Friday, April 12, 2013

Retro Meals?

Much of the time I get to see only half of an hour-long cookery programme due to B (and myself) wishing to watch something on another channel. Myself could 'knock' a programme forward on three channels as they can be seen an hour later on Freeview, but with anything on the Beeb, it is either hope for a repeat, or watch on iPlayer (and as my comp continually 'freezes' every few minutes, watching anything - even writing anything - is something that is done only when necessary (like writing my blog , and it's already 'stuck' before I came to the end of the first five lines, and again halfway through the next.   Maybe this could be because I type too quickly and the comp can't keep up.  What I do now, is keep on typing even when the page stays blank, and when '" wot I've writ" appears, it does it all in one go, but with a few errors because I can't see what I'm writing. So have to go back to edit them out.

Oh, I do ramble on, what I started out to say was I keep missing parts of programmes, that's really all you needed to know, but I am always writing what is in my mind and forget that most of it is of no interest at all.
However, yesterday was able to see the Hairy Bikers programme (first half) where they were talking about and cooking 'retro' foods that first appeared on these shores from around the 60's.  Vesta Curry, Chow Mein being the ones we 'old folk' always remember (at that time even enjoying them, knowing no better).
Just before we switched channels was able to see/hear about a restaurant that had been 'stuck in time', where politicians, wealthy folk, 'people who could afford to', would go there to eat foods of 'yesteryear', such as Bread and Butter Pudding!  Paying a high price for the uniqueness.  How lucky we home cooks are to be able to provide similar food for our families at very low cost.

Almost certainly today, if we entertain younger folk (could be just our own family and friends), serving these retro meals would seem to them to be almost gourmet food, they've never been used to eating it before.  Bring back retro food I say.  Arctic Rolls, Black Forest Gateau, Prawn Cocktail, Jelly and Blancmange, the Knickerbocker Glory, for those who are fond of 'desserts'.  For me good old Toad in the Hole, and Bangers and Mash would be always on my menu.  Not sure about Beef Wellington as that is a mite expensive today due to the rising price of (all) meat.  But Beef Olives, Cottage Pie, Shepherd's Pie, Fish Pie, Faggots.... yum, yum,yum. 

In those days chicken was home-cooked/eaten only on special occasions, now it can be one of the cheapest meats to buy.  Eileen got a good bargain the other day, and her mention of 'chickening out' - due to eating the 'left-overs' for several days after the bird had been roasted - brought to mind several things I have done when I've bought a whole bird but with only one (B) or the two of us to feed had to find ways to use without having to serve it several days running.

Often I will remove the chicken 'quarters' (as drumsticks and thighs, also the wings -then freeze these) leaving the breast still on the carcase to roast (it will take a little less time than normal). Or might cut the bird completely in half down the centre (through back/breast), then lay the cut side down and roast the half bird so there is both light and dark meat, but serving only one (sliced) breast, with the two darker meats (drumstick and thigh).  The second cooked breast would be sliced when chilled to serve with salad or for sarnies (or even sliced and frozen), the carcase always being used for stock.  Winglets are always saved whether cooked or raw, to be frozen and added to from each bird (whether raw or after cooking) and a good number of these (simmered with the usual veg) make a wonderful chicken stock.

Worth knowing about wheat being in short supply this year Kathryn.  Possibly time for us to buy cake flour from the supermarket as that on sale now was probably milled from the previous year's crop of wheat, and therefore would be (SHOULD be) sold at the lower prices paid for it then.  Almost certainly the supermarkets will now be selling this 'on offer' just to make it seem they are doing us a favour, when in actuality they are selling it at the (full) price it would normally be had this last year's wheat crop being good. 
Flour is one of those 'dry goods' that don't have such a long shelf life as others, although have to say I tend not to bother too much with dates with the 'white', but do know that the 'brown' wholewheat, wholemeal, rye etc flours can turn 'rancid' if kept too long, so a suggestion is to store these in the freezer.  Flour won't 'freeze', but will of course be cold so should be used at room temperature when baking (bread, cakes....) but cold flour (fat and water) perfect when making pastry.

Strong flour (bread flour) is usually imported from Canada (or so I believe) so maybe there the climate for the wheat-growing season was better than the weather we have had here.  In the US, another country that grows a lot of wheat, they had a year of drought, so they too will have a wheat shortage. But even if Canada was more fortunate, due to shortages elsewhere, they would be silly not to take advantage of their good fortune and up their prices anyway.  That's how business works.

We often don't realise how rising prices of just one (main) ingredients can affect so many products. We initially will be thinking gloomily that "the price of bread will rise again", but rarely give a passing thought to the biscuits, cakes, pastas, pizzas, and many other products on sale that use flour as an ingredient.  It may not just be wheat crops that failed, it could be ALL cereals: oats, barley, corn (maize), rye... and almost certainly many fields of potatoes - at least in this country - were ruined by all the rain, so we can expect potato crisps to have another price hike.  Or perhaps stay the same price but less crisps per bag, for that's what is happening these days.  Keep the prices the same but give 'em less and hope they don't notice.  At least this may help our national obesity problem.  We may not be able to 'tighten our belts' financially, but eating less sweets and crisps could dramatically reduce our waistline and so tighten our belts in a healthy way. 

Not that I should suggest we take the unhealthy route of making/frying our own potato crisps, but anyone who has done so will confirm we can make a huge amount of crisps from one large potato that would cost us a great deal less than buying the same amount 'ready-made'.   It is possible to add flavour to home-made crisps, and the way I used to do this was sprinkle a layer of salt over a baking tray and sprinkle this with vinegar, then leave it in a warm place to dry out.  The salt absorbs the vinegar flavour but any liquid will eventually evaporate.  Celery salt, garlic salt, paprika...can also be sprinkled over crisps if these are flavours that are liked.

Good that you have found a way to get some money for your old books Pam, but a bit concerned that you have first to send the books before getting the money, can you be sure you will be paid? 
Most of my books (mainly cookbooks these days) have scribbles in them at the side of recipes where I've made notes (costings, or adaptations to recipes) and certainly these would not be accepted by charity shops (why?) and so probably nobody else either, so are still with me. 
However, our daughter (who lives in Lancaster) recently went to an art exhibition (think at an art gallery in Manchester), where everything there (pictures, collages, free-standing work) had all been made from pages taken from books.  She showed me a brochure showing photos of what had been made, and they were all stunning.  Yet so easy 'when you know how'. 
Many years ago I used to make lampshades (and sold these in craft shops), covering the metal part of old frames with bias binding, then stitching (or glueing) on the 'fabric' which was not material but made from old (and more recent) ordnance survey maps. They sold well. 

Have never yet used 'proper' books to make anything, perhaps because I have a respect for the written word.  B also hates to see books with pages that have 'dog-eared' corners (folded to remind a reader of something), and also hand-writing in a book, although have to say I do both with cookbooks (the paperback kind).  Cookbooks certainly I feel proved to be worth having when if a previous owner has spattered nearly every page with grease, with many pages loose.  Any second-hand cookbook in pristine condition (looking as though recipes have never bee used at all), doesn't - to me - mean there is any dish in it worth making.

Sorry to hear you have that dreaded Novovirus Dottiebird.  Believe it can last several days, but hope you soon feel better.  Had something similar myself fairly recently and was delighted to find that once I was able to eat again, I had - in the interim - lost nearly a stone.  Unfortunately, since then, have gained most of it back again.

Did have a comment sent in from a 'Maria', but this seemed to have no relevance to anything I had written about, so she either got mixed up with my blog and some other, as 'etched glass' was her reason for writing, and I've never mentioned this (unless she mistook 'stained glass' for being the same thing - which it isn't),  so this time feel there is no need for a personal reply. But if a genine reader, then hope to hear from her again.

Had not heard of another name for the dandelion Kate (Australia), other than it being so called as the leaves resemble lions' teeth ('dent de lion' in French). 
What a good idea to have 'get well cards' on show when avoiding housework.  Don't have any of these myself, but can put on a good show of hobbling around (very slowly) around the house, leaning on my walking stick, like when visitors come (as they did the other day).  Normally I use my stick only when 'out and about', being able to walk around our home fairly easily, just needing the aid of an occasional chair-back to rest a hand onto as I pass it by.  The one good thing about our home is that now I have no stairs to have to crawl up (and crawl up on on all fours I often did when living in Leeds, as much easier and less painful than walking up in a standing position, not having a stair rail for the first short flight of stairs).   Yet, how I miss not having an 'upstairs', perhaps because in Leeds,  I had my own bedroom with my own TV because - after being in hospital - had to sleep in a separate bed (B having restful leg syndrome and me having painful ulcers on my legs which he constantly kicked whilst asleep, left him the double bed and I went back and slept in the bed I 'grew up' in), also my 'study' and bathroom were also upstairs.  I could have lived up there constantly had it not been having to go downstairs to the kitchen to cook meals.

Coincidentally, the Antiques Roadshow came from Australia yesterday, only saw the last part but think it must have been from Sydney as I could see the presenter et al were standing next to a very wide river in a town.  At first thought believed they were in the US as the antiques were shown bought/sold in dollars, then realised (as well as the accent) that Australian money also is in dollars.  How did that come about being that Oz is British?  Why don't they use British £££s, and for that matter British weights and measures?  Australia seems to have copied the Americans with both.  Can't have that!

Although I often do grumble about the way Britain has begun to be almost a satellite of America when it comes to food, and food outlets - firmly believing this is the main cause of our obesity problem - have to say when it comes to cooking, do wish that we could change to their 'cup' method of measuring as it always appears so very simple and much easier than having to weigh almost everything. 
In the past, we did have it easier, as most home-cooks learnt cooking at their mother's knee, had hardly any need for a recipe book, and learnt how to measure in 'teaspoons, tablespoons, and teacups'. The heat of the oven was gauged by how long it took to brown a piece of bread, or more often than not how long it took for the cook to scream when she stuck her hand inside to see if it was hot enough.  Nowadays, when so much has been made to make things simpler for us (digital scales, thermostatically controlled ovens, food processors....) somehow cooking seems to have become more difficult, maybe more to do with 'ethnic' recipes using more (sometimes unusual) ingredients that require more preparation than for any other reason. 

No wonder many people today feel that cooking from scratch can be more of a chore than a pleasure, so prefer to buy the 'ready-mades'.  I'd probably be doing the same if I was 30 years younger, and the only reason I don't now is because - having tried them - know darn well that they would taste MUCH better if made at home, and - even better - cost a great deal less.  Definitely a win-win situation that seems to have gone unnoticed by many youngsters (by this I mean anyone younger than me) who seem to constantly complain they are short of money, but never give a thought to how much they spend (unnecessarily) on food.

It really is shocking how much food is being bought, then thrown out even when still edible.  It is as though folk cannot think beyond a meal at a time, and also myself believe that far too many have been 'brain-washed' into believing that every use-by, sell-by, displayed-by and even 'best-before' date on food has to be the cut-off point, and kept beyond that (even by one day) when consumed would lead to a probable slow and painful death.

But it is not just food that leads to overspending.  How can youngsters afford to pay for using their mobile phones (and all the other ipods, ipads, tablets or whatever silly names these things have)? Almost always we see these in constant use, either mobile phones a permanent fixture clamped against an ear, or they wander around with earphones listening to some music, not able to hear when anyone speaks to them or (even hear a car approaching  when they cross the road).
It gets worse. Although B and I rarely 'eat out', the last few times we have seen people at tables 'texting' and also youngsters, with parents, sitting their with what I think are called 'tablets', tapping/moving things with fingers while they wait for their meal to be delivered. 

Myself, although finding a mobile phone now quite useful for 'instant communication' by way of 'texting', still find it annoying as more often than not the phone warbles to let me know a 'text' has arrived, and ALWAYS when at the worst possible moment.  I'm either in the bathroom, paying the butcher, or in the middle of doing 'something that can't be left' when cooking.  I know it doesn't have to be replied to immediately, and probably isn't THAT important, but always feel I need to check the message instantly in case it needs an immediate reply, and this makes me lose concentration with whatever I'm doing, although have to say when 'in the bathroom' am able to sit comfortably and reply (do you really need to know that? think I'll delete that bit, but what the heck, it will either amuse some or make others leave my blog and move on to others more 'refined, so I'll leave it in, then when you stop commenting I'll know which you are.  I'm in that sort of mood today, so had better apologise for I never do know what I'll say next, and still have some more blogging to do before I wave goodbye for today).

When I woke this morning, couldn't remember the day.  Convinced myself that yesterday was Sunday, so today had to be Monday, then realised it was Friday. Maybe this is because all days of the week are much the same now retired.  At least, when B went out to work (part-time after retirement) I did have a good idea of what day it was, today have to rely on whether it is his 'gym' day (three afternoons a week), or his 'social club' day (one evening a week), or my Norma the Hair day (and next week that will be Tuesday instead of Thursday), then usually have to ask B "are you gymming today", or he will ask me if it is "hair day tomorrow?"  Otherwise we just keep on living and rely on the TV supplement to make sure we will not be missing programmes we want to watch.

Yesterday evening there was a footie match on TV (again!) so had to miss several programmes I wanted to see, but prepared to 'knock one back' (or forward depending on how you choose to say it), and watch it an hour later, but hate, hate, HATE - the match went to extra time, so I missed that as well, although B kindly said I could watch my(then later) programme, but that didn't seem fair, so let him watch the match to the end.  There were a couple of other, later programmes (repeats) that I was hoping to watch, but unfortunately nodded off at the start of the first, sleeping through until the second had finished.  Another annoying part of growing old, either it is B having forty winks in his chair while I'm awake, or me having 140 winks in my chair while he is awake.  Rarely are we awake at the same time to 'communicate' to each other.  Even then, when we are, we are both watching TV, and I dare not speak then as B does not like to be distracted (well, neither do I), and the only time I dare speak is when the ads are on (at least these are now on more often, and for longer, but then both of us tend to 'nod off' when they are on.  What are we like?).

Woke this morning to find that we have had rain during the night, but this stopped (maybe before I got up), and although the sky is clouded over, it is thin clouds and the sun is trying to break through.  B said yesterday was still cold, but the forecast is for warmer temperatures from Sunday onwards.  Can't wait!

Cooked B one of his favourite meals yesterday: lamb's liver, bacon, cabbage and potatoes.  I'd bought 2lbs (1kg) liver from the butchers recently, then re-packed the liver into five 'one-portion' small bags, the same weight in each (give or take an oz/g in each. Then froze them.  The 'one-portion' yesterday was exactly the right amount for B, perhaps more than enough for the average helping, but certainly liver is still a reasonable price with no waste/fat at all, so well worth the money. 

Recently have seen, in competitive cookery progs, several cooks making/serving fish curry.  Rarely have I used fish when making a curry, other than prawns in a Thai curry, but think from now on I might do so, using Tesco's 'value' white fish fillets (as being the cheapest fish).  Once upon a time, fish (at least the cod and haddock) used to be almost 'poor man's fare', but now it can often be more expensive than red meat.  Yesterday afternoon, watching a fairly new 'competitive cooking' prog, saw a lady cook pay a massive amount for halibut.  One of my mother's favourite fish, but although fish was cheap enough when I was a child, don't remember eating any, mostly I was given cod and haddock, and sometimes plaice (which I didn't much like), as perhaps halibut was then best served to adults who would appreciate the quality.   Certainly, seeing it served on the plate, it did look a good 'meaty' bit of fish, and now wish I'd eaten it at a time I could afford to buy it (well, can afford it now I suppose, but not inclined to 'waste' my money, when - for the same price - I could buy a lot more (say) smoked haddock, which I love.  I love eating smoked foods, such as  salmon, mackerel, trout, haddock, kippers, bacon, ham, sausages, cheese... 'Arbroth (?) Smokies' were served in one of the above programmes, but have yet to splash my cash on these.  Hopefully, one day.
Yet, although 'quality counts', have found that the yellow (dyed) smoked haddock has a stronger, smoky flavour than the 'traditionally' smoked (which ends up still almost white, and - to me - tastes quite a bit milder).  Well, maybe much of this has to do with added colouring to make it look more 'attractive', with the addition of bottled  'smoke' flavouring (which I have seen mentioned in many US cookery progs - is that on sale here?), but sometimes it is the 'taste' of something that I really do enjoy, even though I know it is 'added' and nothing to do with quality.  Very wrong of me, but still keeping within the loose boundaries of 'real food', avoiding any 'pre-formed, retrieved' produce.

Here is a recipe for fish curry that leans toward the Asian as coconut milk is an ingredient, but then probably it is also used in Indian curries.  Doesn't really matter for as long as we enjoy our meals dish, the origins don't really matter, and could from planet Mars for all I care.
For this dish, the best fish to use is the 'chunky' type, cod, haddock, coley, or any of the many cheaper anonymous 'white fish' of that type on sale.  A waste of money to use anything better, as the curry flavour covers any taste the fish might have in the first place.  Frozen fish is the best to use as it will cut easily into chunks, but thaw before cooking.
The spring onions, used as a garnish, look more attractive when sliced diagonally, use all the white part and some of the lower green stalks (you can always chop the remaining leaves and freeze to use as a substitute for chives in another dish).
Although (horrors!) a chicken stock cube is suggested, using home-made stock would dilute the sauce too much, so if possible use a low-salt chicken stock cube/powder.  Alternatively use home-made stock that has been very concentrated.
Fish Curry: serves 4
8 oz (250g) long-grain rice, pref basmati
3 heaped tablespoons mild curry paste (eg Korma)
1 tablespoon water
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 x 400g can coconut milk
1 chicken stock cube  (see above)
4 oz (100g) frozen string beans, chopped
1 lb (450) white fish, cut into big chunks (see above)
3 -4 spring onions, sliced  diagonally (see above)
Cook the rice following packet instructions, meanwhile putting the curry paste and water into a frying pan, then stirring together over a medium heat, add the onions and cook until softened.  Pour in the coconut milk with the crumbled stock cube, then reduce heat and simmer until the mixture has turned into a smooth sauce, adding a little more water if too thick.
Add the beans, then place the (thawed) chunks of fish on the top.  Cover with a lid and simmer for 10 - 12 minutes until the fish is just cooked through.  Drain the rice, spoon into a serving dish and top with the fish curry, sprinkling the prepared spring onions on top.

On a recent repeat of "....British Bake Off" saw that one competitor made 'tear and share' bread as one of his entries.  Myself enjoy this type of bread, and suppose the Chelsea Bun is also a sweet version of 'tear and share'.
Here is a recipe to use for making our own 'tear 'n share', and although a ciabatta bread mix has been used, have successfully made something similar using bother an ordinary white bread mix, and also made white bread roll dough AND brown bread dough, baked alternately, in a ring with one in the middle, so they rise enough to hold together when baked to tear apart at the table.  It is possible to bake several different 'varieties' of bread rolls in the same way by either sprinkling a few poppy seeds on some, oats or seeds on another, one, or using granary flour as well as white and wholewheat, and even rye flour.  Surplus dough (baked or unbaked) can be frozen to use for pizza bases, or to later bake as loaves or more rolls.
No reason to stay with the cheeses suggested, almost any hard and well flavoured cheese could be used, or a mixture of several.

Cheese and Herb 'tear 'n share' bread: serves 4
1 x 500g pack ciabatta bread mix (see above)
4 oz (100g) garlic butter, softened
1 tsp dried oregano
6 oz (175g) grated cheddar or mozarella
Make up the bread mix as per pack instructions, then roll out to a 30 x 40cm rectangle (approx 12" x 16"), spreading most of the butter over the dough with the oregano, then cover this with the cheese and roll up like a Swiss roll.  Cut into 8 even slices and place in a well-greased round 9" (23cm) tin (seven round the outside and one in the middle).  Brush tops with remaining (melted) butter then cover with oiled clingfilm and put in a warm place to double in size.
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25 - 30 minutes, then cool on a cake airer.  Lovely served whilst still warm, with soup (esp tomato).

As Toad in the Hole was mentioned as a dish worth serving to government ministers et al, thought this version would be just up their (Downing) street.  Still an economical dish, this version has been enhanced with the addition of stuffing balls, and the batter mix has a little English mustard powder added.  Goes without saying that we should use the best sausages we can afford.  By all means use a ready made dry stuffing 'mix' as this can be improved when some of the fried onions - used for making the gravy - are added to the stuffing.  Although this 'Toad', with gravy, eats well on its own, even better served with a green veg (peas, kale, cabbage) and 'roots' (mashed together) such as carrots, parsnips, turnips..)

You will note I use my own method of making the 'Yorkshire Pudding 'batter, as this is by far the simplest way.  It doesn't matter how little or much you wish to make, everything is measured by volume, not by weight, so first break the egg/s into a measuring jug (one egg usually = 2 fl oz), then cover this with the same amount of milk, then top up with the same of flour (eg 2 fl oz egg + 2 fl oz milk + 2 fl oz (measure) of plain flour).  Then beat together.
A Politically Correct Toad in the Hole: serves 4
3 eggs
same measure of milk (see above)
same measure of plain flour (see above)
1 tsp English mustard powder
salt and pepper
3 tblsp sunflower oil
2 large onions, sliced
1 x 85g sage and onion stuffing mix
8 quality pork sausages
2 tblsp plain flour
1 tsp Marmite
2 tblsp onion chutney (or similar)
18 fl oz (500ml) beef stock
Beat the eggs, milk, flour and salt together until smooth then leave to stand whilst preparing the other ingredients.
Heat 1 tblsp of the oil in a pan and add the onions with a pinch of salt, then fry gently for about 10 or so minutes until very soft.  Meanwhile make up the stuffing as per packet instructions, then spoon about a quarter of the fried onions onto the stuffing adding a little salt and pepper, and mix together until combined.  Form into walnut-sized balls.
Put remaining oil into a large roasting tin, tilting the tin so the oil coats the sides as well as the base, then place in the stuffing balls alternated with the sausages.  Bake at 230C, 450F, gas 8 for 15 minutes, then remove tin from oven, and quickly ease the sausages and stuffing from the base of the tin (as they may have begun to stick), then- while the fat is still sizzling hot - pour in the batter mix and return to the oven, placing centre to high (but allowing head-space as it will rise).  Continue baking for a further 35-40 minutes until well-risen and golden brown.  Don't take an early peek as this will cause the batter to sink.
While the 'Toad' is cooking, make the gravy by stirring the flour, Marmite, and chutney into the remaining onions in the pan, mixing everything together into a 'paste', then cook for a couple of minutes to bring to the boil, then slowly add the stock, continually stirring to prevent the flour turning lumpy.  Simmer for five minutes, adding seasoning to taste.  Keep warm until ready to serve with the 'Toad', then sit down and enjoy much the same dish that our Prime Minister might well be eating on one of his 'night's out'.

That should be enough 'chatter 'n chew' for today, all I have now to do is wait longingly for tomorrow hoping fervently you will have bothered to 'have a read' and then feel like sending a comment (please do as these always make me feel you are talking personally to me - and that's nice).
Expect many of you will be busy this weekend 'growing things'.  All I'll do is probably think about doing it, and then forget until too late), but if the weather is being kind (and warm) then really must go outside and sit on the 'family bench', close my eyes and dream I am that young girl again. I wish!  How much I wish!!  For next week sees me reaching another milestone, replacing 9 from my age with a nought, and yet I still feel young. 
Do hope readers don't think of me as 'an old biddy'.  Really I'm not.  I'm just wearing my old body as a disguise as it can prove useful when there is something I don't wish to do in the hope that someone else will do it for me.  Anyway, it's me that's being considerate, for as it makes people feel good when they help others, who am I too deny them this pleasure by saying 'no thanks, I can manage'?  Sort of like a pair of scales, one balancing out the other.  A lot of life is like that when we think about it.

Fifteen minutes (or more) ago I was about to sign off, so had better get on doing it.  As I said, hope you will join me again tomorrow, and.....see you then? Well, hope so anyway.