Monday, October 21, 2013

Another Week Begins...

Yesterday spent some TV time watching repeats.  The Great British Year is a delight to watch, and am hoping that readers in other countries will get a chance to see the British flora and fauna and see the countryside as it really is.  We are such a small country but - when the weather is good - it has immense beauty.

After watching the end of Tenko on Friday it brought to mind how - since the end of World War II, there seem to be always wars somewhere, the Korean, the Vietnam, the fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, not to mention all the other, more internal skirmishes such as those in Libya, Syria and many parts of Africa.  These put our life in Britain into perspective.  We moan about our weather, the continuous rise in food and fuel prices, the way our government runs our country, yet we have so much more than many nations. Even at the lowest level we still have food (even if foodbanks or soup kitchens), clean (tap) water, and free medical health and (usually) a roof over our heads. No wonder that people crave to come and live here.  Made me realise that I should be grateful for what we have, not what we don't have - and stop my moaning about things that really don't matter.

Watched the repeat of '...Bake Off' (am biting my tongue!).  Just waiting to see what happens in the final, and before I forget, another tip picked up from the Food Network.  If you want to paint an iced cake with colour (or use a spray-mister), use alcohol (vodka) instead of water to dilute food colouring pastes as this dries rapidly and the colour shouldn't then seep/spread across the icing beneath.

Something 'new' in the fashion world seem to be the all in one adult-sized 'baby-grows' that are now called 'onesies'.  Not THAT new, Winston Churchill was probably the first adult to wear one, and my mum bought me one to wear in the shelter during air raids.  These were then called 'siren suits'.  Normally dark blue or grey in scratchy but warm material, not the 'pretties' I've seen recently on TV.

Trying to get interested in Gordon Ramsay's (family) cooking, was at least interested in his version of a 21st century 'Ploughman's Lunch' because he showed a new way to make pickled onions. Not the bottled variety but the 'instant'.  He thinly sliced a red onion, sprinkled it with sugar and salt, poured over some white wine vinegar, then put a weight on it and left it for a while.  When ready to eat, he picked up the onions with (clean) hands and squeezed out all the liquid, then served it with the meal. 
As I love pickled onions, but nowadays my digestion seems to get upset when I eat them, I tried the above, and the onions were wonderful eaten with a salad.  They would also be good eaten in sarnies with cheese..  As I write I have another bowl in the fridge (under weights) waiting to be added to my supper tonight.

Another thing I've noticed (courtesy of TV ads) is that Asda is now tempting us with their 100's of products all priced the same: £1!.   But not only Asda, almost every supermarket is now packaging many of their fresh products at the magic price.  Asda has gone one step further and pricing some of their packaged and canned/bottled products at £1.  
Am pretty sure that none of these are lower cost than they used to be.  They may seem to be but it is easy enough to reduce the weights by a few ounces/grams to make it seem as though we get more, not less.  How many of us find time to compare- every time we shop - the weights of loose fruit and veg, and similar canned products to those of the pre-packed 'poundsworth'? 

There are many times I've checked the price (per 100g) of things I buy regularly such as baked beans, tuna, canned tomatoes and found that the single cans work out cheaper than a four or six-pack of the same (and of the same weight).  There was a time when - if we bought in bulk, such as in packs of four or more - the price WAS always cheaper, now it may not be, but the stores bank on us still believing it is so, then use it to their advantage.

Shopping today has become far more difficult than it ever was.  This weekend I've been re-reading 'Blood of a Britishman', and it's very interesting how people from some regions prefer to eat certain foods, and even a lot more food due to their origins (Vikings, Jutes, Romans, Germans, French, et al invaded our country and many settled here).  As the book was written in 1970 it is a bit dated compared to today's eating habits, but even then there was horror shown about how we are losing our traditional foods and soon it will be that fish fingers and TV dinners and will become the norm. The author didn't know the half of it, convenience foods not being very thick on the ground at that time.

There was also a mention of how food prices were kept deliberately low after the war, and - as I said in a previous posting - products were sold for the same price in each store. The government paid subsidies to farmers to produce more food, and some imported food (sugar etc) was also subsidised. At that time there were mainly small family grocers, and larger stores (International Stores and the Co-op) in towns, but nothing on the scale of the supermarkets of today. Once convenience food began to fill the shelves, then the stores grew larger (and larger, and larger...), pricing could be changed to the whim of the store, and the rot set in.

Once upon a time there seemed to be a shop that sold only certain things.  They didn't tread on any other toes.  The newsagent sold the newspapers, stationery and some sweets.  The ironmonger sold all D.I.Y stuff (nails, screws etc, sold loose, not in packets).  The haberdasher sold everything for those who knitted, or sewed etc. There used to be greengrocers, fresh fish shops, local butchers (and we still do have them, but not nearly as many as there used to be), we even had milk delivered to our door.
When the supermarkets began to sell the above, the smaller shops lost many of their customers, and most of them went out of business.  It is rare to see a wool shop these days (we have one just opened in our 'village', but for how long?), we can buy newspapers, flowers, cosmetics, batteries, books,clothes, shoes, anything you can possibly think of - all from one of the many large superstores we choose to go to.  And how many doorstep deliveries of milk are there these days?

Today this 'all in one' approach to shopping can be truly convenient, and have to say I find it so, but with memories of calling in at the much smaller local shops have to say I do miss these, especially chatting to the owners/assistants who used to know all their customers by name, and would order or save certain items for them if they knew they were wanted.  But that was then and this is now, and maybe no-one is very interested these days in anyone other than themselves and their own needs, just get out and buy what is wanted in the fastest time possible, and hopefully for the lowest possible price.  Then back to the constant texting and tweeting and choosing which foreign holiday to go on next.

Was astounded to read that Paul Hollywood and ex-wife have been tweeting each other over the past few weeks.  Possibly they may get back together again, but that's not my gripe.  Feeling the need to tweet their personal 'chat' to each other for the whole world to read seems a bit beyond belief. Isn't anything private anymore? 

There is one absolutely wonderful thing about being old.  I've had the chance of being able to live a completely different life from the way it is today, and even though the war was part of it, am very thankful that I've been able to experience so much of what the youth of today don't have and probably will never have.  In fact the war showed how our nation can pull together instead of trying to continually pull itself apart. We had dignity then, good manners, respect for each other and authority.  We also knew we had to work for what we wanted, not expect the state to provide.

The other day was having my moan about fuel prices and how prices rose when all the nationalised companies were privatised.   So - of course - they have now sold the Royal Mail, and for those wealthy enough to buy shares, in a very few days since trading started,  the shares have risen enough for money to already line a few pockets. Not only that, we hear that the price of postage will increase (again), and there will probably be a postal strike shortly before Xmas. 
So what has privatisation of the mail done for us cash-strapped folk?  ****all!

Millions and possibly trillions of ££££s will be spent on the 'much-needed' faster trains it is said, and despite complaints it seems its going ahead.  Why on earth should such vast amounts of money be spent just to save 20 minutes travelling time. Apparently faster trains are supposed to make for more employment in various areas, but I can't see how.   Also fast trains have to run on special lines, not stopping at normal stations, so many people would have to drive - possibly taking longer than 20 minutes - to get a faster train that wouldn't then even save them that time.   With all the mobiles, tablets, lap-tops these days, am sure a lot of work could be done on a train in 20 minutes, so why not spend that time using the train as an office, and make life a little easier at work and at home?
Use the money set aside for the above trains, and put it to better use, like hospitals, subsidising fuel prices etc.

When I began today's blog said I wasn't going to keep moaning about things that don't matter, and then I carry on having a bleat about this, that and the other, but if we just sit back and let the powers that be do what they will, then things can only get worse.  We need to stand up and be counted when it comes to our views (and am not saying I'm right in any of what I say but am not one to sit meekly by and just inwardly seethe).   We are able to vote for whom we choose, usually the party that says they will give us what is needed (but how often that then doesn't happen?), yet so many people don't even bother to vote.  Maybe if everyone did, or were able to have more say, then things might end up a bit differently, and for the better.

To your comments....
Have myself tried Delia's scone recipe Granny G, and although it works well enough, my 'tweaking' seems to have improved it.  Or perhaps it is more that every cook, using the same recipe, will always end up with something slightly different.   A different brand of flour can alter things, even the temperature of the ingredients (or size of egg used).  This is what makes cooking so interesting, we can keep experimenting until we get 'our' version just right, and hopefully continue to improve our other 'not yet quite as we hoped'.

Lovely to hear Kathryn that your dad has taken up cooking, and despite the fact that convenience foods take a part, believe it is far better for novice cooks to use these, than be put off cooking by the 'making everything from scratch' approach.  Why not use a crumble mix, pastry mix, even cake mix if it makes cooking easier? We have to start somewhere, and it's the making a start that's important. Slow and steady wins the race.

A welcome to Anna (lives in Franc - and I'd love to know the region).  She sent details to Christopher of how to dry and roast pumpkin seeds. Thanks also to Les for links to pumpkin recipes.

Have recently posted up some pumpkin recipes, but in case you have missed them Christopher, am repeating a couple or so that might be of use to you.

If you prefer a savoury snack rather than just drying and roasting pumpkin seeds, then try this recipe. You could use different spices, flavoured salts etc according to your taste.
Savoury Pumpkin Seeds:
Collect about 4oz (100g) flesh-free pumpkin seeds, wash and pat dry with a tea-towel then place on a baking sheet to dry.  Leave for 24 hours then toss the seeds in a mixture of 1 tsp celery salt, half tsp paprika, 1 tblsp olive oil and a little black pepper.  When thoroughly coated, spread out on the baking tray and roast at 180C, gas 4 for 10 minutes, turning halfway through.  Store in an airtight container and they will keep for several weeks.

Nest recipe makes a quick supper dish, everything cooked in one pan.  Once the ingredients are prepared (in advance if you like), it should take no more than 15 minutes from start to plate.
Fried Pumpkin and Bacon: serves 2
12 oz (350g) chopped pumpkin flesh
1 tblsp olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
4 rashers smoked streaky bacon, diced
half oz (15g) butter
juice of half small lemon
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Put the oil and pumpkin into a frying pan and sauté over medium heat until the pumpkin in nearly tender (al dente) and turning golden.
Push the pumpkin to the sides of the pan and put the shallots and bacon in the centre.  Cook for a further five minutes until the shallots are tender and the bacon beginning to crisp. 
Stir in the butter, lemon juice, parsley and seasoning, mixing everything together.  Fry for a further minute then serve.

The larger the pumpkin (or any squash) the more their water content, so  use minimal water when cooking (or no water at all) as they can lose most of their flavour and texture when boiled.  So here is a recipe for pumpkin soup that has added flavourings. 
Cream of Pumpkin Soup: serves 4 - 6
2.2lb (1kg) orange-fleshed pumpkin
2 tblsp sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped
1 1/4 pints (750ml) vegetable stock
14 fl oz (400ml) milk
half teaspoon grated nutmeg
salt, pepper to taste
4 fl oz (100ml) cream
4 tblsp grated Cheddar cheese
Peel the pumpkin and cut the flesh into chunks. Put into a pan with the oil and sauté over medium heat until beginning to soften and change colour.
Reduce heat to low and stir in the onion, and sweat this off until softened, then add the stock, milk, nutmeg and seasoning.  Bring to the simmer then cover the pan and cook for 20 minutes.   Cool slightly then blend in a liquidiser/food processor (or use a stick blender in the pan) and whizz until smooth, adding water if too thick.
Reheat, stir in the cream, add more seasoning if required, then serve in individual bowls, sprinkling the cheese on top.

It's worth steaming surplus pumpkin flesh over boiling water for 6-10 minutes until tender, then eith puree in a blender or mash thoroughly using a potato masher, adding butter or olive oil if you wish.  This can then be frozen and used later in - perhaps - a pumpkin pie.
If you wish to free pumpkin flesh cubed, then steam/blanch for just one minute, bag up the cubes and freeze.

Here is a recipe for pumpkin pie, using the pumpkin puree (see above).  If the puree (esp frozen and thawed) seems watery, then drain overnight in a sieve/colander placed over a bowl, and discard any water that collects.
Pumpkin Pie: serves 4 - 6
1 lb (450g) pumpkin puree
12 oz (350g) shortcrust pastry
3 eggs, well beaten
1 x 400g can evaporated milk
4 oz (100g) soft light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
half tsp ground ginger
quarter tsp each ground cloves and nutmeg
half tsp salt
Drain the puree if necessary. Line a 9" (23cm) tart tin with the rolled out pastry and bake blind.
Mix together the beaten eggs with the remaining ingredients and pour into the baked pastry case - still in its tin and standing on a baking tray.  Bake at 180C, gas 4 for 35 - 45 minutes or until the filling is set but with a slight wobble in the centre.  Remove from oven but leave to stand on the hot baking tin for a few minutes (it will carry on cooking during that time).  Serve warm or cold.

That's it for today. Hope the above recipes will be useful.  Only a couple of weeks now to Hallow'een.  Shortly after will be Guy Fawkes (Bonfire) night, then countdown to Christmas.  Doesn't time fly? 

One good thing, the weather is still warm enough for us not to put the central heating on, so it might be that we are in for a mild winter.  Let us hope so.  But please, none of the flooding we had last year. I'd rather it snow. 

Sorry about rambling on, I can't get out of the habit.  Point me in a direction you wish me to go, and I do mean sensible suggestions!!  Hope you can join me again tomorrow.  If so, see you then.