Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Cutting the Cost...

We're definitely having 'summer' this week.  Temperatures in the low seventies, and as the temp. is always taken in the shade, this means in direct sunlight it feels really warm.  Yesterday I chose not to go out but to sit in the garden, eventually discovering I was beginning to be invaded by very tiny ants, so after a good shake of clothing thought it best to move back indoors.  However, did sit basking for an hour and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Today really must have that scoot as there are a few things I need from our local shopping parade. Tomorrow I have an early (9.00am) appt at the surgery to meet up with the diabetic nurse and hear the results of my blood test.  If we return home then will be able to write my blog, but knowing B he may wish to drive over to Half Moon Bay and have a bacon butty, and this means I may not be back in time to write.  Just warning you that tomorrow is a bit hit and miss.
On the Friday I'll be having my hair done (Norma arriving at 9.00am) so that means my blog will be later, but should be published before noon.    After that, probably back to normal.

As the weather is forecast as good right up to and probably through the weekend, suggested to B that we had a barbecue on Saturday, inviting the neighbours.   He sat and pondered about it, asked me if I had enough food, I said I had enough without buying any more.  Then he asked 'how many tables?"  I said we would need three (one being our kitchen table he would have to bring out). Silly me mentioned that this year our son wouldn't be here to help setting up the barbie, so it was then B decided we would leave it 'until later in the year'.  All that B has to do is set out the tables and chairs and get the barbie lit, but that's far too much for him.  He likes to sit back and get others to do most of the work, then stands behind the barbie turning sausages to make out he's busy.  There's me slaving away in the kitchen preparing all the food, laying tables with cloths and cutlery, and that's OK with B.   Last time we had a barbie (must be three years ago - the weather not been right since then) I'd prepared a lot of differently flavoured chicken on skewers, one lot taken out to the barbie which B and son cooked, telling them the rest were in the kitchen (in the cool), but they forgot them and when the evening was over I found them still uncooked.  I stuck them in the fridge and cooked them the next day, but as ever - B won't be bothered to remember what has to be cooked, he always relies on me to remind him.  I might just as well do the job myself.

Goes without saying I'm a bit annoyed that we won't have a barbie this week - such perfect weather for one - and am tempted to say when he suggests having one later, that this time I'LL be the one 'not interested'.  We can have the barbie, but he then has to go and buy all the beefburgers, sausages, and 'things on skewers' from the butcher/supermarket, and I'll be the lazy one for a change.

Pam's comment re the hot summer in Texas and going to a  'neighbourhood swimming pool' (would that be a community one or a private one?) that - in the US - a lot of homes do seem to have swimming pools.   I sometimes look down at the US - via 'Global Earth - and certainly in the warmer states (California etc), almost every home seems to have a swimming pool.   Am sure some of the larger (and expensive) homes here have a pool, but compared to the US they are few and far between.  Some homes do have indoor swimming pools (set in a type of conservatory where the water can be kept warmer I suppose).  Outdoor pools in the UK would be like having a cold shower.

Am sure your pickles will do no harm being kept Pam.  If you followed a recipe then it should tell you how long they will store.  Mixed pickles improve when left for a month before being used as this gives the different flavoured vegetables times to 'mature'.   You could try one jar of the ones you have just made (using just cucumbers?) and see if they are as you  like them.
While having a head-to-head with you Pam, can you tell me what are Graham Crackers?  These are mentioned a lot in the US cookery progs, and as these are often used - when crushed - with added butter/sugar to make the base of cheesecakes, can only assume they are similar to our 'digestive biscuits'.  
In the UK, our biscuit 'crackers' are of the dry and flaky kind (as Jacob's Cream Crackers etc), sometimes called 'water biscuits'.  

Recipes today are for 'requests'. One for Kathryn's OH, and one for Alison who prefers something with low or no fat.  Other recipes if they are 'seasonal' or otherwise 'useful'.

First recipe is a type of 'biscuit/cake', suitable for taking in the lunchbox.  A good one to make at this time of year as it can use porridge oats (bought for the winter breakfasts so probably some left over) and also any seasonal fresh berries (although jam could be used instead of the berries).  Quite a 'healthy' tray-bake compared to others.  Just because this recipe 'cuts into 16', this doesn't mean we have to stick to that size.  We could cut the traybake into smaller or larger squares or fingers, depending whether it will be served to children or adults. 

Oats and Fruit Traybake: makes 16 squares
2 oz (50g) butter
3 oz (75g) runny honey
pinch of salt
7 oz (200g) porridge oats
2 oz (50g) ground almonds
half tsp almond extract
5 oz (150g) raspberries or jam (see above)
Put the butter and honey into a pan with the salt and heat gently until melted.  Remove from heat and stir in the oats, almonds and almond flavouring.
Press half the mixture into a greased 8" x 8" (20 x 20cm) baking tin, smoothing to give an even surface, then mash the berries and spread these on top. Cover with remaining oat mixture and again press down and level the surface.
Bake for 12 - 15 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until golden.  Leave to cool in the tin before slicing.

Next recipe is for banana-bread, not quite fat-free as the recipe says only 2g of fat per slice (and they may mean after spreading with low-fat spread)m but certainly no butter, lard, marg or oil in the recipe.   
Having recently read that eating walnuts really do help to lower cholesterol (walnut oil also good), would suggest using walnuts in this recipe rather than pecans. Agave syrup is used in the recipe, and as I have none of this (what is it anyway?) would substitute a diluted maple or golden syrup (or even honey) to the quantity required. 
This is a perfect recipe to use when you have overripe bananas with skins that are turning black (the riper the banana, the sweeter it becomes).
Ideally, use the wholemeal flour with the white flour (as per recipe) but if you have no brown flour, then substitute plain white flour. If you use all self-raising 'white', remember to adjust the raising agents - omit the baking powder but still use the bicarb as this reacts with the yogurt.
Almost fat-free Banana Bread: gives 10 slices
5 oz (150g) wholemeal flour
4 oz (100g) self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (see above)
pinch of salt
11 oz (300g) overripe black bananas, mashed
4 tblsp agave syrup (see above)
2 large eggs, beaten
5 fl oz (150ml) low-fat natural yogurt
1 oz (25g) chopped pecans or walnuts (see above)
Sift the flours, raising agents and salt into a bowl (adding in the coarser brown flour that might be left in the sieve).
In a separate bowl mix together the mashed bananas, syrup, eggs, and yogurt.  Add these to the dry mix, rapidly folding them together, then pour into a greased and fully lined 2lb loaf tin (the lining paper needs to come about an inch (2.5cm) above the rim).  Scatter the nuts over the top, then bake for 1 hour 10 min (or slightly longer) until a skewer comes out clean.
Leave to cool in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack.  Best eaten warm or at room temperature, spread with low-fat spread.
If you wish, you can freeze this cake once made and cooled.  Pack in the normal way and eat within 3 months.

When I served the recent Indian meal, bought two packs of 'Bombay Mix' to divide into little bowls so each table had something to nibble before the meal was served.  Myself love to nibble anything spicy, so here is an Oriental variation, useful to make when you have any spare egg whites.

Chinese Spiced Seeds: serves 4
2 egg whites
1 tblsp Chinese five spice powder
1 tsp salt
6 oz (175g) sunflower seeds
6 oz (175g) pumpkin seeds
Whisk the egg white until frothy, then stir in the remaining ingredients to coat.  Spread out onto a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes at 150C, 300F, gas 2, then cool and store in an airtight container or jar.

One of B's favourite 'snacks' is a slice of buttered malt loaf.  I like it too, even without the butter.  Some weeks ago I bought a jar of malt from our local chemist (now called a pharmacy for some reason), so really must start making malt loaves again (they will freeze).  As fat is not included in the ingredient list for this version, then all the better (both for our health and our pocket).
This recipe is baked in two x 1lb (450g) loaf tins, so the ingredients could be halved if you wish to make only one although - myself - never work in fractions of weights if I can possibly avoid doing so. 

Sticky Malt Loaves: makes 2, each gives 10 slices
5 fl oz (150ml) hot black tea
6 oz (175g) malt extract
3 oz (75g) dark muscovado sugar
11 oz (300g) mixed dried fruit
2 large eggs, beaten
9 oz (250g) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
half tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pour the hot tea into a large mixing bowl and stir in the malt, sugar, and dried fruit. Mix well together before adding the eggs. Sift the flour with the two raising agents and quickly stir these into the warmed mixture then pour into two greased and base/end lined 1 lb (450g) loaf tins.
Bake for 50 minutes at 150C, 300F, gas 2 until firm and well risen.  Whilst still warm brush tops with a little more malt to glaze, then leave to cool before removing from tins.
Wrap with baking parchment and then foil and leave for at least a couple of days (or up to a week) before slicing (this way it becomes more 'sticky').  Wrapped this way it can also be frozen for up to 4 months. Thaw for 5 hours at room temperature before eating.  
Serve sliced and buttered, or left plain.  

Final recipe today takes some of the ingredients from several of the above recipes and puts them together to make another 'cookie'.  As sultanas are a 'dried fruit', we can always substitute others such as dried blueberries or cranberries, chopped no-soak apricots, dates, prunes.... The recipe gives an alternative to the fruit: dark chocolate 'chips'.  Dark choc (over 70% cocoa solids) is also 'good for us', and suppose we could add both fruit AND chocolate if we wish.
Make sure you add the walnuts (balances out the cholesterol in the butter used, double whammy as the oats also help to lower this), and we again can use an overripe banana (we all get those).  Using what we have certainly helps to lower the cost of what we make (let's forget we had to pay for them in the first place, but am sure you know what I mean - use it or lose it!).
We don't always have fresh oranges to grate the zest, but we could add an orange extract for flavour or add the zest of a lemon (we are more likely to have lemons). 
Orange, oat and fruit Cookies: makes 16
4 oz (100g) butter, softened
1 egg
2 oz (50g) mashed banana
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 oz (100g) light soft brown sugar
1.5 tsp grated orange zest (see above)
4 oz (100g) wholemeal flour
good pinch salt
1 tsp baking powder
4 oz (100g) porridge oats
1 oz (25g) desiccated coconut
2 oz (50g) chopped walnuts
 3 oz (75g) sultanas or dark choc. (see above)
Cream the butter and egg together until light and smooth.  Gradually beat in the banana, vanilla, and brown sugar. Add the orange zest (if using). Mix well with a wooden spoon (not electric beater) until thoroughly blended.
In another bowl sift the flour with the salt and baking powder and mix in the oats, coconut, walnuts, and sultanas (and/or) chocolate.  Fold the dry ingredients into the wet and mix to a thick dough.
Drop heaped tablespoons onto baking sheets lined with parchment, leaving 2"/5cm between each, pressing them down lightly.  Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 15 - 20 minutes until lightly browned. Cool on tray before removing to cake airer.

Sometimes it is difficult to know when biscuits or cookies are cooked.  Through trial and error have found that if the biccies are cooked-to-crisp when in the oven, then they have been over-cooked.  Even soft-ish biscuits will continue cooking and firming up when removed from the oven and left of the tray to cool.  If still too soft, then return them to the oven for a few more minutes cooking.

Even if cooked for the recommended time the biscuits can still be crisper than you would like, and I've found that leaving them on a wire rack, uncovered, overnight in our kitchen, by the next day they will have softened slightly. This is probably because we live close to the coast and our air has a bit more moisture in it than if we lived inland.   Putting really crisp biscuits into a bowl then draping over a damp cloth and leaving for a few hours would also help to soften biscuits, these can then be stored in air-tight containers and should remain 'just right'.

Yesterday decided to thaw out a home-made meat pie (made in one of the discarded 'Fray Bentos' meat pie tins (a perfect size for B's appetite).  As this pie was to be cooked for supper, and B was also complaining we were running out of bread (we still had plenty but he eats a lot), decided I'd make a large loaf as well.  The timing needed to be right so I could put the  pie in the oven to cook as soon as the bread came out.
All went according to plan other than the bread wasn't rising as fast as I hoped, so took it into the conservatory (the dough in the tin, this then put into a plastic bag) and placed it in a sunny spot while I set about making some scones (the oven then ready to bake the bread).  By the time the scones were cooked, the bread has risen, by the time the bread was baked, the pie went in. By the time the pie was baked, the (chosen) Brussels sprouts and gravy had been cooked/made, so was very pleased that - for once - I'd got it right.  
The scones were a 'bonus' as hadn't intended making them, but ended up with nine. Luckily (for me) I found a small amount of double cream in the fridge, and this - when whipped with a little sugar - doubled in bulk so was put into a bowl, then back in the fridge for B to pile on top of the home-made jam which was on top of the buttered scones.  As he also had bought himself some ice-cream, he spent a very contented evening having several yummy snacks after his main meal.

The lilac is now fully out and smells delightful when I go and stick my nose into the bush.  If I shut my eyes the scent takes me right back to my early teenage years when my mother would cut huge bunches of lilac flower and place them in vases full of water, standing them in front of the (then unused because of the time of the year) fire-places.  The perfume wafted round the rooms and it was lovely. 
At that time it seemed the lilac lasted well indoors, but when cutting ours last year, it died off quite rapidly when placed in water and stood on a table.  Perhaps it is a different variety, or maybe I haven't got my mother's 'touch' when it came to flower arranging.  Not that she did much 'arranging', but do remember our house always being full of fresh flowers (we had a large garden), in the spring it was daffodils, then tulips, followed by lilac, then roses (dad grew hundreds of the most gorgeous roses) and sweetpeas (these I grew). Chrysanthemums and Michaelmas Daisies I remember in the autumn.  But in those days many of those flowers were highly scented.  Today hardly any seem to be (except the lilac).

There was something in the paper yesterday about suggesting we all ate less meat.  Seems that we have little 'surplus' meat (or any food), and as too much land is now growing crops for 'bio-fuel', we now have less land to rear meat (or grow food).  But then they say that producing crops to provide vegetarian substitutes for meat (soya or Quorn etc), would take up more land that needed to rear cattle/pigs/sheep.  A 'no-win' situation it seems.

However, it's not all bad.  It certainly wouldn't do us any harm to eat less of almost everything (except our five a day perhaps).  We all know - as a nation - we eat too much, so by cutting down on the amount of meat we eat (can we afford it now anyway?), we can still eat healthily and well.  It's just a matter of adjusting our diet to suit the circumstances.   When it comes to 'muttering of shortages', my mind instantly goes back to war-time rationing when 'shortages' were at their utmost. If we could survive then, we should feel secure now in knowing it would be very unlikely food would ever be in such short supply again. 

That's it for today.  A reminder that either my blog will be later tomorrow (due to early appointment) or may be no blog (if B decides not to return home straight after), suggest regular readers could check around noon to see if I've managed to pen a few words.  Friday the blog will be published closer to noon due to Norma here earlier. 

Doubt many reader will be bothering to sit at their comps due to the fine weather we are having, far better to enjoy the warm evenings outdoors than 'Twittering' or whatever people do these days.  Even I'm not watching so much TV (even in the evenings), as there is nothing so pleasant as an English garden on a warm evening as so many flowers give out their scent only at that time of day (honeysuckle, night-scented stock, tobacco plants... to name but a few).  Presumably to encourage the moths and other insects?  Nature supplies what is needed when it is needed.  We should always remember that (especially when it comes to the food we humans eat).

Enjoy our good weather while we still have it, who knows we might even get a long and good summer (we are overdue for one).  Me - I'm now off to have a scoot with Norris.  More about my trip next time I write (tomorrow or Friday).  Hope to see you then.