Thursday, June 20, 2013

Testing Times...

Another short blog today as I am hoping to get the rest of my bedding plant put into containers ready for the showers later today that are forecast (at the moment we have clear blue skies).  For once I'll be happy to see the rain as this means the plants will settle in more happily.  
Yesterday evening managed to pot up several containers, but had to give up after several muscles in my body complained (obviously not used enough).  It would have easier had I sat down to do the work and got B to carry the large, heavy containers to where they need to be.

As I haven't really been doing much in the garden, was very pleased to see that my big pot of strawberries that had only one berry on last year (due to all the wet), this year seem to be flourishing and already lots of fruit beginning to ripen.   Did read somewhere that the cooler spring has held back these berries and this has actually been better for them. 

After my Tesco order was delivered, had to spend some time putting things away.  B chose to make himself a supper of bacon and fried egg sarnie, so asked him to use one of the eggs that I'd bought specially for him:  large, organic, and free-range. As 38p each (!!!) the best on sale (I like to give B the best of everything as you know).  The other eggs I'd bought were the 'value' ones at 9p each (29p saving on each egg compared to B's 'organics').

What I asked B to tell me re the organic egg he used was: "Is the yolk a deeper colour?", and "has the egg more flavour than the cheaper ones?"   His reply was "the yolk was very pale yellow, and no difference in flavour he could tell".

This morning I weighed the 5 organic eggs left in the box, each a slight difference in weight, but averaging the same as the larger eggs in the value pack.  So, avoiding the moral issue of barn raised hens v free-range (and we all know that hens 'free-range' outdoors only if they feel like it, some never leaving the barn at all because it's cosier inside...), does it make any sense to pay top whack for eggs that nutritionally are no different to the cheaper ones, and certainly don't seem to differ in taste and colour of yolk?

Having said that, there will be many readers who HAVE found that free-range eggs are better, but usually only if the eggs come from their own hens, or a small farm rather than supermarket 'organics/free range'.  Much of the colour of the yolk, and also the flavour, comes from the food the hens eat, and this can vary very much depending upon the owners.  Possibly certain breeds of hens produce better flavoured eggs than other breeds, but less per year that other breeds (Warren's etc) that - for commercial purposes - lay the most eggs per year. 
Does it matter the whys and wherefores?  The point I'm trying to get across is never believe that something is 'said' to taste better than a cheaper alternative.  We should do the testing ourselves.

In one or two of the Barefoot Contessa programmes (Food Network), Ina Garten has said something similar when one of her fans has asked her which olive oil or balsamic vinegar she prefers to use.  Her reply is always the same.  Buy six different oils (or b.vinegars) then sample these at home and then stick with the one we like the best.  Well - if only we could all afford to do that.
However, Ina does use a cheaper balsamic vinegar for general use in salad dressings and has a more expensive one for 'specials'.  A few months ago I treated myself to a bottle of aged balsamic, and it WAS expensive (nearly as costly as a good wine, and in a small bottle too) but there was certainly a great improvement in the flavour, so as I only use a bit at a time, and - wearing my 'professional' cook's hat - I have to agree that a good balsamic is worth having when we want to really improve the meals we make.

Having 'the best' doesn't mean we can't cook good meals.  Otherwise (again wearing my cook's hat) why do I continue to buy Tesco's cheaper canned sardines when the well-known brands should taste better?  The reason why is because I've tested several top brands comparing them with the cheaper, and find there is no difference worth making me pay the excess. 

The order delivered yesterday has included several different 'mature' Cheddar cheeses (on offer of course) because both B and I feel that even these don't seem to have enough flavour these days.  I'll be cutting a little cube from each, placing them on numbered saucers (with the brand name written on a paper underneath the saucer), the let B sample them and give his opinion as to the one with the most flavour.  Not necessarily the BEST flavour - that still may be lacking - but as so often happens, the most expensive is not usually the one we choose.

Even though it is good to be able to serve our families with foods they enjoy eating,  I'd certainly dig my toes in at preparing 10 different dishes a day to suit the 'needs' of picky children.  An article in the paper covered this, the hours a mother took to make sure her children had the food they wanted, and how stressful (and expensive) this could become. 
How on earth does a mother allow her children to take over the choice of food to be served each day?  Before the last war, during the last war, even after the last war, children ate what was put before them, knowing they were lucky to be served something they actually LIKED!  "Eat it all up or you'll be served it cold for your next meal" was guaranteed to make sure we emptied our plates.

Of course, as children grow up we do get an idea of their likes and dislikes, so a canny mum would try to use foods/ingredients when making meals that were accepted even if not preferred.  But never only the 'preferred' foods - just keep these for special treats.

Yet, thinking about the meals I serve my Beloved.  These are always what he prefers, because he tells me each day what he wants for his evening meal (even though he does sometimes make it himself - like yesterday, but it was still his choice).  It would probably work out less expensive if I just served up what I felt like cooking, and hard luck if he doesn't enjoy it so much. 

Am suddenly reminded of passages in that '1950's Housewife' book I've been reading.  In those times (which were MY times), the wife stayed at home and relied on her husband to give her enough money for the 'housekeeping'.  If she wanted more for herself (clothes etc), then she would have to ask her husband for more money (often they wouldn't give her any), and in the main she was just a 'chattel'.  Hardly worth thinking of as a person in her own right, her husband would call her 'the wife' rather than by her name, when talking to friends.  She was there to cook, clean the house, do the washing, and rear his children, in other words a non-paid housekeeper.  In return, the wife was able to get free accommodation and food and not a lot else. 

Some women hardly ever had a social life because they couldn't afford to, or their husband preferred to keep his social life separate from home life.   I remember clearly, that several years after our last child had fled the nest, even though I'd begun to build up a bit of 'cookery reputation', there was a time I still had no real life of my own, and so taught myself how to play bridge, and then was lucky enough to be asked to play social bridge (in private homes, usually in the afternoons), leading to months of extreme feelings of guilt because I was 'out' enjoying myself while B was working.  But as long as I was able to be home and get a good meal on the table for him when he returned, then perhaps he wouldn't realise I'd had a good day.   Because if he'd had a bad one, then he really WOULD get the grumps.

Now I feel I'm more my own person, but unfortunately have not - at the moment - got anywhere to go to (on my own).  Thankfully, being an only child, I've learnt to enjoy my own company, so don't really feel any loss.  In fact really enjoy having 'my own space', which unfortunately, now that B has given up his sailing holidays, doesn't happen very often.  Am lucky to get half a day on my own, and cherish the days when B has 'things to do' away from the house until suppertime.

Your comment came in twice Pam, sent at different times, so not sure what happened there, but much rather hear from you than not at all.  Japanese restaurants are not as popular here as in the US it seems.  We do have one in Morecambe, and a couple of Thai restaurants, also several Chinese, plus many Chinese take-aways.   Indian food seems the most popular of the Asian 'ethic food' outlets.  Plenty of Italian restaurants but they don't count being European.   I believe we have one American 'diner' in Morecambe, but have not yet crossed the threshold.

Don't think that we can buy brisket in the UK that has been cooked in the US fashion (like for hours and hours and hours), although we can buy it as 'cooked meat', sliced and sometimes spiced (a bit like 'pastrami?).   Have noticed that meat in the US is often covered in many different 'rubs' before being cooked, and these must give it oodles of flavour.  We have recipes for some 'rubs' and can also buy sachets with ready-mixed 'rubs' to work into the surface of the meat, usually suggested to use on the barbecue (or quick-roasted in the oven).

Am sure all scones use some fat when being made Taaleedee, and the reason I didn't use any is that I believed the grated cheese (which is mainly fat anyway) would substitute for the butter.  This did seem to work.  I've also made scones using an egg and this also helps (being slightly 'fatty').

Using your basic recipe for scones should work when wishing to turn them into cheese scones Margie. Just omit the sugar and substitute a little salt and some pepper, plus a bit of mustard.
Do hope you get to see the British version of ".....Bake Off'.  According to the critics, the US one is a lot more 'emotional', so you won't get much more than a "bother it" when someone drops a tray of baked goods onto the floor.  The standard of cooking in the UK series seems very high, almost as good a professional during the later stages of the series, so well worth seeing if you get a chance.  Am surprised it has not already been shown on Canadian TV.  Perhaps not 'noisy' enough for the US residents who seem to prefer more squeaks and squeals than the cooking of really good food.

I've been watching (at noon) the repeats of Gordon Ramsay's cookery series over the past few days, and have to say these have been well worth watching.  If you haven't liked the man before, am sure you would this time round for he doesn't swear, he is a darn good teacher, and I've certainly learnt a lot. 

Not sure if it was yesterday or today but did see that Adrian Edmonson (in a repeat of his series on ITV) is visiting Ripley Castle.  That is the place that used to sell my home-made marmalade, and I've been a frequent visitor to the castle as both a 'tourist' and 'an acquaintance' of the family (who then showed me a lot of the house that other visitors wouldn't see).  I get such a feeling of homesickness every time I see Ripley Castle, and - of course surrounding countryside, Harrogate (only a few miles from Ripley), and the rest of Yorkshire.  Thankfully, TV gives us the chance to see many places we know and also places that we would never be able to visit, so am grateful for that piece of technology.   How different life is these days from centuries ago when many folk never left their villages in the whole of their life-time.  All the wonders of the world unknown to them.
Now we say "how, in times past, people never left their country to travel abroad".  Perhaps some still never have.

I suppose in a thousand years or so people will be rocketing off to Mars, the Moon and taking a tour round Jupiter or Saturn as a normal ''holiday!  You never know, on both there may be 'holiday camps' set up there for the 'tourists'.  These will then be saying "how different it was in the old days when people never left Earth in their life-time".   Always supposing the Earth is still habitable in a 1000 years.  What with pollution, radiation, and maybe even World War III (or IV, or V...).  There are times I'm very glad I'm in the here and now, and not facing an unpredictable and unpleasant future (which may, or may not, happen).

A good time for me to again say "enjoy your day".  Still no sign of clouds, so will be popping into the garden now to pot up a few more plants before I have my 'coffee morning'.   It would be good to hear from any readers who have done their own 'taste testing' and found that some cheaper products taste as good as (and sometimes better) than the more expensive,  my aim always being to be able to serve the best at the lowest cost.   If we do have to pay a bit more for some things, then by spending less on others it should all balance out and we (hopefully) can keep within our food budget for months (if not years) to come.  As I keep saying, there is always something cheaper (and tastier) to eat.  We first have to find these, and do our testing.   Worth making this another challenge perhaps.

A final word.  Two articles in the paper yesterday about our UK weather.  Apparently, due to the jet stream, we are to expect wet summers for at least the next ten years.  I'm inclined not to believe them, feeling that this year might be the exception that proves the rule.  Deep within me I've a feeling we could have a lot more warm sunny days, if not hot, then really pleasant.   Just have to wait and see.

They do say that creatures seem to know in advance of weather conditions, and every container I cleaned out yesterday had several peanuts buried in them (the squirrels take them from next-door's feeders and plant them in our pots and even in the lawn).  Felt quite sorry for the poor animals as when they go to their winter 'larder' they will find 'the cupboard is bare'. 

Funny how I tend to think of myself as Mother Hubbard more often than not, enjoying the times when I've just about run out of food and then have to cope.  Is it coincidence that I've ended up in an area of Morecambe called 'Bare'?  My food reserves I suppose could now be called 'The Bare Essentials'.  Good title for a cost-cutting cookery book? 

Hope to meet up with you again tomorrow.  TTFN.