Monday, July 01, 2013

'Tis the Season....

Bit of a late start this morning, and also an early finish to my blog as this week is going to be another mega-busy one.  Not busy by average standards, but me - being a lazy so and so - doing a couple more things a day is like running a marathon.   Cooking, gardening AND housework planned, and by cooking I mean including making marmalade, and 'stock-taking' larder, kitchen cupboard, and fridge-freezer contents.  Then of course watching Wimbledon (when Andy and Laura are playing).

Gill was saying, when she phoned me on Sunday, how good her garden was looking, and it does seem that the cold spring held some flowers back, and these are now flowering along with the - normally later - summer ones, so expect the Open Gardens you went to buttercup were a blaze of glory.
Enjoyed hearing about the other events, and the handicrafts where a lady pulled back some material to its original threads.  In a less drastic way, this was something we used to do when I was younger - and did a lot of embroidery.  We took some (usually white) linen, unhemmed, and pulled out a few threads about an inch in from the edges (down and across), then - using using one of the pulled threads (threaded in a needle) would carefully stitch along the 'open' bit, picking up about three or four threads at a time and pull them together, holding them with a stitch along the fabric.  Difficult for me to explain, and think it was (obviously) called 'pulled work', but very effective.  I used this type of stitching to 'embroider' table and tray cloths.    I've still got some tray cloths made this way (but not by me) that also have hand crocheted 'lace' trim round the edges, these made by B's aunties (and probably his mother at well).
I remember my mother, during war-time, just after we moved to Leicester, crocheting some net curtains for some very large windows, using a steel crochet hook with a very small 'hook' (still have it) and some fairly fine thread that she had loads of.  Took her ages to do it I'm sure, but am sure they were very good and probably would last hundreds of year, only don't know what happened to them.

Hadn't thought about whether the cocktail sticks could be reused Taaleedee, but see no reason why a few shouldn't be kept just for cake-testing, then wiped clean after.  Best not to get them wet or they might harbour germs although it is said that wood is 'bacteria free' and why wood is used for chopping boards.  When you think how many times wooden spoons are used and just washed along with pots, these too don't seem to harbour germs.  My spoons must be at least 50 years old, I've used them most of my married life, and the spoon part is very dark in colour.

Can't recall tomato 'cubes' being on sale (as used by your mother Taaleedee) but expect the concentrated tomato paste would serve the same purpose (or a sachet of tomato cuppa soup!).
The mention of cooking veg in the microwave is sensible, although generally I tend to cook the 'roots' on the hob.  I always frozen peas in the microwave (four minutes from frozen), and fresh cauliflower florets (for this I use a special microwave container that has an inner one with holes in the base and just put in enough water to appear through the holes, then put in the cauli and then the lid and microwave for 8 minutes.  Have to say it would cook on the hob in a little less time than that.
I also steam veggies on the hob, using a 'petal' (folding) steamer that I usually place over whatever other veggies I'm cooking (such as new potatoes or carrots).

By 'sprats' do you mean 'whitebait', or are these a different small fish.  My B likes whitebait so I bought a frozen pack once, and still have a few left.  Easy to cook, just thaw, dust with flour and fry.  I can't facing eating them as they still have their heads, but eats every bit, heads, eyes and tails.

Knowing that horse meat has been included in some supermarket 'readies' does not really bother me for it has long been eaten on the Continent, especially in France.  An excellent meat, slightly better than beef for tenderness, and slightly sweeter.  The reason we don't care to eat it is because we consider horses to be more 'domestic' animals, pets if you like.  For the same reason we would never eat dogs or guinea pigs although both these are eaten in other parts of the world. 

I've never used golden syrup when making sarnies, but B has wistful memories of the golden syrup and apple sandwiches his mother used to make.  Possibly this would be in war-time. 

Perhaps I got it wrong Granny G and it was Princes meat and fish pastes that are on sale now. Maybe Shippams closed down.  Perhaps not wise for us to question what goes into these pastes today (but am sure they are still good), and anyway it is very easy for us to make our own using left-over cooked meat (beef, chicken or ham) and blending it with a little softened butter and (maybe) some spice.  Probably do the same with cooked/canned salmon, sardines and shrimps (or baby prawns).  Made using fresh ingredients, these pastes can be put into small pots with a layer of melted butter poured over the surface to help preserve them for a few days in the fridge (or for weeks in the freezer).

You say it was hot in Surrey this weekend Granny G, and heard this morning that the temperature was 27C at Heathrow (still under 20C in Morecambe), so you were at the right end of the country at the right time.  The weather is expected to get hotter by next weekend (20C) but not sure where, probably London, and we will be lucky to reach that warmth where we live.  But it there is no wind, and sitting in the sun, it will feel a lot hotter as the temperature is always 'shade temperature'. 

Yesterday, B was out with the club, but they didn't said due to too much wind.  I asked him if it was cold outdoors and he said it felt fairly warm, and there was me sitting in my chair clutching a hot water bottle with two quilts over me.  There must be something wrong with our living room to be always so warm, yet oddly it seems to warm up once B has come in and sat down, warmer than you would expect.  But then, several times, I've seen a ghost in that room, not an unpleasant one, usually a woman, but recently a man, dressed in clothes worn a couple of centuries ago, when the area was - I understand - farmland and orchards, and always the almost see-through bodies seem to be picking things up from the ground, or kneeling down.  The lady once had a bunch of flowers, the man had a basket, so perhaps gathering fallen fruit?  They don't 'haunt' this house, they are just visions of what once was here and I'm fortunate to see them.  Trouble is - I see them only for a short time.  Once I blink they are gone, and it's very difficult not to blink, although Nadia G (in Bitchin' Kitchen - Food Network) seems to manage without blinking.  She has a very penetrating stare which I find a bit hypnotic.   Not sure if Hans blinks, it's not his eyes I look at!

Surprisingly, I have tomatoes beginning to ripen so presumably their season is about to start (maybe already has done for those lucky enough to have glass greenhouses (mine has a green plastic cover). So today am giving a couple or so recipes using tomatoes.
One tip (if you can call it that), I've found that placing the tomato 'flat' (stem side) down onto a plate (or chopping board) I can cut an extra one or two slices than if I cut across it.  Never have worked out why, but it always seems to work for me.

First recipe is a classic Italian dish that uses stale bread (ciabatta is best, but any crusty white bread will do), cucumber (always useful to find ways to use this up), and a few other ingredients that all go with tomatoes. Will also give the - again classic - recipe for French Dressing as this is far better to serve with salads than that gloopy mayo that I always have to dilute with a little water (or milk).
Please note that 'stale' bread is when it is turning dry (it then soaks up liquids better), so home-made bread is best for this.  If using the cheaper supermarket 'spongey' bread, then leave the slices out, uncovered, overnight to allow them to lose some of their moisture.

Panzanella: serves 4
4 thick slices stale bread (see above)
6 tomatoes, roughly chopped
12 black olives, pitted and chopped
quarter of a cucumber, seeded and chopped
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 tblsp chopped fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 fl oz (100ml) French dressing
Toast the bread until deep golden brown, then cut into cubes. Mix with all the other ingredients except the garlic.  Mix the garlic into the French dressing, the pour this over the salad and toss together.

For the above recipe use the dressing as given and worth making more as it will keep in the fridge for several weeks.  For another salad you may wish to vary this by adding crushed garlic or chopped herbs such as parsley, but if adding these the dressing won't keep so long, so add these when ready to serve.  You could use lemon juice or red wine vinegar instead of white, and balsamic vinegar if you wish for a stronger flavour. 

French Dressing: makes 8 tablespoonsful
6 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp white wine vinegar (see above)
1 tsp caster sugar
half tsp Dijon mustard
salt and black pepper to taste
Put everything into a (sterilised) screw-top jar, place on lid and shake thoroughly.  This dressing will keep in the fridge for several weeks.

While giving the above 'dressing', you may wish to make this variation that is especially good when drizzled over a salad containing apples, beetroot or cheese, or with a basic crisp green salad to be served with cold ham or chicken.
If you don't have any 'light' olive oil, make your own by mixing together 3 tblsp olive oil with 3 tblsp sunflower oil.  Dijon mustard is not as hot as English mustard, but normally wholegrain mustard seems fairly mild anyway, so if it is not Dijon, then just use ordinary grain mustard, or if you have none, use ordinary Dijon. 

Honey and Mustard Dressing: makes 8 tablespoonsful
6 tblsp light olive oil (see above)
1 1/2 tblsp cider vinegar
1 tsp wholegrain Dijon mustard
2 tsp runny honey
salt and black pepper to taste
As with the recipe above. Everything into a screw-top jar, shake and store in the fridge for several weeks.

Next recipe is another one to make use of the tomato 'glut' we hope to have. Hopefully we have the rest of the ingredients in our larder, and if you haven't got chives (and why not?), you could add another herb such as basil or parsley.  Many varieties of canned beans are similar in both looks and flavour, so instead of cannellini you could use haricot, black-eyed, the speckled pinto, and even the pale green flagelot beans.
The original recipe used approx 1 lb (450g) fresh tuna, this then grilled for a few minutes on each side, allowed to get cool then cut into chunks.  Mindful of the cost of fresh fish I've suggested using canned tuna.  

Tomato, Tuna and Bean Salad: serves 4
2 cans tuna, drained and flaked
6 tomatoes, sliced
11 oz (300g) cooked cannellini beans
2 shallots, chopped
4 tblsp French dressing (recipe above)
1 tblsp chopped fresh chives (for garnish)
Drain the beans if using canned, then mix the beans with the remaining ingredients, sprinkling the chives on top when ready to serve.

Final recipe today is slightly more elaborate and intended for a starter (when entertaining).  Easy and quick to prepare, it looks a lot more expensive than it really is.   Myself tend to buy pesto in a jar, but if you wish to make your own, the recipe for this is also given.

Tomato Pesto Towers: serves 4
1 oz (25g) toasted pine nuts
4 tblsp basil pesto (recipe below)
4 spring onions, finely chopped,
1 tblsp capers, drained and rinsed
4 large tomatoes
1 tblsp French dressing (recipe above)
basil leaves for garnish
Lightly crush the toasted pine nuts and mix these into the pesto with the spring onions and capers.
Cut a very thin slice from the base (stem end) of the tomatoes so they will each sit securely on its plate, then slice each tomato across horizontally to give 5 slices (the last one will form its little 'cap').
Re-assemble the slices layering each with a little of the pesto filling. 
Drizzle a little dressing over each tomato, and garnish with basil leaves.

Pesto is the Italian name for (herb) paste and traditionally made from fresh herb leaves pounded with salt in a pestle and mortar (most cooks today blitz the ingredients using a blender) with garlic, nuts, seasoning and olive oil.  Usually finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese is added.  The most widely used herb when making pesto is basil, but it can be made using other herbs such as coriander leaf, mint or parsley.  I've also heard of it being made with watercress.
Anyway, here is the recipe for pesto using basil as this is THE herb to use with tomatoes.

Basil Pesto:
3 - 4 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
2 oz (50g) pine nuts
6 handfuls fresh basil leaves
4 tblsp olive oil
1 oz (25g) grated Parmesan (opt)
If using a pestle and mortar, first pound the garlic with the salt until creamy, then add the pine nuts and pound again until crushed.  Add the basil and the oil and continue pounding until a thick, green paste. Stir in grated Parmesan (if using). 
Alternatively, crush the garlic and put in a blender with the remaining ingredients, and whizz until chopped, slowly adding the oil as you do so.  This is said to keep for 2 - 3 months, but I suggest - if you wish to keep it - put into a small sterilised jar, then cover the surface with a layer of olive oil to keep out the air.  Cover and store in the fridge.  Or if you wish you could freeze it in ice-cube trays to thaw and use when required. 
Pesto can be stirred into cooked pasta, or thinned down with a little oil and drizzled over chicken, salmon, or a tomato and Mozzarella salad.

Well, what started out as a sunny day has turned into a wet one.  Looking through a now rain-spattered window I see the wind has at least died down.  Let us hope it clears up and we get some sun later this afternoon (which can often happen here in Morecambe).  It's getting to the stage when a choice has to be made between watching Andy at Wimbledon or grabbing an hour of sunshine, and the way I feel at the moment, think it will be the sunshine that wins.  Not that I mean I don't think Andy will win (he may not even be playing today, haven't yet checked) - it's just that we get so little sun these days that I need every bit to build up my Vit D ready for the winter.

Can't believe it is after 11.00am, and there was me hoping to make an early start in the kitchen.  It's always the same, once I start 'chatting' I just can't stop.
Suddenly noticed the wind has got up again, and the skies are looking a bit brighter, so maybe the clouds will get blown away and we will get sun after all.  If I sit tucked in a sunny corner, sheltered by a high fence on one side, the garage behind me, then maybe the wind will stay out of my way (I hate wind), and I can soak up the sunshine. 

Must dash, hope to meet up with you again tomorrow - if you can find the time.  TTFN.