Thursday, June 13, 2013

Improve or Disprove?

Much of yesterday afternoon/evening was spent with my head stuck in a book, so managed to finish "The Cook's Tale - Life below stairs as it really was" by Nancy Jackman and Tom Quinn, published in 2012 by Coronet ISBN 978-1-444-73589-5. (paperback £6.99p).

Being the age I am, this book really hit the spot with me as my mother was born only a few years before Nancy, and what she told me matched a great deal of what was said in the book about life at that time.  Even then, because we all tend to keep the 'rules and regs' that were taught us in our early years, my own young life was much the same.  In fact nothing really changed for decades until World War II.  The story finished in the 1950's, and by that time I was about to get engaged and married, so another book I bought about the 1950's housewife (just started reading it), follows on from that as regards the way we used to live then.  Although only in the first chapter, how it all comes back to me, the difference in life for teenagers (called 'adolescents' in those days) compared to today, and how restricting life was (stick to the rules, be home by a certain time, wives stayed at home bringing up children).  Normal to me then, abnormal now.  But, like generations of parents, we all think that youngsters of 'today' (even if 'today' was a couple or so hundred years back) are badly behaved, expect too much etc...  It was ever thus, and ever will be.

Coincidentally, 'The Apprentice' last night (BBC1) dealt with camping and caravans plus accessories.  One was showed that I think came as a trailer, and was a 'pop up' caravan that could be erected over the trailer in (they said) 5 minutes.   Was very tempted, also by the 'campervan' that was of a 'retro' (1960's) style.   This prog. is repeated tonight at 7.00 on BBC 3 (Freeview 7 ?) if anyone is interested.

Your mention of the coloured balls Granny G that were floating in the sea reminded me of the time that a load of those plastic yellow ducks (that are usually floated in the bath) fell into the sea mid ocean, these were being carried on a container ship, think bad weather had dislodged them.  Anyway they all came adrift from what held them, and bobbed around for years, firstly together, but then went their different ways with most of them ending up on the shores of different countries on both sides of the ocean, and in a way proved useful as it gave an insight of how the sea-currents flowed etc.  Not sure which ocean it was, either the Pacific or Atlantic I suppose.

Do persevere growing beetroot Pam as it would be well worth it.  Even small beets are worth eating, and a good size for pickling.  Normally we cook beetroot in their skins, rubbing off the skins once they are cooked, but beets can be eaten raw, grated to eat with salad, and taste even better if grated orange zest or orange juice is mixed with them.
When growing beetroot, these can be grown in the ground or in containers.  Some beets are small varieties, useful for growing in pots on windowsills.  Others grow larger.  They need to be kept well watered, and perhaps not grown in full sun (Texas sun would be very hot).  Beetroot leaves can also be eaten, usually added to a salad.

In the UK, beetroot is not too expensive, but usually available raw only when in season, although it can be bought cooked in vacuum packs, with or without vinegar (not all these packs are 'long-life' so check if you want to store it for some time), and of course sold as pickled, in jars.  Beetroot juice is also on sale, in cartons or bottles.  It does not have a very long shelf-life once opened, but slightly longer than shown should be OK when kept in the fridge.  Unused juice could be use to make 'Borscht' (beetroot soup), or added to gravies etc.  Also freeze some in small containers to thaw and drink over the following weeks/months.

With this veg. in mind, am giving some suggestions as for their use, with a reminder that beetroot juice can colour almost anything it touches, so with some dishes best to add them at the end.

Halloumi cheese has a very long shelf-life compared to other cheeses (I've bought packs that give a of a year on..), so if you have some, then try this combination, or omit the cheese and use the remaining ingredients as a side salad (use rocket instead of watercress) to serve with cooked beef or other meats (or what you will).
The 'griddle' is what we in the UK call a 'ridged' frying pan.  Not everyone has one of these, so use an ordinary frying pan instead.  The advantage of a 'griddle' pan is that it makes attractive burnt strips on whatever touches the ridges.

Griddled Halloumi with Beetroot: serves 6
1 x 250g pack of cooked beetroot, cut into wedges
segments and saved juice from 3 oranges
1 tblsp white wine vinegar
salt and pepper
2 x 250g packs halloumi, drained
1 x 100g pack watercress
Begin by heating a large griddle pan (or frying pan) over high heat.  While it heats up, mix together the beetroot, orange segments and juice, and the vinegar. Add seasoning to taste.
Slice each block of halloumi into 6 then sprinkle each side with black pepper.  Griddle (or fry) the cheese for 1 - 2 minutes on each side until golden and beginning to both melt and crisp up.
Add the watercress to the salad, gently tossing it all together, the divide between serving plates, placing the hot slices of cheese on top.

This next recipe is for beetroot brownies.  The easy way is to buy the beetroot already cooked (but NOT packed in vinegar).  However, if you have a microwave, a speedy way to cook beetroot is to top and tail the raw beetroot, then remove the peel.  Chop roughly and place in a large bowl with a splash of water, cover with clingfilm, the microwave on HIGH for 12 minutes, or until tender.  If buying cooked beetroot, heat before using as this will help to melt the butter and chocolate when processed.
Tip: when preparing beetroot, wear a pair of rubber or protective plastic gloves as this will prevent the juice staining your hands, also wash the chopping board immediately after use to also prevent staining (once dried, beetroot juice stains are almost impossible to remove).

Beetroot Brownies: makes 15-20
1 lb (450g) cooked beetroot. still hot
4 oz (100g) butter, pref unsalted, cubed
7 oz (200g) bar dark choc (70% cocoa, chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract
9 oz (250g) caster sugar
3 eggs
4 oz (100g) plain flour
1 oz (25g) cocoa powder
Tip the beetroot into a sieve to drain off any excess liquid, then put into a food processor with the butter, chocolate, and vanilla. Whizz until the mixture is very smooth.
Put the sugar and eggs into a large bowl, then beat with an electric whisk for approx 2 minutes, until thick, pale and frothy.  Using a large metal spoon, fold the beetroot mixture into the beaten eggs, doing this gently to keep in as much air as you can. 
Sift the flour and cocoa together over the batter mix, and again gently fold in until smooth, then immediately pour into a greased and lined 8" x  12" (20 x 30cm) baking tray.  Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 25 minutes, or until risen all over, but with a very slight wobble under the centre crust when the baking tray is shaken.  Leave in the tin to get completely cold before cutting into squares.
These Brownies are suitable for freezing.

Next recipe is for Falafel made with beetroot, and although the beets are uncooked (just trimmed, peeled and grated), see no reason why the Falafel cannot be made using cooked and grated beets.  If doing so, they will need less cooking time (say half, and also the oven temp. could be reduced slightly).  Ideally, once made, serve these while still warm either stuffed into pitta bread with some salad (or just beet leaves) with maybe some hummous or Greek yogurt.  As an 'extra' serve sliced pickled beets as well (a recipe for these given below).

Beetroot Falafel: serves 6
1 tblsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 x 400g cans chickpeas, drained
1 lb (450g) raw beetroot, trimmed and grated
4 oz (100g) fresh breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 tblsp tahini
salt and pepper
Put the oil in a frying pan over medium heat, add the onions and cook until softened but not coloured.
Stir in the cumin and continue to cook for 1 minute, then scrape the lot from the pan into a food processor, adding the chickpeas, two-thirds of the beetroot, the breadcrumbs, egg and tahini.  Blitz to a rough paste, then spoon out into a bowl, folding in the remaining beetroot and plenty of seasoning.
Using wetted hands, shape into about 20 balls and place each onto parchment lined baking sheets. Chill until ready to cook.
Brush each ball with a little oil and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 20 - 25 minutes until crisp and heated through.   Serve with pitta or flatbread (as described above).

This recipe for pickled beets works best when made with prepared whole small beets.  If growing your own, try the golden or stripey beet varieties, although the recipe can be used for the more common red beets.  Not everyone keeps pickling spices in store (but always worth having them), so as an alternative, we could use pre-spiced clear (not the brown)  'pickling vinegar' (although the flavour would not be the same).  Sweeter than some (bought) pickled beets, this version eats well with cold meats, salads and cheeses.

As this pickle has a shorter life than some, if not expecting to use it regularly, then best pot up into smaller jars, keeping them in the fridge where the unopened ones should keep for a week or so longer than when opened.

Pickled Beetroot: fills 1 large Kilner jar
2 lb 4 oz (1kg) small beetroot
7 oz (200g) caster sugar
half pint (300ml) white wine vinegar
7 fl oz (200ml) cold water
3 cloves
2 allspice berries
2 bay leaves
1 tblsp olive oil
Trim the leaves and some of the roots from the beets without breaking the skin, then boil for 15 minutes until the point of a sharp knife is easily inserted.  Leave to cool in the water, then drain, top and tail and peel the skin from the beetroot (it normally slides off).  Slice thickly and pack into a large STERILISED Kilner jar.
Put the sugar, vinegar, water, the spices and bay leaves into a pan and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring, for about 2 minutes until the sugar has dissolved, then immediately pour this over the beetroot, allowing the spices and bay leaves to also go into the jar (although you may not need all the liquid).  Leave to cool, uncovered, then pour the olive oil on top (this helps to keep the air from touching the contents), then seal and keep in the fridge.  Use within six weeks (but see above)..

Hope that readers will find the above worth making as myself am discovering that beetroot makes a lot more interesting dishes than when just served hot (or cold) as a veggie in its own right.  Like carrots and parsnips, beetroot has a sweet flavour, so no reason why beetroot juice could not be used as the liquid part (instead of water or milk) when baking a cake or biscuits, or just use it as a  'food colouring' to make pink (or red) pancakes, pasta, even pastry...

Was intending to go to the local garden centre today, but the weather has turned unseasonably cold again (12C - 17C depending on where we live), with very strong winds and heavy rain also forecast for some areas.  Will give it another week before I buy the bedding plants in the hope the better weather returns to us and stays with us for even longer. 

Reading about a cook's life, has made me wish I was one, I mean a proper one, in a large country house where I would have a kitchen maid to do all the 'menial work' (like chopping veg, and especially doing the washing up), as although I do enjoy cooking - housewife style - the prep, cleaning and putting away seems to take so much time I can understand why many people do prefer to pop a ready-meal into the microwave and just throw away the containers. 
Still, our forebears had a much harder life than we have today, so I really shouldn't grumble.  When things are made too easy for us today, we now seem to waste the free time this has given us.  Time is as precious as money (if not more so), so perhaps better we should 'work' our way through the day, even if only doing household chores.  

My B has always been a 'sleeper'. He seems to need at least 12 hours sleep a night, and now he is older he can drop to sleep in his chair the minute he opens a book or starts a crossword puzzle.  I'm a bit the opposite because if feel that I'd rather 'live' the last years of my life, than sleep away most of them.  Mind you, although I often don't go to bed until the early hours of the morning (sometimes not until 3 or 4 o'clock) and then get up early (anything from 5am to 7am depending on what time i went to bed), I do now tend to nod off in my chair when watching TV (usually when the ads come on and my concentration lapses), so suppose - over the day - I do get more sleep than it sounds.

However, never do 'nod off' during the morning, which is why I try to get into the kitchen a.s.a.p. (sometimes doing things before I begin my blog.). As it's now half an hour before noon, perhaps I should be making a move, so off I go.  Hope to meet up with you (all!!!) again tomorrow.  Keep those comments coming.  TTFN.