Sunday, June 30, 2013

Catching Up!

As the weather cleared up late afternoon yesterday, and I'd seen our 19 year old English girl win her tennis match, decided to go into the garden and see how my plants were doing.  Very well in fact, even managed to find some 'spares' so that I could fill a large pot that stands by our back door. 
It's amazing how a few containers of flowering plants can 'lift' a garden from boring to extremely good looking. 

Still haven't sorted my freezer/s.  What is wrong with me?  I know what needs to be done, but then don't seem to be able to buckle down and do things.  It always works best if I write down what needs to be done, then work through it.  Must do that again.  Today!

The no-carb, high protein diet is working (as it always does) lost 3 lbs since yesterday, that's 5 lbs in two days, but of course the loss is mainly 'water' (water retention is something I've had since pregnant with my first child).  Even so, I feel loads thinner, and my new clothes are not as tight fitting as expected (although could be a bit looser for comfort, but as I said - this gives me a good reason to lose more weight). 

We give a warm welcome and group hugs to Ivy who lives on her own, and enjoys reading my blog. Thanks for saying that Ivy as I am now continually feeling I don't write anything of interest any more as after six or so years of almost daily blogs, am sure I've said everything that has to be said, and find it very difficult to come up with something new.  Perhaps fortunately, many of my 'rambles' have been deleted from the earlier blogs to give room for the recipes, so at least for newer readers, repeating myself is not a nuisance.  
In fact think there is only one reader - Cheesepare - who has stayed with me since the start (so grateful for that CP), but hope there are still a few others who read but don't comment.

Although my blog was originally intended to be only about cost-cutting cookery, with a bit of the Goode life thrown in, nowadays it seems to be more about me, me, me, plus the regular moans about my Beloved, and the state of the nation, the world and the universe (if I knew more about that), am surprised that I still have readers.   Especially since there seems to be a dearth of recipes given recently, again because many have already been given space before.  There seems to be nothing much new happening in our kitchen at the moment although yesterday was wondering that if I made a fairly firm jelly, poured it into a Swiss roll tin (lined with cling-film) to set, then covered this with a pre-cooked Swiss roll sponge cake, turned it over (jelly side up), covered this with a layer of custard, then of cream, THEN rolled it up (like a Swiss roll) it could then be sliced an served as a 'deconstructed' trifle.  Well, it's a thought!

Thanks CTMOM for telling me about the frosting on the US cupcakes.  Also to Margie for giving me a recipe.  I've made something similar using soft, low-fat cream cheese beaten with icing sugar and a little butter.  This doesn't taste as rich as when made with all butter/cream, so might go down that road when 'frosting' my own cupcakes.  Why, in the US, the frosting has to be almost twice the depth of the cake itself I don't know, and have also seen in DC Cupcakes (and also Cupcake Wars) the girls shoving their (gloved) finger into the centre of each cake when it comes out of the oven so that there is a gap that is also filled with the frosting.  More frosting than cake seems to the order of the day.

The mention of using 'stablilisers' in the frosting has reminded me that I have a jar of Xantham (?) gum in the larder (a gift).  Have not yet used any, and it looks more like glucose syrup than the powder that normally seems to be used.  Do know that this X...gum is needed to replace the gluten when baking gluten-free bread/cakes/biscuits, but has it any other use?

There are times when a recipe does everything I want it to.  Such as the following 'breakfast loaf' as this makes use of over-ripe bananas, contains walnuts (the new super-food for lowering cholesterol), and above all - all ingredients (except the walnut) are thrown into a bowl (or food processor) and beaten together, then the nuts folded in.  An inexpensive and very easy way of making a healthy 'bake'.

After watching Anna Olsen (and The Barefoot Contessa) testing cakes to see whether they are done, have noticed they always use a cocktail stick as the 'skewer'.  And there was silly me thinking that I should use a metal skewer.  I've even bought myself a 'cake tester' (this changes colour when the cake is fully baked), and although that is really good, think the cocktail stick idea is one of best for testing cakes.

If you have no brown flour, use all white plain flour.
Banana Breakfast Loaf: serves 8
3 oz (75g) butter, softened
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
5 oz (150g) plain flour
3 oz (75g) wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
4 ripe bananas, mashed
2 oz (50g) walnuts, chopped
Beat together all the ingredients except the nuts. When combined, fold in the walnuts and spoon the mixture into a lined and greased 1lb (450g) loaf tin.  Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean (see above).
When baked and cooled, wrap tightly in clingfilm.  It can then be frozen for up to a month. Defrost and best warmed through slightly before serving.

With the Great British Bake-off inspiring people to start baking their own cakes, pastries and what you will, it's not surprising that manufacturers have got onto the band-waggon to provide a lot of the 'essentials' to 'save us time'.  But always at a cost.

Here are a few of 'the necessary' that we could buy, and the cost of same.  For interest I'm giving approximate costs if we made the same thing ourselves.  I say 'approximate' as much depends on how much we paid for the basic ingredients in the first place.  For instance an egg white could come from a free-range organic egg that cost 38p, or from a 'Value' egg that cost 10p.  Myself would deliberately SAVE an egg white (or two/three) to make meringues when using eggs to make lemon curd, or quiches, or scrambled eggs etc.  The way I see it, this then means the whites are 'free'.

Packs of 'Home-Bake' Vanilla Frosting: £2.50 for 300g.  As this is 'almost as good as home-made' (using butter, icing sugar and milk), pretty sure we could make it far cheaper.

'Home Bake Pizza Dough': 500g for £2.50.  Virtually the same as bread dough we can make when using a bread mix, plus added oil.  Yet this is already made (so has added liquid, meaning that probably only slightly more than half the weight was flour.  Compare the price to a 500g pack of bread mix (around 70p) where all we have to do is add water (and oil) and we end up with twice as much 'pizza' dough, making a saving of nearly £2. 

'Pavlova Base': £1.69.  Using 'free' egg whites and about 6 oz caster sugar (and nothing else, or adding a little cornflour and vinegar depending upon recipe used), this needn't cost us much more than 20p to make!!

Of course there are lots more 'time-savers' on the supermarket shelves.  Some may even be worth buying.  It would be good to hear from readers as to their experience of 'best buys' and also what is 'cheaper to make at home'.

Traditionally, our 'Full English' breakfast should be left as it is.  A lovely plate (which should be hot), full of grilled (or fried) bacon (streaky or back, crisp or soft as requested), sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding, fried (or scrambled) egg, baked beans and triangles of fried bread.  What's not to like about that?  If I left out the fried bread, it would fit very nicely into my protein diet.

Today - of course (why do they have to spoil things?) - this breakfast is considered 'unhealthy', so for those who feel it is, they can still get a taste of the good without swallowing too much of the bad.  Here's an example.
Not all the 'Full English' goes into this one-pan variation, but we could include as much (or all) if we wish.  Main thing is not to add extra fat, and drain away any that flows from the sausages/bacon once the cooking is completed (myself would save this fat to use when frying something else later - does that defeat the purpose?).

English Breakfast 'Tortilla-style': serves 4
4 pork sausages (pref chipolatas)
4 rashers smoked back bacon
4 oz (100g) button mushrooms, sliced
6 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
Put the sausages and bacon into a non-stick frying pan and heat gently until the bacon fat begins to flow, then raise heat to medium and fry for 8 minutes, removing bacon as it begins to crisp up slightly (it will crisp up more when resting).
Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook for a further 4 minutes.  Drain away any excess fat (see above), then spread the mixture evenly over the base of the pan.  Chop the bacon adding that to the pan, then pour over the beaten eggs with seasoning to taste,, giving the pan a shake so the egg settles into any gaps.  Cook over low-medium heat for a couple or so minutes until starting to set, then scatter the tomatoes on top and pop under a pre-heated grill for a couple more minutes to complete the cooking of 'the top' and turn it slightly golden.

Many people refuse to eat offal, and myself have tended to veer away from cooking sheep's hearts, brains, sweetbreads, tripe....  but do cook liver, preferring lamb's liver as it is very inexpensive, has no waste, and very tender.  Beloved also likes kidney's, and although do cook them in steak and kidny pie, or 'creamed' on toast, myself find their flavour too strong for me.

Normally I cook lamb's liver 'gougon-style', cutting the liver into short thin strips, tossing them in seasoned flour, then frying them it a little oil (preferably bacon fat).  This recipe is similar but with the liver left in larger slices.  With the onion gravy and mashed spuds this could make an alternative to B's 'fried liver, bacon, cabbage and new potatoes' that he normally has.

Liver and Bacon in a Pan: serves 2
4 rashers smoked streaky bacon
2 tblsp plain flour
pinch dried sage (opt)
salt and pepper
6 slices (approx 12oz/400g) lamb's liver
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
half pint (300ml) beef stock
2 tblsp tomato ketchup
mashed potatoes (for serving)
Fry the bacon until just beginning to crisp, then set aside.  Mix together the flour, sage and seasoning to taste, put into a plastic bag (or dish), adding the liver and tossing to coat. Tap away any surplus flour.
Add the oil to the pan, and when hot add the liver and fry for 1 - 2 minutes on each side. Remove from pan and fry the onion until softened.  Stir in the stock and ketchup, bring to the boil and cook for 5 minutes until the liquid has reduced slightly.  Put the liver back into the pan, spooning over the 'onion gravy' and continue to cook for a further 3 minutes (or until the liver is cooked through - but don't overcook or it will get tough).  Serve with the (chopped) bacon and mashed potatoes.

Final bit of culinary chat today is again the problem of cost.  Cookery mags now - obviously - encourage us to cook from 'scratch', but also aim to make it easier for us by suggesting ways we can put a 'home-cooked' meal on the table using a lot of supermarket products.
Having just noticed one such suggestion where all we seem to end up with is 8 halves of stuffed jacket potatoes (to feed four) at a cost of £2.10p a portion, I am wondering if it is me that has lost the plot, or the editors?

What they suggest is "when all you have is five minutes to shop for supper, pop into (named supermarket) and rustle up this easy meal".   Believe me, it would take me a lot longer than five minutes to find the necessary ingredients on shelves, let alone the time taken to queue at the checkout.
Just for interest I give the shopping list, followed by the cooking instructions. If you feel that I've still lost the plot, then do let me know, for what with the shopping and the fiddling about putting it all together, am sure I could make exactly the same thing AND MORE, for far less the cost using ingredients I already have and overall taking far less time. 

Supermarket shopping list:
4 x microwavable steam bags: carrots, broccoli and sweetcorn, £1.50p.
Scottish Smoked Trout fillets: 125g £.3.79p
300ml tub Creme Fraiche: £1.05p
160ml jar Dill Mustard £1.29p (25p portion)
4 baking potatoes, 25p each

Recipe for Baked Potatoes with a fish filling:
Prick potatoes all over and rub with a little oil, salt and pepper and bake at 220C, gas 7 for 1 hour. Steam the vegetables, then open the packs and leave to cool slightly.  Halve the potatoes, scoop out the filling and mash with the creme fraiche, 4 - 5 tblsp of the mustard and a little seasoning.
Flake the trout fillets and fold into the mash with the vegetables.  Fill with the mixture and heat in the oven for 20 minutes until piping hot.  Serves 4.

Personally cannot see anything speedy about the above.  For one thing it would be far quicker to cook the spuds in the microwave while the veggies are cooking (from raw) in a pan on the hob, and I'd probably use smoked mackerel instead of the trout as this would be less expensive.
What the 'message' seems to suggest is that we have nothing in the house worth eating, so we have to go to the supermarket to buy what we need for that evening's meal.   Well, maybe in my early married life we did go shopping each day to by fresh food to cook, but that's because we didn't all have fridges, and hardly anyone had a freezer, and there were no supermarkets.  We bought food that was fresh, and probably all 'organically' grown and reared in those days.  Also cheap to buy. 
How things have changed, and certainly not for the better when it comes to (some) foods and the 'making of meals'. 

It does seem that we have now lost the art of reading between the lines, and oblivious to the fact that all that is happening is the supermarkets (and seemingly some cookery mags) are brain-washing into 'buy not make' because they want to make life 'easier' for us.  Nothing to do with their profits of course!  Why pay top whack for something we could and SHOULD be able to do/make ourselves for a fifth of the price (or even a tenth)?

See that time has caught up with me (Gill phoned earlier hence the late start).  Better sign off now or you'll think the comp has gremlins again.  Do hope you will all be able to join me tomorrow.  TTFN.