Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Believe it or Not!

Was it Winston Churchill who coined the phrase: "lies, damned lies, and statistics"?  However, it does seem true that we can make almost everything believable if we show it as either an average or a statistic.  "The average family throws about a third of their food away each year" (or thereabouts) we read.  Yet I'm pretty certain you or I don't discard nearly as much as that (in my case throw virtually no food away at all - it's all used). This means - by the rule of averages - many families must throw away a great deal more than half of what they buy.

At one time, maybe still now, clothes were made to fit the average-sized woman, this means that any that were thinner, fatter, taller, shorter, could find no clothes that would fit them.  Add these people together and divide the number 'to find the average', and this only proves there could be a middle of the road sizing, not that this would be any use at all.

A great deal of research is done into what the 'average' family eats, and usually by asking 1,000 people what products they buy, what meals they eat, and when etc.   One thousand people out of the millions that live in this country I wouldn't say would be a good representation of the 'average', and I doubt there are any of us who would be classified as average.  Maybe, many years ago, when women tended to stay at home rearing children, the menfolk being the breadwinners, and especially the meals being pretty basic and traditional (this before supermarkets and convenience foods) maybe there were many more 'average' families, but even these depended upon the income and class system.  Nowadays things have changed, and I tend to ignore any statistics that pigeon-holes me/us into a particular life-style, perhaps because I prefer to be different.  Yet wish to feel much the same about many things (mainly at the domestic level) as you, my lovely readers, do.

Apparently, since 'The Great British Bake Off' series began, there has been a rise in the sales of flour, sugar, and other baking ingredients.  Plus the manufacturers grabbing the opportunity and providing us domestic 'bakers' with loads more accessories for cakes (icing, sprinkles, cake cases, etc, etc, etc...).  Who can blame them in this day and age?  We are not forced to buy any of these extras, that is one area we at least still have some control.       

It would be good if we had other cookery competitions between average people (as with '...Bake Off contestants).  Not wishing for the high standard of 'Masterchef', more at the grass roots level, and proper meals, not only cakes and other 'bakes'.   Yet, even making cakes can get people started on cooking.  This happened with me.  Lots of cakes, small and large to keep my children happy, and later (much later) was able to turn to the more useful and money-saving side of cooking, but at least by then was familiar with measuring out ingredients, familiar with oven temperatures, and other very basic necessities of cooking.  We all have to start somewhere, and where better than cakes?

At least the Hairy Bikers and Jamie Oliver do give us the down to earth approach of how to cook with the added attraction of finding out it doesn't matter if you use some convenience foods, or don't make a dish look particularly attractive.  What does matter is the flavour and the enjoyment we can gain by cooking, and the H.B's and Jamie are the ones to show us how.   Hugh F.W. is another who values the food rather than the presentation.  Some of his TV progs have had competitions between him and two other, but the others were professional cooks (which is why sometimes he lost).

Tonight it is the final of '...Bake Off', preceded by an hour of extracts from last years series and the follow-ups from competitors.  The odds are on for Ruby to win.  I wonder why.  Last week she made a complete mess of almost everything she did, yet she still got through to the final.  As one journalist wrote 'she makes good telly', and this is true.   We are now glued to her seats waiting for her (seemingly) lack of confidence to bring floods of tears (which apparently happened last week, but I saw very little of this).

Having some experience of being behind the camera, know that it would be very unlikely indeed for that series to have a cameraman each focussing only on one contestant, so how is it that they are in the right spot at the right time to pick up on disasters, failures and tears?  It is not improbable a contestant is asked to make the same mistake twice just so that it could be filmed.  Certainly there are hours of filming done that we never see, and clever editing shows us only the most interesting bits, and these are not always about what is being baked.  Maybe other contestants cried, or were more efficient with their cooking, but do these make 'good telly'? Not when Ruby does it better.

As Ruby apparently worked as a model before being a student, doubt very much she is as vulnerable as she looks, and wouldn't be a bit surprised if she could throw a strop or too if she felt inclined. She almost did when Paul H criticised her use of saffron.  Her expression when she was sitting on her stool waiting for his verdict on her cake, her sad expression and her bottom lip pushed out like a sulky babies was a delight to see. However much I go on about her, am very glad she is in this series for without her it would have been a lot less interesting (some of the time I feel sympathy for her but have to admit feeling at times she could do with a good slap).  Just hope that if she wins she wins on merit, not because she makes 'good telly' (this being of much more interest to producers, book publishers, agents etc who would use her for their own benefits, not hers).  Whether or not we see more of Ruby (and deep down I am hoping we don't, you can have too much of a good thing), I say 'if you've got it, flaunt it', and may good fortune go with her.

Am pleased you are now able to watch Coronation Street Pam, the storyline at present is particularly strong and well acted.  After a long gap, Liz MacDonald has returned to the Street, and am hoping very much that Roy's mother (played by Stephanie Cole) will also return as she is absolutely brilliant as that character (but she always is whatever part she plays).

Once upon a time we could rely on certain foods and other traditional accessories to appear in the shops at the correct time of year.  Now I see that crackers - normally only bought to pull on Christmas Day - are now being made to sell and pull at Hallow'een, and also for New Year's Day.  What's the betting next year they will make crackers to pull on Bonfire Night, Twelfth Night, and Easter?

Our Mothering Sunday -(traditionally the day when a serving girl was allowed to take that day off and visit her mother, often the only day in the year she saw her) now has the name changed to 'Mother's Day' (in the US a completely different day/date).  We also now have 'Father's Day', and 'Grandmother's Day' (perhaps also Grandfather's Day as well?).  Certainly a good thing to acknowledge and give respect to our parents and grandparents, but isn't this just another way to get people to part with their money buying cards, gifts, flower, chocolates - and booze for Gramps?  Why does everything that could be good have to be so commercialised? 

The good thing is that in today's world the older generation appreciate far more a hand-made gift and maybe a family gathering at home with none of the expense that any other acknowledgement would incur.  There is nothing nicer knowing that the time spent making something (be it a gift or food) shows how much we love and care for someone.  Sadly, not everyone realises that.  Which is why the salesmen keep rubbing their hands with glee (the more it costs the more she will know how much you love her - sort of thing).

Returning to the topic of waste, am wondering if - when Hallow'een is over - once the flesh has been carefully removed from a pumpkin - leaving only a thin layer close to the skin - whether the carved shell itself could be dried, and then used again (and again) in following years?  Only a thought, and not really necessary as we can always cook the flesh from a fresh pumpkin each year.  But even throwing the pumpkin skin/shell away seems a pity.  That's the problem with me, whatever bits are left I always try to find a use for them.  Cauliflower leaves and core/stalks get shredded and cooked in milk (then blitzed) to make cauliflower soup.  Herb stems get added to stocks and casseroles to give flavour.  Apple peel and cores cooked to make pectin.  When making redcurrant jelly, the pulp left in the jelly-bag is added to other soft fruits when making jam (if not used immediately it will be frozen).  Eggshells are crushed and spread on the soil to deter slugs,, also used to clear stock, and mixed into soil as 'grit' when planting bulbs. 
Even our large 4pt plastic milk containers are saved (not all, but several - the rest go to the tip), these I fill with water (often using the cooled water in the hot water bottle), left scattered around the conservatory (and the greenhouse) to come to room temperature so more than enough ready to water the many plants that have been potted up to live the winter through.  I can empty at least two containers at any one time, so like to have back-up at the right temperature ready for next time. Then refill the empties to give them a chance to warm up.   Very shortly all the windowsills in the conservatory will be full of growing things, plus the wider shelves that B has also fitted (these hold three depths of pots).  It can take me ages to water the lot, and some need doing several times a week.

Have been re-reading my first cookbook (More For Your Money) and as I sometimes get requests to give recipes to serve one (or two), this is a good one from this book.  It's a cross between a stir-fry and egg fried rice.  Easy to make, and useful in that you can adapt it to use other vegetables that you may wish to use up.  As ever, I suggest using the scraps of chicken pulled from the carcase after making stock.

This dish is so called because the omelette sits on top of the piled up stir-fried veggies and so takes the appearance of a mandarins hat.   Once the stir-fry has been completed, we could - instead - just stir the beaten eggs into the hot veggies/rice until it scrambles.  As ever, up to you to choose.
Mandarin Hat: serves 1 (even 2)
2 oz (50g) butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 oz (50g) mushrooms, sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
4 oz (100g) cooked long-grain rice
2 tblsp frozen peas, thawed
chicken scraps (see above)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tomato, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1 tblsp water
soy sauce
Heat half the butter in a frying pan and fry the onion, mushrooms and celery for 3 minutes, then stir in the rice and peas.   Add the chicken and stir-fry for 6 - 8 minutes then stir in the tomato.  Remove from pan onto a ready-heated plate and keep warm.
Beat the water into the eggs adding seasoning to taste.  Put the remaining butter into the now empty frying pan and when melted but not burning, pour in the eggs.  As it cooks, pull the sides to the centre and tip the pan so the uncooked egg runs to the sides.  When set but still moist, flip out onto the cooked vegetable/rice/meat mixture and serve immediately, drizzling soy sauce over.

Another recipe taken from the above book is one where the ingredients sound strange, but it does work.  Intended to be made from the scraps of a chicken taken from the carcase after it has been roasted and when served with the traditional accompaniments (stuffing, bread sauce etc). Once the scraps of meat have been removed, the carcase (with any other discarded skin and bones left on the plates) can go into a pan with carrot, onion and celery to make chicken stock.
Savoury Chicken Spread:
4 tblsp bread sauce
2 tblsp tomato puree
1 level tsp Marmite
half tsp curry powder
1 tsp tomato ketchup
salt and pepper to taste
6 oz (175g) cooked chicken scraps
little cream or softened butter to mix
Put all the ingredients into a blender/food processor and whizz until it turns into a fine paste.  Scrape this out into small jars or air-tight tubs and store in the fridge.  Use within a week.   This will also freeze if you wish to keep it longer.

Will end today with a tip about making bread sauce/stuffing.  Prepare the breadcrumbs a day in advance and spread out onto a baking tray to allow them to lose some of their moisture.  They will then soak up more of the added liquid.  
After infusing an onion in milk prior to making bread sauce, remove the onion (and any cloves that have been used), then chop the onion finely and add it to the stuffing being made (if using a bought stuffing mix, just add the onion to that).

Hope to be with you tomorrow as on Thursday my hair appointment followed by a coffee morning prevents me from blogging that day. 
We still have unseasonably high temperatures, so thankfully most of us won't be needing to heat our rooms and may not need to until November arrives (in just over a week).  Once we have got past Bonfire Night, we'll all be focussing on Christmas and I'm going to make sure I have room in the freezer so that I can make and store plenty to save time (mince pies, stuffing balls, and anything else I can think of).
Looking forward to meeting up with you again tomorrow.  Until then, have an enjoyable day.