Sunday, June 09, 2013

Canned Comforts...

Sorry to hear that you've been experiencing cool weather this week buttercup.  Didn't realise that not all of the UK was having 'summer' until I saw the weather map on TV yesterday.  Much lower temperatures on the East Coast than the rest of the country.   Today it seems that clouds are now covering most of Britain and only a very little of the West coast (and that includes us for once), is getting sun today, but already the sky is looking more hazy than on previous days, even though the sun is shining.  Am not too sorry as have found it a bit difficult sleeping at night, the duvet too warm but not warm enough without it.  Should have just got out my light 'fleece' blanket to cover me, but as we will now be having cooler temperatures, might as well stay with the duvet.

Gill said it was cold in Leicester yesterday and she had to put her heating on again, so we have been lucky, but then I'm not feeling guilty as last year when the rest of the country did have dry and warm (sometimes hot) weather, we got rain, rain, and more rain.   Rain is forecast from next Wednesday on, but am sure farmers and gardeners will be glad of that.

Liked the sound of your 'smores' CTMOM (Carol in CT).  When Anna Olsen made hers, she wrapped the biscuit, marshmallow, chocolate, in puff pastry before baking them.  Yours sounds a very much easier way to make them, and am wondering if they are usually eaten as a hot or warm snack. 
As  you mention 'Girl Scouts' am assuming you live in the US (we call them Girl Guides in the UK), so does CT stand for Connecticut?   This is a state I've always been interested in as quite a few of the books I read as a girl/young woman seemed to be set there.   Not sure if 'Onions in the Stew' related to the home written about in that state, but that was a book I really enjoyed, think there was a sequel.  Can anyone tell me the author and names of other books, as I'd like to read them again.

Another query to readers in the US.  What is 'agave syrup'?  Is it similar to maple syrup or our golden syrup?  I know I can always look this up on the Internet (also the books above), but much prefer to ask a 'real person', although as the computer is the nearest I'll get to meeting most of my readers, I can still imagine that you are there, in person, when I'm 'talking' to you. Hope you feel the same about me.

Recently I seem to have been using a lot of canned foods, mainly because these make for speedy preparation of meals.  My favourite lunch is tomato soup, but - in a way - home-made, starting off with a can of chopped tomatoes to which I add a good shake of chipotle sauce, a good dash of pepper, and a sachet of tomato cuppa soup (to help it thicken). 
Yesterday opened the wrong can, ending up with plum tomatoes, but easy enough to chop them up with scissors, then mash them a bit more with a fork.  After adding the other ingredients, decided to add a spoon of sugar to take away the acidity, and when I took my first spoonful it tasted EXACTLY like Heinz Tomato Ketchup.  So now I'll know how to make my own ketchup, although not sure it would keep as long as the manufactured as it will contain no preservatives.  But at least could keep back a bit of the liquid part of the soup and keep in the fridge to use as 'ketchup' a few days later.

Canned plum tomatoes have a much deeper and stronger tomato flavour than the chopped tomatoes, so as they are now always the same price (at one time they were dearer) - at least within the same brand - always worth using the plum toms.   Even chefs prefer to use canned plum tomatoes as tomatoes grown in this country, even those imported as 'fresh', never have the good flavour of those that have been grown in (say) Italy where the climate is right, and these are the ones that are usually in the cans (but worth checking country of origin).

Another favourite canned food of mine is fish, especially tuna, with sardines second on the list.  At one time baked beans came top of my list but don't eat so many of them now for some reason.  Dare I even mention Spam?  Have to admit it is a favourite of mine, but I suppose like Marmite it's one of those foods we either love or hate (and I love both).

Was watching Food Network earlier this morning, and in 'Unique Sweets' they were showing different ways of making ice-cream and other frozen desserts.  I was very taken with the 'beetroot granita', and will definitely be making that myself as beetroot juice helps to lower blood pressure.
Although I often eat beetroot (buying the long-life vacuum packed variety), I occasionally buy the bottles or cartons of beetroot juice, only these - once opened - don't have a long shelf life, so end up freezing some of it anyway.  I've even made a strawberry jelly with half water half beetroot juice (and very good it was too).

The granita - they said - was made by mixing beetroot juice with sugar and orange juice, then freezing it for an hour in a shallow tray, then when partly frozen, mixing it all up with a fork and refreezing. Having made granita before (with cold and sweetened black coffee), it's worth doing this freezing, forking, at least twice, before covering and leaving for as long as we wish, this gives a better texture.

The same mixture (sweetened beetroot juice with orange) could also be poured into lolly moulds to make 'iced lollies' to eat outdoors on a hot day.  Very refreshing, but make sure you wear a bib as beetroot juice stains fabric badly.  Worth taking a little bowl of water with some detergent in it when and a small cloth, out with out when eating the above, as if any drips are instantly dabbed away, they won't then leave a stain that won't come out in the wash. 
Having said that, just a bit of water (dare I say even a bit of spittle) on a hanky, will help rub away most of a beetroot stain, and any remaining usually can be laundered away.

Ended up turning that chocolate cake (mentioned yesterday) into a Black Forest Gateau.  Despite it being a fairly thin layer, managed to split it in half, then - having discovered a jar of black cherries in kirsch syrup in the larder (a gift that I noticed was now past it's, whipped up some cream, and first drizzling some of the kirsch syrup from the jar over the sponge layers, then sandwiched them together, with a filling of cream studded with cherries.  Then covered the cake (top and sides) with rest of the cream, putting more cherries on top.  
Traditionally the cake should have sides coated with grated chocolate with more gratings on top, but omitted that (because I couldn't be bothered).  The cake was put into the freezer (makes it easier to slice) and when frozen cut it into 8 wedges, leaving one out for B's evening 'snack' - which I noticed he ate with more cream poured over (as if there wasn't enough cream already!!).

Even with the above 'cake' being a luxury, it really wasn't as the cake was make from that very cheap Tesco cake mix (with added cocoa), the bottled cherries were a gift, and anyway divided the contents of the bottle into three, using one third for the cake, the other two-thirds frozen (in two containers - including the kirsch syrup) and frozen to use another time.  All I had to provide was the cream and this was some the sailing club had bought and were going to throw away last weekend because it had reached its 'use-by' date.  Experience has proved to me that when cream is kept in the fridge, unopened, it will keep 'fresh' for at least a week longer, so B asked if he could have it, so was able to bring it home to our fridge.  As with anything like this (short-shelf life of cream, cream cheese, etc) I always do a 'smell and taste' test before using, so am not suggesting that it is RIGHT to use foods that are past their 'use-by' date, it's just that I sometimes do, well often do if you want the truth.

We do have to be careful when using 'fresh' foods that have a use-by date, and we should always check even when the date hasn't yet been reached.  Am sure many readers will have purchased yogurts that have tasted 'yeasty' (usually noticeable when their lids have begun to balloon up), and this can happen days before the date they need to be eaten.  Not sure why this can happen, perhaps they have been kept at a warm temperature when being delivered to the grocers, this starting the fermentation which then carries on even when chilled afterwards.

Properly chilled products are usually 'safe' to eat for a short-time after their use-by date as there has to be a built-in safety time to allow people to get the food home and stored during hot weather.  When people live miles from a supermarket, the food brought home in a warm car, then perhaps left in a warm kitchen before being stored, and then not always in a fridge....well, you can see how keeping food chilled properly throughout (take a cool box to the store so the chilled foods can be packed in it to take home, then immediately put it in the fridge) can add days (and sometimes weeks) to the shelf-life of chilled food  
We are lucky that our American style fridge/freezer shows the internal temperatures (we are able to set these ourselves), with the freezer set to -18C, and the fridge to 3C, (normal supermarket settings) even because the latter is slightly lower than normal domestic fridge temp. this does help to give the bought chilled food a longer shelf-life.

Previous to having the above fridge/freezer, I used a small fridge/freezer thermometer mainly to make sure the fridge didn't go above 5C.  We still have this, and I keep it in the fridge to give a double check.  It's worth getting one as a few degrees higher or lower can make a world of difference as to the shelf-life of chilled/frozen foods, and probably save a lot of food that might otherwise have to be thrown out.

Ah, it's now clouding over, and although blue sky is visible between the clouds, have a feeling that we may not have much sun today after all.  Maybe this afternoon it will brighten up again and I can go out and have another hour of basking. 

Will be blogging again tomorrow, but not on Tuesday (unless up mega early) as we are leaving the house early to drive over to Barton Grange (have to get there by 10.00am or there may not be a scooter for me to use).
It was a beautiful evening yesterday, blue skies, still warm when dusk set it, hardly any breeze.  Perfect for a barbecue.  Wished very much that B would have said we could have one, but am hoping that we will be getting another warm and settled spell of good weather and can have one then.

Hope you will find time to join me again tomorrow, so 'see you then'.