Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Slowing Down...

Yesterday saw the final 'soup kitchen' before closure.  At least that is the intention although a small possibility that the 'guys' won't have completed the chimney by the end of yesterday.  Asked them to let me know by 10.00am today if they needed lunch.  Hopefully not, I've run out of soup ideas, although still have the Moroccan soup not yet tried.   Decided to repeat the Mulligatawny yesterday as I was so much liked the first time round.  
As a final treat served freshly baked scones - cool but with a hint of warmth, served with butter, home-made jam and a big bowl of whipped cream.   Make quite a few - and they turned out the best ever - so that B had some left for his even snacks (whilst watching footie).  But apparently they ate the lot at lunchtime!!

After the meal B came in and said his friend had asked him how much (money) I wanted for the food.  I said to B I didn't want anything, and he said he'd told them that anyway (he knows me so well), and anyway they had already left.  The friend had said he would buy B a drink (or two) at the social and put some money in the RNLI box there as a 'thank you'.  Am satisfied with that but wish B wouldn't refuse money on my behalf without asking me first.

Watched '....Bake Off' last night, and AGAIN nodded off just as they were making the second desserts (something with Swiss rolls fitted into a basin).  So don't know who got sent off.  Bet it wasn't Ruby.  Will watch the repeat at the weekend and hopefully keep awake. 
Today sees a new series with Hugh F.W. His series are very watchable, his personality on a par with Jamie O's in that they are both very likeable and tell it how it is.  The new series is based on fruit, very timely as there has been a glut of all fruits this autumn, not that you would know by the high prices charged for all fruits at the supermarkets.

Another prog. I watched was about a prison down south (was it in Surrey?) that ran a restaurant called 'Clink'.  The inmates had a chance of learning how to cook in the prison kitchens, and could then move on and get professional training as waiters and chefs in the prison restaurant.  Despite wishing to gain qualifications, seems that despite being forbidden (no second chance) stealing a can of drink, or eating some of the prepared food was too much of a temptation, so more than one inmate who wanted to improve himself, had to be dismissed and return to less pleasant prison duties such as collecting the dirty laundry etc.

Mind you, this particular prison looked more like a hotel than a prison.  Each prisoner had his own bedroom (not at all like a 'cell') which even had a TV!  The décor of the communal areas of the prison was plain but attractive, plants and things, and one prisoner was saying it was better there than the life he lived before.  If normally living in cramped conditions, sharing a bedroom, having not much more than junk food to eat, sometimes having to do without heating, how much more wonderful would prison life seem to be.  Perhaps not surprising that when some prisoners leave they rapidly return.

There have been times (especially during the first months after moving here) I've myself thought "I'd have a lot more enjoyment out of life if I went to prison".  I'd have people to talk to, probably qualifications and new skills I could learn, almost certainly my own 'cell' (with TV), and maybe even the chance to work in the kitchen, and if not, have food prepared for ME, not me always having to prepare it for someone else.  Almost a life of bliss! 

Once I visited an open prison for women (a possibility of me working there giving cookery lessons - which I decided to decline).  Very 'open' it was too as I'd arrived by the wrong gate, parked my car at the bottom of the huge garden, walked up the path and in through the open back door.  Think the prison was once a large country mansion, as I passed by huge sitting room (like hotel lounges) with inmates sitting in there chatting, also passed by what was probably once a ballroom now turned into a sports room, two ladies there playing badminton...

Got told off when I reached the front hall where the office was, I should have reported there first, to have me wandering around alone horrified them.  Apparently I needed to be chaperoned.  Anyway, was take upstairs to see the various rooms.  One fitted out with many computers (for teaching), another with sewing machines (to learn these skills) another was a hairdressing 'salon', and eventually arrived at the cookery section.  Fully fitted work units and several cookers in one large room.  Was slightly alarmed when shown a locked, large glass-fronted cupboard full of very sharp knives and warned that these were only to be given out under special supervision as "several inmates are here because they have stabbed someone, and even though in an open-prison should never be trusted".  Think perhaps it was hearing that made me decide not to take up the offer.

On the return downstairs was taken past several bedrooms, all large as would be expected in a place that size, but each containing only three beds, and the décor was traditional, carpets, curtains, proper bed linen. 
Not sure whether this is good or bad.  Perhaps if we made prison life so unpleasant and restrictive, then people would think twice before breaking the law.  Also it seems that many criminals are given community service instead of being sent to prison, whilst other upright citizens ARE sent to prison because they have broken a law that didn't affect others (like refusing to pay council tax etc for what could be good reason).

Better not carry on with this particular bee in my bonnet or I'll get someone smacking my hand again. Will get back to the foodie side of this blog - and before I forget - gave the wrong name for that strange US cookery prog.  It should have been 'Sweet Genius' (although the times given were correct). 'Unique Sweets' and/or 'Unique Treats' are different progs.

Good to hear from you Margie.  Envy you the different flavoured hams on sale in Canada.  We do have some different varieties:  York Ham, Honey-roasted Ham, Boiled Ham.... but all vary little in flavour unless paying for the most expensive (beyond my means). 

When it comes to nutritional advice, am beginning to believe that we should take it all with a pinch of salt.  Yesterday was reading how, by reducing the fat we eat, we are more likely to gain weight.  Perhaps proving (as happens with me) that high protein diets do work better than the low-fat carbo ones.
Only the other day there was a new series (Trust Me I'm a Doctor was it called?) where they proved that a high body mass index (aka HBI) does not - after all - meant a person is overweight and carrying too much fat.  Much of the extra weight can be muscle and perhaps (the usual excuse in the old days and perhaps true enough) 'heavy bones'. 

As you say Margie, the easiest and best meal is one that is 'balanced'. Just as long as we know enough info as to what the balance should be and how it is composed.  Basically a main meal that consists of protein (meat, fish, eggs or cheese), vegetables (other than spuds), and carbohydrates (spuds count as this - as does pastry, rice, pasta etc...).  Easy enough when we think of a traditional English dinner, but slightly more complicated when it comes to dishes from other worlds.  At least for novice cooks.
You could say a pizza fits all the above criteria:  carbo base, tomato sauce (veg), with maybe mushrooms and/or sweetcorn, and cheese/chorizo/ham (protein) etc as a topping.  But does that mean it is a true 'balanced' meal?  Maybe when eaten with a salad (the essential 'greens') it would be.

At the moment (trying desperately to loss the weight I've recently put back on - due entirely to eating carbos again), my meals are not well-balanced, but seem to be healthy enough.  I just eat loads of fruit and veg (mainly as salads), with protein in some form (hardboiled eggs, cold cooked meats, fish...). Protein is very satisfying, and never trigger off the 'want more' that I always get when eating carbos.  
For lunch I usually have my favourite home-made chunky tomato soup, the main meal as an early supper, and that is all I need.  The weight is dropping off thank goodness, so hope I can keep it up and not get tempted by all the goodies that I keep making for B (that I sometimes used to sample because I needed to know I'd made a good job of it.  My excuse anyway).

This morning woke while it was still dark (7.00am) and after going into the living room (curtains still closed) noticed the small (uncurtained) stained glass window over the TV showed a very orange coloured sky.  I opened the curtains and there was the most vivid sunrise I've ever seen.  Far surpassed any sunset.  Went into the bedroom to wake B so that he could see it, but he was too fast asleep, so went back and enjoyed the sight all by myself.  All five minutes of it.  The best parts of sunrise and sunsets only last a very few minutes - if that.  Thankfully I was around to see it today.

They say 'red sky in the morning' bodes bad weather, although there have been times that we've had a wonderful day after an early morning glow.  Today however, the forecast IS bad, so rain will be arriving, I believe this time from the east.  This means cold air too I expect.  But seasonal enough.

As autumn brings a slowing down of the life-force of plants (and some animals), am wondering if we too slow down, preferring to sit and put our feet up during the darker hours rather than going out on the town.  At least the older we are the more we feel inclined to stay put.  In my youth it didn't matter what time of year it was, weekend evenings at least were for going out and having fun .  Weekday evenings tended to be less active as we worked longer hours and had set nights for 'washing hair' etc, if we went out then it was probably only to the pictures so that we could be home by 10.00pm and ready for bed and an early start the next day.

Slowing down can work well when it comes to cooking.  Heard Heston B on the radio recently (was it yesterday?) where he was talking about the 'sous-vide' (very slow way of cooking - it takes HOURS). Apparently, very soon we'll all be using these appliances in our own kitchen.  He seems to think they are essential to our future.  Myself - I don't think so.  A slow-cooker (aka 'crock-pot') is good enough for me.  Who needs more? 

Having said that, we can still cook meals slowly in a conventional oven, and - if fuel bills are the problem we can bring a casserole (or other foods) to a boil on the hob (takes only a few minutes) and finish off the cooking using a hay-box, but as a slow-cooker uses only the same amount of electricity as a light bulb, this is probably the cheapest way to cook without bothering with anything more complicated, also the low temperature means that a meal can be left to cook all day and even if delayed, the food won't come to harm.  Newer crock-pots I believe switch from cooking - when the time is up - to keeping the contents hot to eat later.

One thing to remember when using crock-pots.  Protein foods such as meats don't need as high a temperature to cook as do vegetables (esp root veg, pulses etc).  This is why slow-cookers tenderise meat beautifully, allowing that it does take time to do this.  Vegetables prefer a higher temperature than boiling, which is why steaming the veg works even better than boiling. 
Onions seem to be the only veg that cooks well with the meat in a slow cooker.  Other veg are best part-cooked before being added, and then placed close to the heat source before being topped with the meat/liquid.  Frozen vegetables (once thawed) tend to cook better in a slow-cooker, probably because they have been already blanched (part-cooked) and the freezing then helps to tenderise them further.

Myself tend to use our slow cooker set a Low, leaving meat to cook overnight (and often for longer). There is only just a slight movement of the liquid when the lid is raised.  Set on High, there is definitely a strong simmer to the liquid, and possibly this would help to tenderise vegetables, especially when thinly sliced.  The meat would possibly be less tender (but only slightly), much depends upon the cut use.  I prefer to buy the best quality cheapest cuts, these then require longer cooking.  Many chefs say that the cheaper cuts have much better flavour than the more expensive fast-cook cuts such as rump steak, fillet steak.  This is true.  Why sacrifice flavour for speed?

One seasonal recipe for today, and one for storage - it will also make a good addition to that Christmas Hamper we cooks like to give as gifts.   This jelly eats well with roast pork, ham, roast lamb, and also good to spice up a meat sarnie.

When straining fruit juices through muslin/jelly bag, first pour boiling water through to wet the fabric, this prevents it soaking up the fruit juice, and allows it to run straight through. 
Spiced Apple Jelly: makes about 2 lb
2 lb (900g) cooking apples
2 lemons, thinly sliced
1 oz (25g) fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 stick cinnamon
6 whole cloves
3 pints (1.7 ltrs) water
granulated sugar
Chop the apples as they are (no need to peel or core but remove any stalks/leaves), then place into a pan with the  lemons, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and water.  Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for about an hour - or until very soft.  Pour into a jelly bag or muslin-lined sieve set over a large bowl and leave to strain for at least 2 hours (best left longer as every drip counts).  Don't squeeze the bag or the jelly will end up cloudy.
Measure the juice and put into a pan. To each pint of juice add 1lb (450g) sugar. Place over a low heat and stir until all the sugar has dissolved, then raise the heat and boil rapidly until it reaches setting point.  Remove any scum that may have risen to the surface, then pour into warm, sterilised jars, and seal/label.  Store in a cook place for up to a year. Once opened, keep in the fridge and use within a month. 

Before I leave, thanks also to buttercup , Les andGillibob for their comments.  Need no reply but I don't want anyone to feel they've been ignored (especially if we might be distantly related!). 
Not sure if I'll be blogging tomorrow or not.  Depends upon what today throws at me.  But - as ever - I'll be back, so watch this space.   TTFN.