket's in the microwave (saves fuel), then no reason why - when filled - these stuffed potatoes shouldn't be reheated in the microwave oven, and (when topped with cheese) finished off under the grill.

mexicana filling: serves 4
1 large onion, chopped
1 tblsp sunflower oil
6 oz (175g) minced beef
3 tblsp tomato relish or ketchup
dash chilli sauce
salt and pepper to taste
potato flesh from skins
2 oz (50g) grated cheese
Fry the onion in the oil until browned, then stir in the minced beef and cook until browned before adding the relish, chilli sauce and seasoning. Cook briskly for 3 minutes, then mix with the potato flesh taken from the skins.  Pile back into the skins and sprinkle with grated cheese.  Place on a baking sheet and cook for 25 - 30 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 till heated through and browned.

tuna filling:
3 tblsp hot milk
potato flesh from skins
salt and pepper to taste
1 x 218g can tuna, drained and flaked
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Beat the milk into the potato flesh until light and fluffy.  Stir in seasoning, tuna and parsley.  Spoon into potato shells and bake as above (they may take less time to heat through).

Surprisingly the sun has suddenly begun to shine with the sky now covered by only thin clouds, but still very windy.  At least the sun has lifted my spirits, so will now return to the kitchen to get on with my 'sorting of stores' that seems a never-ending job for some reason.  Possibly because I can never finish what I started to do (yesterday, the day before, and the day before that).  Story of my life.  But then life would be pretty boring if everything got done on time, I'd be left then with time on my hands just twiddling my thumbs.  Perhaps I'm just afraid of that happening.  Ending up like a vegetable.  No - it's just my usual excuse of getting out of doing what needs to be done and that I don't really wish to do.  At least not today.  Must try harder! 

Am now going to role play, talking out loud as I do so.  See what happens then.  You never know, if you come back to 'have a read' tomorrow you might discover I've worked miracles.  It's happened before when I step out of my shoes into someone else's.  Let's hope it works today. 

Norma the Hair day tomorrow, so my blog will be published later in the morning (so what's new?). Hope to see you then.