Thursday, September 12, 2013

Adapt and Improvise...

After watching 'Rip off Food' yesterday evening even I was amazed at the price of bottled water, smaller bottles of this this commodity now seemingly as fashionable as a mobile phone to carry around.   It was said it cost 40p a litre (and more) for bottled water, yet tap water works out at only 0.01p per litre.   A street sampling was given to passers by and half of them thought the tap water was the expensive bottled stuff.   So if we can drink water at 1p for TEN litres, this means we get 400 litres for the cost of one litre of 'off the shelf' bought water.
There will be readers who wish to point out that bottled water is pure and unprocessed, and this is true, but as our British tap water is perfectly safe to drink why pay more?

Many Americans come to this country (and many from other countries I'm sure) that prefer to drink only bottled water.  For some reason they think our tap water is unsafe, but believe me, I've drunk water served to me in an American diner that was undrinkable, so much chlorine in it is smelt and tasted like it came from a swimming bath.

Other things in the programme that needed a mention.  Pre-packed and prepared veg for instance. MUCH more expensive than buying fresh.  I don't mean the cheaper bags of whole carrots etc, but the bags of salad leaves and carrots-cut-into-batons, or pre-scrubbed spuds....
As the nutritionist said, all we need to do is scrub carrots (with that very cheap tap water!!!), and then not peel unless absolutely necessary as most of the vitamins lie just under the skin (as they do with most root veggies - and in the darker, outer leaves of edible foliage such as lettuce, cabbage....) so leave well alone, just make sure it is washed - then cook.

Oversized packaging was also discussed, and samples shown of containers of sweets that were only half-full when opened.  One large bag contained five smaller bags - each holding 25g of a coated 'yogurt' sweet.  For us older enough to remember imperial weights and measures, 25g is LESS than one oz.  The danger is that because the number 25 looks so much 'heavier' than 1 (oz), we are inclined to believe that we are getting a lot more than we think we are. 

On the other hand, as food is now packed in grams, we often see 'dry goods' (rice, pasta, lentils..) sold in 500g or 1kg bags.  500g is 2 oz more than the old 1 lb, so by sticking to old recipes (imperial weights) and not use the suggested amount in the recipes that now use only the metrics, we should usually end up with a few ounces (or grams) left at the bottom of the pack - in other words enough for at least one more portion.  Like pennies saved, it all adds up to make an almost 'free' meal (or at least part of it).

I've not shopped at the Co-op since we left Leeds buttercup, but do see plenty of ads on TV promoting their products.  It used to be a good store when we all had 'divi' numbers (B can remember the one his mother had), not sure if they have these now.  As you say, it is too early for mince-pies and Christmas stockings to be on display.  Surely no-one would start wanting to eat mince-pies in September (or even Oct/Nov).

A welcome to Kate, a new reader who requests some meatless recipes. Plenty of those have already been given, but more will appear.  Trouble with me, although I used to put up an index of recipes given, as blogger used to remove earlier postings of each month, many disappeared (although they are still there to be retrieved if necessary - to do this I have to scroll back and remove all excess 'ramblings' to allow space for recipes to return).  But scrolling back to the start of this blog (some seven years ago), editing has been done and mainly recipes, with useful hints and tips, are there to be viewed.

As requested here is the recipe for fork biscuits.  Since I first published this, I've made some adaptions, not to the ingredients, but the presentation.  Normally rolled into balls then pressed flat with a fork, I've improved the appearance by using my meat tenderiser to press the mixture flat as this gives a very neat and attractive appearance.  I need to dust the top of the 'balls' with flour to prevent the wooden 'basher' sticking to the mix (or dip the fork/basher in flour before pressing down).

Last week I made Fork biscuits again, but this time rolled some of the mixture out thinly (on a well-floured board and dusting the top of the mix with flour or it sticks to the rolling pin).  Then cut out rounds with a scone-cutter, and then removed the centre of half of these using a much smaller cutter (or top of a pill jar!).  When baked, spread the complete rounds with lemon curd (could have been jam etc), and topped with the 'one with the hole'.  Looked very good, especially after being dusted with icing sugar. 

Using a bit more of the mix I then rolled this between palms of hands to make short finger-length 'sticks', then pressed down diagonally across them (using side of my little finger) to make 'dents'. After baking, these were sandwiched together with Nutella.   The remainder of the mix was rolled into balls and 'bashed' into the usual round biscuits.
Incidentally, I forgot to first mix the soft marg and sugar together before adding the flour, just threw the lot into the bowl together, but - wielding the wooden spoon vigorously - managed to work the lot together satisfactorily.
If not wishing to flavour the mix with the suggested, do add a few drops of vanilla extract or they end up a bit tasteless.  Not necessary if adapting as above as the chosen 'sandwich filling' adds to the taste.

So the Fork Biscuit recipe can be adapted to make different shapes, different flavours.  If not made before, make the recipe as given so that you get the baking time right (I prefer to remove biscuits from the oven while they are still slightly soft and light gold in colour, then leave them to stand on the hot baking tin until cooled - they will then crisp up).  Leaving them too long they tend to get too brown and too crisp (but still edible).
Because we live near the sea we have high humidity at times, and overly-crisp biscuits, left uncovered on a cake airer overnight, the next morning have softened up to the texture I like.  I then pack them away in airtight containers.

Fork Biscuits makes about a dozen
4 oz (100g) softened butter or soft margarine
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
5 oz (150g) self-raising flour
(add grated zest of orange or lemon; or half oz of cocoa; or 1 tsp ground ginger... or any other flavouring you think will work).
Put the fat and the sugar in a bowl and beat together with a wooden spoon, it just needs well mixing, not ending up light and fluffy.  Add the flour bit by bit along with any chosen flavourings, then when all the flour has been taken up, knead gently into a dough.  It will be soft but not sticky.
Break off walnut sized balls and place on a greased and floured baking sheet - spacing well apart. Flatten tops with a fork (dip the fork into flour each time to prevent it sticking to the  dough).
Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 10 - 15 minutes until pale gold and still very slightly soft in the centre, then remove from the oven and leave to cool on the tin for a few minutes before placing on a cake airer to finally get cold.  If too soft after cooling, return to the oven for a further minute or two.

Meals for one (or two) are often requested, and suppose I've enough experience of cooking for one as for a large family.  Originally cooked for six (two adults, four children plus dog and occasionally grandma who lived close by). Now retired and family flown the nest, cook mainly meals for one as B and I tend to eat different things.
Last night cooked B a chicken breast that I'd bashed flat (makes it look more than twice the size), this I dusted with a mix of flour and Cajun seasoning mix as B likes his food with a 'touch of spice'), then fried this in a little oil.  Took only  a few minutes on each side as the chicken was mega-thin, and quite honestly the 'escalope' could have been cut in half to share (but my B likes big helpings). Served with oven chips and peas (came from the freezer), a very quick meal to prepare.  And considering how simple it was, B came and told me he enjoyed it immensely (probably due to the Cajun seasoning).

Another way to make one chicken breast feed two is to split in half lengthways and either bash each half thinly to make two escalopes, or to bash them slightly, the put a knob of garlic butter, or soft cheese onto one half, fold over the other half, pressing the edges together, then dipping in flour, egg and then dried breadcrumbs to make Chicken Kievs.   Double dip again in the egg and crumbs and this will make the Kiev crustier and also look larger.  Can be fried on the hob, or baked in the oven.

It makes sense (because it saves time and fuel) is for me to make some things in bulk, then divide up and freeze away in one-helping containers.  So I make a huge batch of spag bol meat sauce (minced meat extended using a Beanfeast Bolognese), ditto a chilli con carne (with again a Beanfeast Mexican, and a can of red beans).  Curries too are worth making a 'job lot'.  All these reheat from frozen in 8 minutes in the microwave, although timing depends upon the portion-size.  Better to remove after 5-6 minutes and give a stir, then return to the microwave and cook on until fully heated throughout.  Alternatively, thaw and reheat in a pan on the hob.

It's easy enough to give recipes for one, two, or more, and also meatless ones, but never sure whether they are suitable for the request given.  Some people like to eat 'good plain food', traditionally British fare, others are open to eating more ethnic meals, such as a Chinese stir-fry (one of the quickest and easiest meals to make for one or two).

If you wish for both meatless, and a meal for one (or two), then this next recipe could be up your street. If not, maybe up someone else's.   Myself do enjoy eating these, but my B considers them more a 'snack' and turn his nose up if I served one for his main meal.  But with a good salad, it certainly makes a light lunch or supper.
Use a small avocado, and less of everything else if you wish to make just enough for one (although I alone could eat two).
Quesadillas: serves 2
1 large avocado, flesh finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 large tomato, finely chopped
1 chunk (about 2"/5cm) cucumber, finely chopped
1 tblsp chopped coriander or parsley
2 tsp lemon or lime juice
salt and pepper
2 medium soft tortillas
1 oz (25g) grated  mature Cheddar cheese
Make a salsa by mixing together the avocado, onion, tomato, cucumber and chosen herb.  Add the lemon (or lime) juice and seasoning to taste.
Heat a dry heavy based frying pan  over medium heat then add one tortilla. Sprinkle half the cheese over the entire surface, then spoon half the salsa over half of the tortilla.  Cook for 1 - 2 minutes or until the tortilla is golden brown on the underside and the cheese has begun to melt.   Then fold the tortilla  in half over to cover the salsa.  Slide onto a plate and keep warm while the second tortilla is cooked and filled the same way.   Serve each quesadilla cut into two (wedges).

If you think the above is a bit too fiddly to deal with, why not make the salsa, then keep this chilled in the fridge, and when ready to make a quesadilla, just cook the base tortilla in a dry pan (as above), cover with the cheese - more cheese if you wish - then top with the second tortilla.  Cook until golden and cheese melting (as above), then flip over using a fish slice so the top tortilla can then also be cooked.  By then all the cheese will have melted, and the tortilla cut into quarters and served with a side dish of the salsa.  Or omit the salsa and serve with a crisp green salad.

Simple dishes that I make for myself (and easily doubled/trebled... to serve more) are things like 'pasta with pesto', or Cauliflower Cheese.  An omelette with salad, or jacket potato with cream cheese and herb 'stuffing'.  Perhaps too simple, but - like many who used to feed a family and now cook only for themselves - it seems too much trouble to cook a 'proper' meal for just me.  Although have to say I do re-heat the individual curries, spag.bol, and chillis when I feel like a 'real meal' but can't be bothered to cook 'just for me'.

Here is one recipe taken from 'The Goode Kitchen'.  It does include sausages, but vegetarians can leave these out (or substitute a veggie version).  This is mainly a 'store cupboard' recipe, and to some extent can be adapted.  Of course we can use any pasta shape, and although the recipe does use fresh herbs, 'the Barefoot Contessa' (and other TV cooks) prefer to use dried oregano as the fresh is a bit too 'strongly flavoured.   Use canned plum tomatoes as these have much more flavour than chopped, but either will do.

Because the above book was all about saving money, it was expected that readers would buy dried beans to soak and cook, but today would probably suggest buying the canned cooked beans (cheap enough if you shop around).  However, not all of a can need be used, especially if deciding to make this meal for just one or two, so remove surplus beans from cans, and place in air-tight containers in the fridge. Use within a very few days, better still freeze them (when they will keep for weeks).

Pasta el fagioli: serves 41
2 tsp sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
8 oz (225g) canned red kidney beans
8 oz (225g) canned white beans
1 can (400g) plum tomatoes
2 tblsp grated Parmesan or Cheddar cheese
1 tsp dried oregano (or 1 tblsp fresh)
4 oz (110g) pasta spirals (or other shape), cooked
2 or 3 cooked garlic sausages, slices thinly
Fry the onion in the oil until softened then stir in the garlic, then the beans and tomatoes (including the liquid).  Add the oregano and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 5 minutes to allow flavours to develop.  Put the cooked pasta and sausage into a casserole, then stir in the bean mixture. Cover and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 20 minutes.  Remove lid, top with the grated cheese and bake, uncovered, for a further 10 minutes until the cheese is bubbling.
If not adding sausages, then add the pasta to the pan of onions/beans, and allow to cook on for 15 minutes.  Top with the cheese then finish off under a pre-heated grill until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown.

The broken bit of the food processor seems to have been glued together satisfactorily. I have yet to try it and fingers crossed it works.  If not, no real problem, I've plenty of hand graters (old and new) that can do the job equally as well (just takes longer).

Tonight B is requesting food laid out for him so he can make himself another stir-fry. This time based on beef.  Even a tiny bit of tender beef - when cut into thin strips - can go a very long way in a stir-fry (or Strogonoff for that matter).

My larder is beginning to have more empty shelf space, the fridge also has more shelf than food on display. Only the freezer is packed to the limit (but that is how it should be as it uses less electricity when there are no gaps). Normally I would be aching to order from Tesco to fill the void, but for some reason I want now to use up just about everything before I re-stock for the winter.  Perhaps because I am enjoying the mini-challenge of (again) using only what I have.   Admittedly today B is off to Morrison's to buy fresh milk (as am running out of the UHT), but that won't break the bank.
Maybe, MAYBE, will ask him to bring in something else,  only don't think there is anything else I REALLY need.  I will try to be good and just stick to the milk.  B will no doubt not stop at that, and probably bring himself some 'treats' that he can eat while he watches 'his' TV.   He may even bring in something that was 'well reduced' just because it was.  Will have to wait and see.

My neighbour told me that repeats of 'Little House of the Prairie' and 'The Waltons' is now being shown on Freeview 61.  Our TV supplement gives only a few of the Freeview channels, so didn't know about that one.  I switched over to see and found myself in the middle of one of the 'Walton's', but didn't bother to stay the course.  Somehow don't seem to feel the need of TV at the moment. Just watching Downton (of course - and the new series begins on 22nd of this month), and 'Tenko'. Even missing some EastEnders and Corrie because they clash with 'foodie' progs.
Am I getting too obsessed with food?  For that matter are we - as a nation - putting 'living to eat' as top priority instead of just 'eating to live'.  Do we really need all these new cookbooks, monthly cookery mags (and believe me I've seen the same recipe, including the same photo, appear in more than one of them - and this happens regularly.  We don't want to 'buy' the same recipe twice over).

Perhaps we should think less about the food we eat and return to just 'meat and two veg', but then this could prove to be more expensive than food from other countries.  We just can't win.  Or can we?  Perhaps there is as much enjoyment in preparing and cooking food, as eating bought 'readies' to 'comfort eat', and comfort eating is about the only pleasure we can afford (but only if we make the 'eats' ourselves, otherwise it might be cheaper to find entertainment elsewhere).

We don't now have to 'eat out', we can easily improvise and give a 'restaurant atmosphere to our own dining room (or even a bed-sit) if we put our minds to it.  Turn down the lights, have a few candles on the table (and DO be careful not to burn the house down), serve small portions, beautifully presented, and it could be as good as a Michelin starred 'eaterie'.  It doesn't matter if the wine is cheap (grape juice is just as good), as Norma (the Hair) was saying yesterday (after her return from a holiday in France and doing a lot of wine-tasting), she finds (as B and I do) that cheap wine often tastes nicer than the very more expensive. Brings back to mind tap water v bottled water don't you think?

Chefs and their minions spend many hours cooking, even in the top 'starred' restaurants, and so must do it because they love to cook.  Once we 'home-cooks' begin to believe in ourselves, and role-play anything from Mrs. Bridges/ Mrs. Patmore through Jamie O, and on the way up to the Roux brothers, we too can find enjoyment preparing food for guests next time we choose to 'eat in'.  Anyway, we ladies always look alluring when viewed through candlelight.  What more can we ask for.

Final word.  Words actually.  You know that annually I gripe about a word that seems to be fashionable.  Same word crops up time and time again on TV.  For some time it was icon/iconic, but this year it is a 'phrase', hear it every day (sometimes several times).  It is 'What's not to like (or love)?  You might find I'm using it myself one day.  I nearly did the other day before I realised it was the 'in' word/s.  Have heard worse expressions.

That's it for me. May be back tomorrow, or maybe wait until Saturday,. Now I feel less pressured to do a daily blog I feel more enjoyment when I do write.  But need something useful to write about or this blog will be boring.

Lovely day today, I might just go out on Norris before the cold really sets in.  Sun has gone in again as I write and already have changed my mind.  Women do that, change minds easily, no wonder men can't understand us.  Thankfully.  We women can understand men fully and completely, their brains are so simplified.  Everything is black and white to them.  With us it is 50 shades of grey (or so it is said? Perhaps I should read that book!).

Yesterday I asked B to finish up the last of the home-made ice-cream (needed freezer space), and he said he didn't know there was any left.  I said it was in the ice-cream carton (recycled) on the middle shelf of 'Boris', and it had a smaller box sitting on top of it.  He came into the living room saying the box contained red-currants.  I went back with him into the kitchen and he then was pulling out box after box from the top shelf, while on the shelf underneath was the much larger ice-cream box (with a little container sitting on the top).  I pointed this out to him and he was quite narked (that he hadn't seen it for himself).  It was so OBVIOUS and exactly where I said, but would he look in the right place? No!  That's a man for you. My man at least.  Am thinking of selling him. He's still in working order (well, nearly), and good at changing light bulbs, crosswords, and not talking (to me). Quite good at shopping (as long as he is given a very detailed list). Can do the washing up (but only when he's done the crossword - usually late morning.
House-trained to a point but still throws his dirty clothes on the bedroom floor, and leaves his clean clothes on top of his cupboard instead of putting them in the nearly empty drawers beneath.  Also leaves his dirty plates at the side of his chair rather than take them into the kitchen until the next day (usually I've taken them in to wash by then).  All letters, papers etc, thrown in an ever increasing pile at the side of his chair or by the side of 'his' couch'.
But he is still handsome (and doesn't he know it), looks 10 years younger, and will eat almost anything, and the better the main meal the more contented he is.  As long as he has his butter, cream, sweets, lemonade, glasses of wine, and enough 'treats' (provided by me) to snack on after eating a good (and well-cooked) supper, he is a happy bunny. 

Perhaps, due to my age (or is it a swan song?) all of a sudden I feel like trading B in for a younger model.  How sad is that?   Secretly I expect B has wished he could have traded me in for some nubile young piece many times.  And who would blame him?   He would never do this for two reason:  he could never afford a divorce, and secondly, the way to a man's heart being through his stomach -, and in B's case this really applies - I could beat any young lady in a 'cook off'. 

Why am I rambling on again?  Perhaps because I can visualise you all sitting by me and we are having a real 'chat'.  The good thing about a virtual chat is that no-one can interrupt me when in full flow.  If that happened I'd forget what I was going to say next.  Not that I even know that now, I just write what comes into my head at the very moment.  And my brain is telling me it is time not to stop for today (and should have stopped an hour ago....yes, well, when do I ever listen to my inner voice?).

Enjoy your day, and I'll look forward to be chatting to you again very soon.  TTFN.