Friday, July 26, 2013

Having a Good(e) Time!

For some reason the computer has decided to speed up.  Couldn't believe it this morning as I had hardly any waiting time to receive my email, then change to another part of this comp to set up my blog page.  Let us hope it continues.

Even though we have had some rain, still the sun shines and I sat out again yesterday getting browner and browner (this after Norma had done my hair), and it is good to have just that little bit more 'me' time now I'm not writing the blog EVERY day.   I even finished reading the second of Betty MacDonald's books.  Have to say I preferred 'The Egg and I', and 'Onions in the Stew' to the middle two books.  In none of them she mentioned meeting her to-be husband(s), which is something I hoped to read about.

It is good to have two readers in Australia - Sheridan and Kate.  Maybe there are others who have yet to let us know they exist.  It is good to hear from all readers, even if they comment only once, just so we know 'they are there'.
Kate mentions the seeming lack of vegetables served in schools and hospitals.  This is true and perhaps because (especially) children won't eat them so there would be much waste (which cannot be afforded). But there are other foods that supply our 5 a day such as baked beans, lentils, canned tomatoes/puree, canned fruit, dried apricots or dates (or other dried fruits), orange juice, and maybe many (or all) of these are included in 'institutional' meals.

I've lent the 3 Nella Last's books to my next-door neighbour, so am waiting to see if she enjoys them, and yes Mandy, I did watch 'Housewife 49'.  Must have seen it several times now, and still enjoy it.

A bit unfortunate with my lemon tree Pam.  I forgot to water in for a couple of days in the heat, and it began to droop.  Soon picked up after a good drink, but half the leaves have now fallen off, but at least the bottom (and top) have leaves, I was going to prune it down anyway.  I tore a fallen leaf in half and gave it a sniff and it had a most gorgeous lemony scent.  Am wondering if lemon leaves can be used to flavouring in the same way as bay leaves.  I will collect the fallen leaves and put them in a bag in the freezer until someone lets me know if they have a use.

I've always understood that although apple trees can be grown from pips, they don't bear fruit unless grafted onto an established 'stock'.  But then didn't someone like Johnny Appleseed go across America (or was it England) sowing apple pips as he travelled, and they all grew into trees that fruited?

It is said that the (wild) cherry trees that often line the side of the old Roman Roads in England originated from the cherry pips that the Roman soldiers used to spit out as they marched across our country. 

Your mention of Vesta meals Taaleedee has taken my mind back to those times.  How we used to love them (and how dreadful they really were).  Am sure they are still on sale (hopefully 'new improved'), and also those crispy pancakes I'm sure I've seen on Tesco's website. 

What other delights did we begin eating in the 60's?  Arctic Roll comes to mind, also Prawn Cocktail, and Black Forest Gateau.  Have to say the latter two I still make regularly.  What other retro dishes can readers remember, and either liked or disliked?

Today has dawned sunny again, no clouds yet in sight so I hope to be able to spend a few more hours in the garden.  It is amazing how many more flowers have sudden bloomed after the rain.  It doesn't matter how many cans of (saved) rain water I give the plants, there seems to be some magic ingredient in 'fresh' rainwater.  This necessitated me doing quite a bit of dead-heading yesterday to make sure more and more blooms appear.  I've never seen the garden containers look so pretty AND healthy.

Just noticed that we do seem to have a good crop of apples on the tree this year (it did have a lot of blossom in spring but I thought the frost had caught them). Last week couldn't see any apples (too small) but the rain seems to have made them grow too.  Hopefully will be able to harvest them before they drop from the tree and get bruised.  That's a job for B, so will have to make sure he picks them in time.  As they are cooking apples, they will store well (if perfect).

Having more time to myself, still managed to do plenty in the kitchen and had a good time yesterday sorting out the larder, intending to use what I've got rather than buy more (at the moment).  The recent Superscrimpers prog (based on food/meals) highlighted food storage.  One family had about £100 of food in store (I then began to wonder how much mine would add up to - and a great deal more than that if I included all the meat and fish in the freezer). 

It seemed there were only the two young adults in the family, yet they spend THOUSANDS of £££s on food over the year (including take-aways and eating out).  Also threw a lot of food away they didn't get around to eating.

They were given the task of creating a meal to serve 8 using only the ingredients they had in store, but allowed £5 to spend on 'fresh foods' (and they got away with spending a few pennies less than that).  It was an interesting experiment I suppose, but am pretty sure all my readers will have been able to rustle up a meal many times using ONLY what they had in store and without spending one penny more. 

My B had a meal made from 'what I had' yesterday. Liver, bacon, cabbage and potatoes.  But then the liver came from the freezer, the bacon, cabbage and small potatoes from the fridge - and all three of these have a reasonably long 'shelf-life'.
For 'afters' made a 'sort-of' cheese-cake by beating up some Philly 'light' cream cheese, with the last of the 'raspberries and cream' EasiYo yogurt (both from the fridge), and then beating in some 'just-about-to-thicken raspberry jelly that I'd made with half a pint of water instead of a pint.  Poured this into a buttery crumb-lined flan dish and left it in the fridge to set.  It worked well enough, even I enjoyed it (hardly any sugar in it), especially with cream poured over.

At the moment I'm trying to avoid going into the fridge because the light-bulb has blown.  The freezer side of 'Boris' still has a light and when I open THAT door it all looks so welcoming with a 'come inside and take a look, wander round the shelves and pick what you fancy. Don't forget to peek inside the drawers in case you miss something good'.  Then I  open the fridge door and it's so dark and gloomy in there it's like looking into a dungeon and I rapidly retreat.  "It's so depressing when we look in the fridge now" I said to B.  He laughed, but when I first opened the freezer door, then shut it and opened the fridge door, he said he knew what I meant. 
Unfortunately we can't find out how to get to the bulb to replace it, so as we've mislaid (or even lost) the manual that came with the appliance, am hoping to be able to find out the details on the Internet.  At least the fridge is still working, and it is insured so perhaps (playing my very old lady card) I might be able to get the insurance to send someone out to replace the bulb.

We had a very old 'retro' fridge when we lived in Leeds, and the light bulb in that gave up the ghost after a few years and we never replaced it, so I suppose it doesn't really matter if we have to do without for a while, and at least it might stop B snacking late a night when he can't see what's in the fridge unless he takes a torch (memo - hide the torch!).

The previous day's main meal (did I get around to mentioning it?) was Fish Risotto.  B said it was absolutely lovely, great flavours.  Must admit I do make it 'properly' but only because I have all the necessary to hand.  First I fry some finely chopped shallot (could be onion) in a little butter, also adding some chopped red bell pepper (mainly to add a bit of extra colour), then stir in Arborio rice, followed a couple of minutes later by a small glass of white wine (I pour a large glass but drink the rest while I continuously stir the risotto - the maybe get myself another glass as I continue stirring.....). Once the rice has absorbed this then add a ladle of (home-made of course) boiling chicken stock, then once this has gone add boiling water the fish (smoked haddock, salmon, and 'white fish') has been lightly poached in.  As this time I'd run out of salmon, substituted some frozen prawns.
During the cooking time and between slugs of booze, I flake the fish and - when the rice is just about ready (al dente if you want to be posh), I add some frozen peas, the flaked fish, and once this has heated through, finally the frozen prawns (no need to thaw). Cover the pan, call 'Supper's ready' to B, and by the time he has gathered himself together (in other words woken up) and strolled into the kitchen, the meal is ready to serve. 

Sometimes I don't add the peas, but add chopped parsley for the 'green' colour. Oh, yes - do add plenty of 'seasoning' (in this instance pepper) otherwise risotto can be a bit bland.A very easy - and tasty - dish to make, when made as above, the only downer is that it needs to be stirred continually throughout the cooking, not that I mind because I can sit down while at the bob, and with the radio on and have to say that stirring with one hand and holding a glass in the other is a very enjoyable was to cook.
Maybe, next time I make a spag.bol meat sauce I will add red wine (plus a glass for me to slurp), as the wine in not something I usually add (HP and Worcestershire sauce give a better flavour in my opinion).  Have just about drained the box of white wine (kept in the cupboard alongside a box of red - for 'cooking purposes' only B hasn't yet sussed that and most of the time he drinks it before I get a chance to use it). Even if the tap on the box refuses to drain off any more wine, even when tipped, there is always a glass and a half left in the box, so I always cut the box and inner bag open and pour it out before throwing the box away.  These 'dregs' (perfectly drinkable - and usually drunk by me), can be frozen in ice-cube trays to use for risottos and other dishes later (unfortunately this way I don't get a chance to have a sly drink, but the meal benefits and so does the eater (who is B of course).

A recipe suggestion today for making use of courgettes.  B and I don't really like this vegetable, B not at all, and me only when very young and very fresh, but I do know many readers grow courgettes and have quite a glut of them when in season (are you growing them again this year Eileen?).
The ricotta cheese used in this dish is the only 'expensive' ingredient, but as we can strain our home-made yogurt to make our own version of 'ricotta', then that's one way of reducing the cost.
Because the oven cooking time is fairly short, the pasta sheets are part-cooked before assembling, If you wish to use the 'no-need-to-first-cook' lasagne (as I do), whenthe dish is assembled and left to stand a while before cooking, the lasagne will begin absorbing some of the tomato sauce and so begin to soften but probably need longer cooking time, in which case cover the dish with a tent of foil (shiny side up), removing this 5 minutes before the end of cooking time.

Creamy Dreamy Courgette Lasagne: serves 4
9 dried lasagne sheets
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
6 courgettes (about 1.5lbs/700g) coarsely grated
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 x 250g (9oz) tub ricotta cheese
2 oz (50g) cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
350g jar tomato 'pasta' sauce (or passata)
Cook the lasagne sheets in boiling water for about 3 minutes until softened but not cooked through, then rinse under cold water, drain dry, then drizzle with a little oil to stop them sticking together.
Meanwhile, put the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion for 3 minutes, then stir in the garlic and courgettes. Continue cooking until the courgettes have softened and turned bright green.  Stir in two-thirds of the ricotta and half the cheddar.  Add seasoning to taste.
Heat the tomato 'pasta' sauce (or passata) in a pan until hot (or heat in the microwave for a couple of minutes), the begin layering up the lasagne.
Take a large, shallow oven-proof dish and starting with half the courgette mix, place this in an even layer over the base, top with pasta, then tomato sauce.  Repeat, then finally top with blobs of the remaining ricotta cheese, sprinkling the last half of the cheddar over the lot.
Bake on a high shelf at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for about 10 minutes or until the pasta is tender and the cheese is golden. 

As all cheeses are fairly expensive, we should never throw away the dried up odds and ends that tend to get left in the fridge.  Grate these up and store in the freezer to 'add to things'.  The harder the cheese has dried out, the finer the grating and it can often be used as a substitute for the much more expensive Parmesan.

One of my favourite savoury 'biscuits' is the Parmesan Crisps.  Basically this is just piling small heaps of grated Parmesan onto a baking tray and baking for a very few minutes until melted and golden crisp.  Very fragile, but absolutely gorgeous.

To cut costs, here is a recipe for something similar, not so quick to make of course, but as the mixture can be frozen and a chunk cut off to thaw and slice to cook as and when needed, this makes good use of the oven when on for something else. 
If you dry out some Stilton (or even grate the Stilton rind) this give another dimension to the flavour, in which case coat with finely ground walnuts rather than poppy seeds.  Another suggestion would be use Gruyere cheese and coat with sesame seeds.   As you can see, plenty of opportunity to experiment with cheese flavours and coatings.
If you use salted butter, then omit the pinch of salt.  Well, I think that makes sense.

Spicy Parmesan Biscuits: makes 30
3 oz (75g) finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 oz (75g) plain flour, sifted
pinch of salt
pinch of cayenne peppe4r or chilli powder
3 oz (75g) butter, pref unsalted, chilled and cubed
1 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp poppy seeds
Put the Parmesan, flour, salt, and chosen spice into a bowl and mix in the butter and oil, gently working it all together with the fingertips.  If the mixture is too crumbly, add a few drops more oil.
Roll into a log shape about 8" (20cm) long, then roll this in poppy seeds to coat the outside.
Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge to chill for half an hour or so.   Alternatively store the wrapped dough in the freezer until needed and defrost when ready to bake.
Cut the dough into thin slices and place on a well-greased baking tray.  Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for about 10 - 15 minutes until golden (and smell wonderful).  Cool on a cake airer.

Funny weather we are having.  While I was writing the sky clouded over, then suddenly it is wall to wall blue sky again.  Will go out now and have a bask in the sun while I have a chance, plenty of time for me later to get on with my 'chores'.  Really do need to sort out my freezer/s and list what I have and what I need (not that I 'need' anything, but do like to keep in as wide a variety of meat/fish as possible).   I bet we ALL decide to go out to the shops to buy 'something for supper' when we have already enough in store to keep us reasonably well fed for at least a month (and probably a lot longer).  Why do we do it?  Perhaps it is our 'hunter-gatherer' instinct that we still find hard to control. 

I may take the weekend off from blogging, much depends on the weather, and whether I do anything today that I feel is worth a mention (otherwise I might forget).  Worth logging on for I could be back tomorrow, probably not Sunday (as that is the day Gill phones which takes an hour anyway), so tomorrow or Monday.  It's rather nice now I don't feel so pressured to desperately think up something of interest to blog about each day.  Hopefully my blog will now begin to improve.

As ever, hope all of you have a good day and don't suffer too many thunderstorms - which we seem to have avoided so far, although I still get the occasional thunder headache.  We do need the  rain, so am grateful for that.   The Tumbler tomato is really good this year, yesterday picked 17 ripe toms with plenty more to come.  Am beginning to 'ramble' again, so must take my leave. TTFN.