Wednesday, May 15, 2013

So Far, So Good...

Not quite sure what I'm doing to prompt the comments sent in.  Perhaps it SOUNDS as though I am accomplishing a lot, but not nearly as much as most people seem to manage in the normal run of things.  On the other hand, having not done very much at all for several years (mainly due to illness and mobility problems and - it has to be said - downright laziness), my life now has suddenly moved back to being filled with more 'activity'.

For those who want to know what magic potion I am taking to accomplish these 'things to do' is nothing more than enthusiam and focussing my attention more on what has to be done, and then actually doing it so it is then out of the way. Enjoying what I'm doing also helps.

Yesterday froze the chicken bought at Barton Grange (not what you could call a 'fun' thing to do, but pleasant enough as I was able to sit down whilst doing it).  Ten huge chicken breasts, each with a big piece of 'fillet' that I was able to cut off from the underside.  Froze each breast separately in its own little freezer bag, then bagged up the 'fillets' in four bags, freezing three of these.  The fourth lot of fillets I cut into strips and set aside for B to stir-fry for his Chinese meal that night.  He really is into stir-frying (as long as the carrots and sugar snap peas are precooked lightly, he is not fond of very crunch vegetables).   He is getting so good at making stir-fries that I bought him a small cleaver and a garlic press when at Barton Grange.  Yes, I know he can chop food with a knife, but having had/used a small cleaver myself found it indispensable for all types of food-chopping.  Silly me gave it away to our grandson when he moved out (he also liked making stir-fries) so now I've bought another.

When we think about it, the only utensils the Oriental cooks seem to use are a cleaver and a pair of chopsticks, probably also a slotted spoon for removing things boiling in pans.  The only pans they use are a wok and a saucepan, and perhaps a colander or strainer.  Just shows that's the easiest and cheapest way to cook, not accumulate hoards of what are really unnecessary gadgets and appliances. 

Later yesterday evening sliced up 5 large onions, and put them with three lbs of diced stewing steak into my slow-cooker, pouring over a jar of Madras curry sauce.  Gave it a good stir to mix everything together then set it on Slow to cook overnight.  This morning upped the heat to High for an hour, then switched the cooker off.  The meat is nicely tender and well flavoured, but there is a lot of 'runny' sauce (possibly liquid from the meat).  I'll be removing the cooked meat from the liquid, then packing it up to freeze.  The liquid will go into a saucepan with as much grated carrot as it will hold, and this will then be simmered for about half an hour.  Doing this will have - as they say - killed two birds with one stone as the carrots will both thicken the sauce but also 'extend' it, and so make the meat go further.   The 'curry sauce' will then be frozen separately to be put back with the meat on the day to be reheated THOROUGHLY.

Thanks buttercup (also Janet) for telling me about Skint.  I see it is being repeated late on Thursday evening (channel 4) so have marked it to watch.
Suppose in 'my day' ladies did do a lot more 'craft-work' than done today.  Not so much as a hobby, but more as a way to save money (which of course it did).  Even when we can afford to buy, there is so much satisfaction to be gained when we make something ourselves, so why not bring back this pleasure and start making instead of buying something similar? 
It's strange how what skills that once were a necessity (to save money) are now only taken up as a 'hobby' with manufacturers (of course) making profits by providing the equipment and materials (like pre-cut new cloth ready to stitch together to make patchwork cushions and quilts).  In the old days we cut up worn-out clothes to patch together.   Suggesting we do that now is not good for industry.  No - we are still urged to buy 'the new'.  We need to step outside this profit-making 'box' and start looking to see what we have a home that could be turned into something else.  All suggestions welcome.

Anyone who watches the Anna Olsen (Food Network) bakery series will know that she begins showing us how to make a 'basic' bake, then moves on to the next stage to demonstrate how the basic can be improved.  Usually she shows three 'improvements', ending up with something quite spectacular, and most crafts are a bit like that (cooking is also a 'craft').  We can keep things easy for ourselves and stick at the basic level (which can still be very good), or become more creative and with a little practice become better and better.

Many creative people just enjoy the 'creating'.  When they've done what they set out to do, then they lose interest in it and want to begin making something else.  I'm a bit like that, tending to give away what I've made (I didn't make them for ME, just wanted to 'make' - if you know what I mean), and one of the pleasures of cooking is that the end product doesn't hang around for long.  It gets eaten (often on the day), and this means I can carry on cooking, and creating new dishes or decorations when the mood is on me.

It's that 'creative urge' that has come upon me at the moment, so I'm having a really good time enjoying what I'm doing, and with the help of 'advance preparation' and lists (and more lists) feel that I'm going to be able to cope with it all.  Whether I will be able to, remains to be seen.  Just have to wait and see.  But so far, so good.

Of course I don't mind you repeating Jo's mention of me Pam. It's just good to know that there are others out there (as well as my own readers) who remember me.  It's not as though I was a proper 'celebrity cook', although for a few golden years suppose I was (but only because the BBC wanted to sell my books).   It wasn't really 'fashionable' in the '80s to 'cry poverty'.  Although the series 'The Good Life' gave a message right for the time, by the time I came on the scene D.I.Y was on the way out and people had moved on to preferring to buy rather than make.

At the time I was on TV (over several years), think I was the only 'cost-cutting-cook' in the nation.  Most 'celebrity' chefs preferred to use more expensive ingredients anyway, and even those that didn't were not showing how a meal could be 'costed', and this was perhaps the difference between them and me.  After all, I was (and still am ) 'only' a housewife.

In recent years that has been a cookery series hosted by A.W.T where there was a cook's challenge. The two guest chefs on the programme were each given a different daily budget (could be anything from 50p to £5) then each asked to make a dish to serve one person, this costing no more than the budget for that day.  Every ingredient had to be costed and the amount shown when the dish was made.  Although four 'free' ingredients could be used from the store-cupboard (oil, sugar, flour etc), to me there was a lot of 'cheating' with the costings in that - perhaps - only half an avocado would be used and costed for (even though a whole avocado would normally have to be bought), or a quarter of an onion etc...

It is easy enough to cost out any dish this way, but it only works properly if the ingredients have already been bought and the bits not used will keep, or can be used in another dish.  What I found more useful was to discover how much the larder ingredients would work out in small amounts (used to be oz's in my day, now it is g's).  Even today I find it remarkable how cheap an ounce (or gram) of flour still can be, also the difference between well-known brands and own-brands of the same things.  Eggs too can very very much in price, at the moment we can pay anything from 9p up to 35p for a single egg.  The price of butter can vary also, so using the same recipe but not checking the price of the ingredients, even a basic Victoria Sandwich cake we make could work out far more expensive than it needs be.
Sugar prices are fairly stable, but on the other hand have found the granulated considerably cheaper when buying in 5kg bags.  As granulated can be whizzed down in a blender to make caster sugar (and whizzed even further it will make icing sugar), this is another suggestion to end up with what we want but with a little thought and D.I.Y. it could cost a lot less.

Yesterday noticed that there was a repeat of Paul Hollywood's 'Bread' series, this one on 'flat-breads', and as I want to make chapatis and naan breads for the Indian feast, thought it would be worth watching (as missed it the first time it was shown).  Sitting down to watch, enjoyed the first few moments, then thrilled to bits when P.H went to Leicester (where I used to live) to find out about making chapatis etc.  He was in the kitchen with the chef, just about to start the demo on how to make and the flipping TV screen went blank with a message coming up 'fault with the transmitter' or something like that.  Eventually the picture came back onto the screen, but not until the above prog. had finished.  I was spitting feathers I can tell you. 

Also watched a few moments of 'The Barefoot Contessa', she and Jeffrey were on holiday in Napa Valley (California?).  I enjoyed seeing a bit of the scenery there (it looked quite English), but was stunned when Jeffrey went into a 'special bakery' and bought just two 'English muffins' and two chocolate cookies and the girl charged him $10!!!   Perhaps California is an expensive state to live in, but whatever, it does seem that all 'baked goods' over in the US are not what I call 'inexpensive'.

Although B and I were wanting to watch the repeat of 'I Claudius' at 10.00pm (BBC 4) last night (we loved this series the first time round - and how many years ago was that?), I switched over to the Food Network channel (Freeview 40) as at that time the new series of 'Bitchin Kitchen' is being shown and I wanted B to take a look at Nadia G (the cook).  She really is something else, and (perhaps not surprisingly) B quite enjoyed the bit of the programme he saw.  After Claudius had finished, switched back over to Nadia in time to see her 'side-kicks', and especially Hans moving his 'pecs' (is that what they are called?  I just love it when he moves them independantly.

Now, however much the above progamme is a matter of taste, have realised that it is very clever, as their is much said about eating 'what we like' (whether it be healthy or not), and also with a theme to each programme (cooking a meal for the man you are just about to dump, or a meal to impress the mother of a new boy-friend, or it could be 'student food'), with Nadia popping in anecdotes of her Italian origins, and giving the occasional song (she really can sing well), it is far more than just a cookery show.  Also I've learned quite a lot that I didn't already know about food, so anyone who wants to find out how to get fun out of cooking, then I urge you to watch.  If, for the first time of seeing, you will find it far too much OTT and switch off - as I did - try again another day and hopefully you - like me - will get hooked on it.  For a cookery programme to make me laugh so much yet learn whilst doing so - well it has to be good.  Wish we in the UK were a bit more adventurous with our own cookery progs.

Have given up watching Man v Food (Food Network) as the amount eaten seems obscene, especially in this time of recession (in the US as well as the UK), where many people can barely afford to eat a small meal.  Seeing that a challenge would be to eat 10,000 calories!!! in an hour, doesn't really help the US obesity problem.  But the programme makers don't seem to care.

One thing I have noticed on the Guy Fieri (?) progs is that he also visits various diners et al, and whilst the portions are still large, they are not served as a 'challenge'.  Even so, the servings are much larger than we would expect to get here in the UK.  Apart  from all the lovely meat served, one thing I've noticed is that many of the pizzas made/served on Guy's progs are not the 'traditional' that begins with a dough base, then spread with tomato (pizza) sauce.  No, often I've seen a white sauce (perhaps cheese sauce) spread over the dough, and this is something we could try ourselves.  We could make the sauce ourselves, or we could use a condensed soup mix (chicken, mushroom or celery). 

To give an idea of how to go about it, here is a recipe for a pizza using condensed soup as the pizza sauce, but - as with most pizzas - we could alter the topping (to suit the flavour of the soup/sauce we choose to use (chicken or ham using chicken 'soup' etc).
Note that this recipe used two ready-made pizza bases (sold in supermarkets) as these are part baked so take less time to cook through in the oven, but we can always make our own bases, in which case best to part-bake before covering with the topping. 
Whether using bought or home-made pizza bases, I like to brush the uncovered dough edges with a little oil as this prevents the dough crisping up too much (one thing I dislike is a very crunchy rm around a pizza, mainly because I've got 'elderly' teeth, and the same reason why B doesn't like to eat nearly raw carrots!).

Vegetarian Pizza:  serves 6 - 8
1 can Cream of Celery condensed soup (see above)
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red onion, sliced
1 small can sweetcorn kernels, drained
2 medium pizza bases (see above)
4 oz (100g) mozzarella cheese, grated
Put the soup into a bowl and fold in the tomatoes, pepper, onion and sweetcorn.
Place the pizza bases on a baking tray and spread the mixture on top of each to within a quarter inch of the edges.  Spread the cheese evenly over the top. 
Bake at 200C, 400F,gas 6 for about 10 minutes or until the cheese has melted.  Serve with a side salad.

In about half an hour have to leave to go to the medical centre to have my annual diabetic eye check-up, so will now have to finish my blog for today.  As Norma will be here on Friday (instead of the usual Thursday) have now to change my plans and go out early tomorrow, but will try to blog before I leave, otherwise it might be after 11.00am before I sit down and have my chat.  If delayed for any reason then there won't be a chat at all tomorrow.  Bear with me over the rest of this month as it does seem that certain things really do have priority over my blog (at least if they need doing properly), so it could well be 'expect me when you see me'.  But I'll always be having a chat when at all possible.  Stick with me, and who knows...there could be something interesting happening worth writing about for a change. 

The weather is worse than ever, very cold, very windy, very wet.  Watching the holiday ads for Australia makes me want to emigrate.  Is it really as wonderful out there as it seems?  There doesn't seem to be as much doom and gloom, and certainly not so much crime as over here. Maybe a reader from Oz could tell us.  The good thing is a new series about Australia begins next week, and am really looking forward to watching it.

Enjoy your day, above all find the fun that is in there somewhere.  I'm aiming to.  TTFN.
Spellcheck is not working and haven't time to edit so apologies for any errors.