Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Sorting it Out

Thankfully I've managed to sort the problem re 'junk mail' all by myself.  This new hard drive is one-up from the previous one as regards settings, and I'm having to learn a bit more as to what it will do (the other probably did it too but not the same way).  This one is far easier, and now I've managed to get the blog comments appearing again on my email page - so let's get on with replying to those I missed yesterday and the others that have arrived since...

Good that you are able to grow your squashes from seed Granny G, but even if they are flowering well, it is probably too late in the season for any fruit that may now appear to grow large enough. One year I had several courgette plants growing and not one of them had any offspring.  Seemed the maile flowers and the female flowers were not opened (together) at the right time, or maybe there was a shortage of insects pollinating them,

You mentioned having trouble kneading bread T-bird Annie, and although your husband prefers to eat white (sliced) bread, you may like to try this recipe for your own use, as unlike most bread, this dough needs only a mix.  My friend Gill (the one who phones me each Sunday morning) used to make this and gave me the recipe (published in my first book 'More For Your Money' - with co-author Erica Griffiths).  Can't remember whether Gill used fresh or dried yeast, and today we could use the 'instant' yeast that just needs adding to the flour.  However, we could try using the 'dried yeast' method in the recipe, using the instant yeast, making a 'frothy mix' with the yeast and liquid before adding.  Apparently, supermarkets that bake bread on the premises normally can give/sell customers some fresh yeast, and tightly wrapped in foil, this will freeze for a few weeks. Thaw before using.
I've copied the recipe as written, so will leave readers to work out the way to make that suits them best...
'Gill makes the best bread I've ever eaten.  She breaks all the rules, which shows you need never be afraid to experiment.  Her bread isn't kneaded, only proves once in the tin, and keeps fresh for several days.  Do try it.  This recipe makes two large loaves.'
Gill's Bread:
1 oz (25g) fresh yeast OR...
...4 tsp dried yeast (see above)
2 tsp sugar
1 pint (570ml) warm water
1.5lb (560g) wholemeal flour
12 oz (350g) strong plain white bread flour
2 rounded tsp salt
1 oz (25g) lard
(tip: to get the temperature of the water just right, mix half a pint of cold water with half a pint of boiling water, then you don't have to bother with thermometers).
Fresh yeast:  crumble the yeast into a bowl, add the sugar and stir until it is liquid. Add the warm water and leave to stand until frothy.
Dried yeast: Dissolve the sugar in the warm water and sprinkle the dried yeast over.  Leave to stand until it has a frothy head (10 - 15 minutes).
Put the flour and salt into a large bowl and rub in the lard. Grease two large loaf tins.  When the yeast is ready, pour it into the flour and stir with a wooden spoon.  Then gather the mixture together with your hands - this is the only 'kneading' necessary.
Divide the mixture into two and press into the two tins.  Slash the dough across the top in several places.  Put the tins in a warm place until the dough has doubled in bulk.  Bake in the oven at 200C, 400G, gas 6 for 30 -35 minutes.  The bread is done if it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Place on a wire rack to cool.

Barbara's mention of 'sticky dough' has reminded me to give this tip.  When making bread, if the dough ends up a bit too 'sticky', then kneading it on a well-floured board (using strong flour to sift onto the board), will help to take up any excess moisture.  Some chefs recommend keeping back a bit of the flour before making the dough, then using this flour to knead into the bread, then the balance of ingredients would be (should be?) perfect.

Was very interested in hearing about baking bread in the microwave buttercup.  Can you give us any details (recipe/timing etc ).  I'd like to give it a try, especially as it sounds perfect for those 'soft-topped' baps that I'm hoping to improve on.

Have to say that covering bread with a tent of foil (shiny side up to reflect away the heat), half-way through cooking does make a lighter coloured golden crust.  Am also finding that if I first heat the oven to 220C (gas 7), then put in the dough and turn the oven down to 180 after five minutes, then leave the bread for another 10 minutes before covering, then continue baking for about 7 minutes longer than the recommended (and recipe given) time, the crust is perfect, the bread sounds hollow when tapped, and the crumb is cooked through.   But all this depends on remembering to keep an eye on the oven temperature, covering the loaf when it needs it, and 'experimenting'.  Not all ovens are the same, or even cool down rapidly when reduced.  My oven is a 'fan' and this can't be switched off (at least I don't know if it can, when we moved here we found no instruction book left in the kitchen).

Your holiday in Morocco sounded wonderful Sarina.  Was hoping to hear about the traditional food served (and eaten?) there, so if you did eat something you enjoyed, please let us know.  When I went to Tunisia, was not myself overly impressed, but I think the hotel was trying to cook 'European', and the 'omellettes' were great thick slabs of egg cooked in large roasting tins.  However, I loved the 'briks' (a raw egg broken onto a circle of filo-type pastry, this folded, sealed and deep-fried), and we did have lamb tagine with couscous, but am sure it could have (should have) tasted better, but they probably thought we wouldn't know it was probably made using goat (I saw a lot of goats....).

Your craft room sounds interesting Taaleedee.  What crafts are you interested in.  Wish my B would let me paint some furniture, but he is very dyed-in-the-wool when it comes to wood.  Always leave it 'au naturel' (I suppose is the expression), he would only allow wood furniture to be either oiled or varnished and then polished.  He likes to see the grain. 
Wood of course is lovely, but only when kept in good condition.  We can make really grotty furniture look wonderful when painted (I've seen this done several times on Kirstie Allsopp's progs). This dining room would look a lot larger and lighter if all the dark wood (almost ceiling height - it has a delft rail with white above) was painted magnolia or something. However, it looks pretty magnificent as it is, and goes well with our huge dark oak dresser (sideboard), and Regency (type) table.  At least the carpet is pale cream (and how I wish it wasn't, it shows every mark).

Yes Joy, role-playing has got me through many 'don't want to do this' times.  I'm the sort of person who never seems to finish what they started, my home-made skirts, well-made up to the last bit, often always ended up being fastened with a nappy pin, rather than fitting a zip.  Usually in too much of a hurry to wear it I suppose.  Eventually did fit a zip or button (and button hole).   Once remember going out with an artist friend (who wanted to be more than a friend if you get my drift), and - having not finished the skirt I wanted to wear - stitched up the side opening by hand (where the zip should be).  Just as well I did as the skirt was tight-fitting, and when it came to crunch time, had to apologise as there was no way I could remove my skirt (or even lift it), and perhaps, subconsciously, I was making sure I would be 'secure, just in case'.   Hope I haven't offended readers with this bit of info, but it was a long time ago, and quite honestly I found it very amusing then (as fortunately did my artist friend), and even more so now.  Which is why I share it with you. 

It's almost as though I was back in 'the old days' what with so many repeats on TV at the moment. 'Tenko' is coming to an end, and this is one thoroughly enjoyed.  'Birds of a Feather' I'm also enjoying (both on Freeview 20, 'Drama'). Now it seems that the BBC is returning to the past (and not just Dad's Army, and 'Only Fools...'.).  This week sees the start of the repeats of 'Keeping up Appearances' (BBC1), and 'Are you Being Served', followed by 'Allo, Allo' (BBC 2). both in the  afternoons.
Yesterday watched most of them (some over-lapped), and although expecting to enjoy them as much as originally, found them not as good as hoped.  Maybe too much to enjoy at any one time. I'd love to see repeats of 'The Brittas Empire', 'Hi-di-Hi', and 'Ever Decreasing Circles'.  Believe some of these are shown on other channels but not ones we can get (we only have Freeview).

If all my favourite progs were repeated, I'd never be away from the TV.  As it is I watch too much, esp. now my knees are playing up, sometimes it is so painful walking that I can barely get across the room, even with the help of my stick.  Once I am up and moving, the pain does lessen (a bit), so probably it is more exercise needed.  Will try.   Did hope that weight loss would help me to become more mobile, but oddly my mobility has become worse over the past few years (and after a loss of 5 stone), and walking has become almost a no-no (outdoors).  I do have some 'good days', but these are now few and far between.  Suppose it's just old age creeping up on me (what do I mean 'creeping'? At the moment it seems to be arriving faster than a greyhound could run).  Still, there's life in the old dog yet.

Not everyone has a garden and able to grow their own soft fruits.  Not everyone is able to go out into the country and forage for those 'free' hedgerow fruits.  But if you wistfully wish for the taste of home-made and have no other ingredients other than what is in the larder (plus cooking apples and onions, root ginger, bananas etc bought from the supermarket) then it is still possible to put 'home-made' on the table, and be proud of it.

This first recipe is very adaptable as we can use different dried fruits according to what we have in our store cupboard (dried dates, mangoes, apricots, prunes, figs, sultanas, raisins... - all cut into even sized pieces - an easy way is to give the larger ones a quick blitz in the food processor).  Incidentally, when seeking cider vinegar on Tesco's website, it seemed they didn't have any.  However, they did have 'cyder' vinegar.  Sometimes how something is spelled makes a lot of difference.  Tesco don't sell cous-cous, but they do sell couscous! 
Anytime Chutney: makes about 5 lb
1lb 7oz( 675g) mixed dried fruit (see above)
3lb (1.3kg) cooking apples, peeled, chopped
1lb (450g) onions, chopped
1lb 7oz (675g) light brown soft sugar
3 - 4 cloves garlic (or to taste), crushed
2 oz (50g) fresh root ginger, finely chopped
3 tsp chilli flakes
1.5 pints (850ml) cider vinegar
Put all the ingredients into a preserving pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, stirring all the time.  Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes until thick, and keep stirring regularly during this time.  When chutney is ready it should be possible to draw the wooden spoon across the base of the pan and it leaves a path behind it.  If the chutney flows back immediately behind the spoon it is not thick enough.  Boil it for a bit longer and try again.
When ready, spoon the chutney into hot, sterilized jars, and seal with vinegar-proof lids.  Store in a cool place for up to a year.  Once opened, keep in the fridge and eat within a month.

Like the above, this next preserve can be made at any time of the year and a good way to use bananas that are close to being over-ripe.  It's best to use the old-fashioned, fully dried apricots rather than the no-soak variety, but at a pinch the no-soak could be used (but still soak them with the raisins).
Anytime Jam: makes about 5 lb
8 oz (225g) dried apricots, chopped
1lb (450g) raisins or sultanas (or mixture)
1lb (450g) dates, chopped
1lb (450g) bananas, chopped or mashed
4lb (1.8kg) light brown soft sugar
Put the apricots and raisins in a bowl and cover them with water.  Leave overnight to soak up as much moisture as possible, then next day drain well and place these fruits with the dates and bananas in a preserving pan.  Keeping the heat low, simmer and stir for 15 minutes.  Add the sugar and continue heating until the sugar has dissolved and it begins to boil, raise the heat to 'rapid boiling' and cook until setting point has been reached (see below).  Pour into warm, sterilized jars, then seal. Store for up to a year, but once opened, store in the fridge and eat within a month.

There are several ways to discover the 'setting point', myself tend to rely on last once given (the drips that come off the wooden spoon when lifted from the pan.  Once the last drip hangs of the spoon and refuses to drop, then - as far as I'm concerned - this means it has reached 'setting point').
1) test the temperature using a sugar thermometer (first dip this into hot water before putting into the jam).  Setting point will be when the jam has reached 105C/220F.
2) put 1 teaspoon of the jam onto a chilled plate and leave it to cool for a minute, push it with your finger and is the surface wrinkles the preserve is ready.  Or run the handle of the teaspoon through the blob of jam.  If - like when making chutney - the 'pathway' stays clear and doesn't fill up rapidly again, the jam is setting.
3) dip a wooden spoon into the jam, remove and raise it above the pan to allow it to cool slightly.  As the surplus jam drips from the spoon, check to see if it runs off easily. When the last drip clings to the spoon and refuses to drop, the jam is then ready to pot.

Not sure whether I've mentioned this before, but when wishing to 'mash' bananas (for baking or for toast/sarnies), myself find it less messy to crush the banana - still in its skin - with my fingers, gently pressing it all over.  This mashes it internally - before it has been peeled.  All I do then is remove the skin and plop the banana where I wish it to be, working it smoother with a fork as necessary.  Saves washing up that extra bowl (or - with me - even getting up from my chair and fetching a bowl).  Occasionally, if the banana is already fairly ripe, this 'massaging' sometimes splits the skin lengthways, but the flesh still stays within bounds.

When we have a surplus of bananas, try freezing one or two still in the skin.  The skin will turn black, but the flesh stays fairly solid and on a hot day, can be peeled back - leaving enough at the base to hold - and the banana eaten like a frozen lolly.  When thawed, use the banana as you would normally, and particularly good for mashing/baking etc.

My Beloved was pottering the garden yesterday and discovered a bush that had loads of small red berries on it.  He brought me in a stem and the berries looked exactly like red-currants, but each held singly along the stem, not in clusters.  As he was going to the library, asked him to call in at the local (council) garden centre to see if they knew what the plant was, and if the berries were edible.  They checked their books and could not place it otherwise than it was probably a climber and maybe a clematis. 
Not that I'm planning to use the fruit (leave it for the birds) but if a reader knows what the plant might be and gives me a name so that I can look it up on the Internet, maybe I'll find out - if  it is the same - the fruits are edible for humans.  They look so sweet and tempting, and as I said EXACTLY like redcurrants (same size as well).  It would be a pity to let them go to waste if they can be used.

The weather is set to turn colder over the next few days, and other than the possible need to put the heating on for a few hours each day (but not necessarily), am quite pleased as the house seems to feel a bit 'damp' and maybe that is what is causing my painful joints.  My knee pained me in bed last night and when sliding my leg over to the cold side of the mattress (the duvet had not covered that bit), this certainly seemed to relieve the pan.  So maybe cold is what I need.  Activity  here I come!

Today am planning to sort out my larder and also fridge and freezer (I keep saying I'm going to do this, but something else got in the way, and maybe role-playing today will get the job done). 

The Food Programme this week (Radio 4) was chatting about slow-cookers and pressure cookers.  Myself have never been over-fond of using a pressure cooker, although did have one in use for years. Somehow the flavour of meat isn't quite as good as when slow roasted (or slow-cooked in a crock-pot), but use my slow cooker all year round.  As they said, these 'crock-pots' use only the same electricity as a light bulb, so are extremely economical with fuel, and having a hot meal ready and waiting to be eaten on return home from work is the best thing since sliced bread.

That's it for today, will probably be back again tomorrow as am beginning to miss my daily chats, but - as I said before - am finding it a lot more relaxing writing as and when, rather than forcing myself to blog each day when I have nothing of interest to share.  You'll probably feel all the above hasn't been of much interest anyway, but there you go, there is very little that goes on in the Goode Life now we are retired (but do wives every really 'retire', I find I am expected to do the same as I've always done, while B tends to spend his time now relaxing, doing what he wants to do and nothing else.  But would I have it any other way? 

Have a good day, and please keep those comments coming.  The more we can share the more it widens our horizons and often can inspire us to take up new crafts, cook new things, learn even more ways to save money.  Life wouldn't be the same (or as good) if we didn't keep 'meeting up'.  TTFN.