Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Time for a Change

Decided to blog today and not tomorrow (as Norma will be here early).  The weather changed dramatically during the night, it's now raining, cloudy (of course) which has cooled down the air, and very windy.  The lawn is covered in dead leaves (as will be the street).   The kitchen is so dark that I'll now have to have the ceiling lights on each day when working there, all 12 of them!

Luckily I switched the radio on close to lunch-time yesterday and heard an interesting talk about fuel saving (mainly heating the house) and was thrilled to hear Frugal Queen being asked her views.  How good it is to put a voice to a 'blog' (if you know what I mean).

Most of the advice given by experts and those who phoned in dealt mostly with double-glazing (or lack of it), solar panels, cavity-wall insulation etc.  There was one glaring omission that I waited for and it was never mentioned.  Perhaps too old fashioned, and in some cases not able to be fitted now, although I have seen 'mock' ones fitted outside windows.  What I'm talking about is shutters.

Many years ago we were staying with my aunt and uncle in Falmouth (a fairly warm place at the best of times), and my uncle was complaining about the loss of heat through the windows (double glazing for all and sundry was a fairly new - and expensive - thing).  Even with the thick curtains drawn, he said he felt chilled.  As their house was Georgian style (and probably was of that era), and I'd noticed that there were shutters inside, folded back into a recess either side of the window, I asked if they were ever used, as that what they were there for - to keep in the heat and nosy eyes away.  He said he'd never thought of it.  The shutters still worked and later that year he began using them and said they really worked well, the room was warm as toast with just the small coal fire.

Mock shutters fitted outside are usually of the louvre type, but if the back of them had a thin sheet of flat plywood fitted, and the shutters could be closed, then these too could be used as insulation.  In France (maybe other warmer countries) I remember there were often shutters fitted outside, but the interior window always opened inwards, so they could be opened, the shutters pulled shut from indoors, and the windows then closed over them.  They probably didn't have (or need) curtains.

I've seen quite a few adverts for louvre shutters for (say) conservatories etc.  These look attractive from the front, but could easily be fitted with plain plywood behind to give the insulation required, and maybe these fitted over windows might prove cheaper than double glazing.  Not every window is suitable, and not everyone would want to bother.

Certainly curtains do help.  Not just heavy lined curtains, but net curtains also.  In fact TWO layers of net curtains work far better than one.  It's all to do with still air that can be trapped between the window glass and the room.  With no window open to let in cold air, the room will stay much warmer and still let in daylight, just draw thick and preferably full length curtains over as soon as it gets dark (or even earlier).

Our dining room (now called B's TV room) is always warm-ish during the winter, even though there is no central heating.  I put this down to it being wood panelled, the patio doors double glazed, and the two small windows also double glazed, these both having a roller blind as well (to keep the sun off the comp (and now the TV).  Am planning to hang curtains over the patio doors this winter, and who knows, we might just live in here instead of the true living room.   Actually, that's not a good idea as we've been told that B's TV can be heard in the room above (the 'upstairs' bedroom), and they are requesting (politely) that we switch it off by midnight.  Was expecting that as B is going very deaf (certainly in one ear) and wants the TV turned up far louder than I care to have it, but hoping the sound didn't carry (they can't hear our other TV but then our living room has a suspended, sound-proof ceiling,  much of the dining room is mainly moulded copper, a fashion of that time, and now painted white). 
With 'upstairs' expecting a baby next month, we certainly don't want to cause any extra noise (I can cope with hearing a baby cry).  B is grumpy about it, but understands and now retires to bed before 11pm (which he always used to before he got 'his' TV and could enjoy late films on the 'wide screen').

Anyway, back to food chat.  Several of you feel the same way - Jamie's idea of budget is not ours.  It's all to do with how much money is normally spent I suppose.  When used to paying out a lot more (per portion), then £1.50 could be seen as almost paupers level.  Have seen recipe pages where the meals were shown as 'cost almost next to nothing', but to me they still cost a lot (this depending upon which rung of the financial ladder we sit).

In the old days it was the difference in 'class' that was often shown by food served.  Food then was expensive compared to what it is now, although rural folk got a lot of free 'extra's (rabbits, game birds, hedgerow fruits and nuts, edible herbage, mushrooms etc).  The wealthy ate well, even the upper (and lower) middle class didn't do too badly (the measure of wealth was shown by the size of the wife.  The fatter she was, the more money they had!), but the poor often ended up with just potatoes, bread and scrape.

Now it seems that being able to afford something has nothing to do with 'class'.  The 'nouveau riche' of today are likely to be boy bands (maybe some coming from quite humble homes), footballers (ditto), and many people who have worked hard for a living, who might once have owned their own businesses, but fallen by the wayside due to EU regs and banks refusing to help, now can't even afford to buy food (hence the rise of the Foodbanks).  Please don't accuse me of being 'classist', I'm just pointing out how things have changed during the last century.

The most wealthy (like those who own stately homes) are today extremely poor when it comes to actual money they can get hold of. Their fortune is tied up in their property, and this keeps needing repair.  Thankfully, almost threadbare carpets and shappy curtains don't look out of place when in a stately home, but can you imagine anyone in a high-rise council house having these?  No, they'd want new ones. (And I'm not saying that living in a council property is a bad thing, just that today we all like our homes to look as good as we can afford). When the lords of the manor dies, huge death duties have to be paid by his heirs (each and every time), and this usually means selling some antiques and paintings that have been in the family for centuries, and quite a lot of land.  No wonder many mansions are now being taken over by the National Trust, the original owners (and descendants) still being allowed to live in part of the house.

Of course there are people who believe that no-one should own such large estates, but really they are only the caretakers, the estate having to be handed down, and down, and down, each time with death duties being paid, over time the death duties no doubt adding up to a great deal more than the property is worth. 

Our 'class system' has always fascinated me.  Helped along by watching the period dramas of times past.  I love to see Dickens novels (Bleak House especially good), Jane Austen (Pride and Predjudice etc)and of course Mr. Selfridge, Upstairs, Downstairs, and now Downton Abbey.  Am finding delight in watching (again) Lark Rise to Candleford. As ever, I'd feel much more comfortable 'downstairs', in the kitchen, as 'upstairs' seems incredibly boring if you were a woman.  Even in 'Lark Rise...' I'd prefer the harder life living in the hamlet rather than Candleford.

For goodness sake, silly me rambling on about something that is bound to get a bad reaction, how dare I mention class difference, how dare I think that people would prefer to buy a new carpet rather than spend the money on something more sensible.  Mentioned because I remember how it used to be and that's all I'm referring to.  Times have changed, not always for the better, but we are all free to live our lives as we wish. 

Coming back to how it is today.  In my case still how it was yesterday and last century, and all my married life.  Always I ask my Beloved what he would like for his supper.  Usually he just gives the main ingredient (fish, chicken, beef, etc), then I provide him with a choice of dishes.  Yesterday it was "have you any fish?"  Yes, of course I had, in the freezer, so B had a choice of:  Fish Risotto, Kedgeree,  Prawn Cocktail, Thai Green (or red) Prawn Curry, Kippers,  Fish Cakes, poached Salmon with Salad, Fish Pie, or Battered Haddock and Oven Chips with peas.  He chose the latter.

Am wondering if all wives/partners ask their husbands what they'd like to eat for their main meal, Or do they just have a good idea of likes and dislikes, then cook what they feel like cooking on the day, the 'partner' (I hate that term), not knowing (unless he asks) until it is put in front of him?  Please let me know.
Have to say that 99% of the time I ALWAYS ask my B what he would like to eat.  Sometimes he tells me before I get a chance to ask.  Very occasionally (like today) I will make what I choose (today being Chilli Con Carne) because I have a fancy of eating it too.  B will be told before I start so that I can make him something else if he wishes (I can always freeze surplus chilli - and maybe I've already got some in the freezer - really must check).

Perhaps a bit late to suggest ways of using up your mushrooms b uttercup, but myself find them very good for making  Mushroom Strogonoff.  Slice the mushrooms and pretend they are slices of tender beef.  I often add a little beef stock to the pan to give them a 'meaty taste'.

Yesterday, having a few closed cap mushrooms (slightly larger than button, leaving a gap when the stalk has been removed), I was reminded of Shirley Conran's advice "life's too short to stuff a mushroom".  Her book 'Superwoman' really helped me get on top of housekeeping, in a way showing me that many things were not that important. But when it comes to mushroom stuffing, I think she is wrong.  Stuffed mushrooms taste wonderful, and I'd far rather stuff a mushroom than hoover the carpet. 

Even so, she could have a point, so yesterday took three of the mushrooms, removed the stalks (ate these), an in the centre of one put a little squirt of HP sauce, in the second a squirt of salad cream, in the third a squirt of that 'fiery chilli' ketchup I so love.  Have to say, biting into each was an experience that I enjoyed, the 'squirts' added plenty of flavour and I could have eaten an assorted plateful with pleasure.  A lot less time squirting a 'filling' into mushrooms than it would take to stuff them.

In our larder I have a large (300g Nescafe) jar full of dried mushrooms.  These I dried myself in the oven, and a good way to store the surplus 'fresh'.   Dried mushrooms last for up to 2 years, and great to add to stews, sauces and many other dishes.
There are three ways to dry mushrooms:
If you have regular heat, string the mushrooms up using a needle and strong thread, then hang above a stove/boiler, or in a warm and dry, airy room for (say) 2 weeks until they feel thoroughly dry.
Or slice, arrange n a rack in a single layer, and leave in the airing cupboard until dry.
The third way (the way I use) is to slice, arrange on a wire rack in a single layer, and leave in a cool oven (140C/gas 1) for 6 - 10 hours until dry.
Then store in an airtight container and check regularly.  Can be used dried by adding directly to stews and soups (where they will absorb liquid as they cook) or rehydrate by soaking in hot water for 15-30 minutes.

We have a large patch of mushrooms growing on our lawn at the moment.  Wish I knew if they were edible, but not taking the risk.  They are growing close together, looking like fairy parasols, the caps being a coffee brown in colour. 
Apparently there is evidence that mushrooms have existed on earth for millions of years, perhaps even before the dinosaurs.  And as they seem to live on rotting wood etc, this is yet another way that Nature does her housekeeping.  Everything recycled to keep the rest of the earth as fresh and tidy as possible.  There has to be some intelligence behind all that somewhere.

Oh, alright, there has to be a recipe for stuffed mushrooms for those who wish to live a hard life (and I'm only joking). Here is one of them, but feel free to use a little less bacon (or none) if you want to save a few pennies:
Double Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms: serves 2 - 4
4 large flat mushrooms
1 tblsp olive oil
4 rashers bacon, chopped
2 oz (50g) butter
6 spring onions (or two shallots) chopped
2 oz (50g) breadcrumbs
2 oz (50g) cheddar cheese, grated
5 oz (150g) cream cheese with garlic/herbs
Remove the stalks from the mushroom, and chop these finely.  Brush the outsides of the mushrooms (cap and gills) with the oil and put onto a baking tray, gill side up.
Fry the bacon in the butter over medium heat until beginning to crisp, then add the chopped stalks and onions and fry for a further minute.
Remove from heat, stir in the breadcrumbs and grated cheddar, then set aside.  Divide the soft cheese into four and spoon/spread onto each mushroom.  Top with the breadcrumb mixture.   Bake at 190C, gas 4 for 15 minutes or until golden.

Here's 'posh' if you want to impress guests when serving the humble mushroom.  For a personal light lunch or supper dish it would work without the pastry, and a good way to use those semi-dried tomatoes (recipe given recently) but if you want to impress...
Mushrooms en Croute: serves 4
12 oz (350g) ready-rolled puff pastry
4 large flat mushrooms
4 tblsp green pesto
8 sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
5 oz (150g) soft goats (or cream) cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
Cut pastry into four rectangles, placing a mushroom in the centre of each.  Mix together the pesto sauce, tomatoes,  cheese and seasoning, then spoon this mixture on top of each mushroom.
Brush the edges of the pastry with milk, then bring the sides to meet each other over the top and press firmly together to seal.  Place on a baking tray, brush the pastry with beaten egg, then bake at 220C, gas 7 for 20 minutes.

Here is a recipe for mushroom sauce that goes well with pasta.  The original recipe used 1 tblsp fresh oregano (marjoram is almost the same), but the Barefoot Contessa recommends using dried as it is not so strong, and I agree with this. The open, dark-gilled, nearly past their best mushrooms are the ones to use for this dish as they absorb the flavours better, and it ends up a richer sauce.
Although the recipe doesn't suggest this, most chefs (and cooks, myself included) always add garlic towards the end of the onion cooking as garlic burns very quickly. 
Mushroom Sauce: serves 4
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tblsp olive oil
11 oz (300g) mushrooms. sliced
4 fl oz (100ml) red wine
7 fl oz (200ml) passata
1 tblsp tomato paste
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dried oregano (see above)
salt and pepper
Fry the shallots and garlic in the oil over medium heat for a few minutes until softened. Add the mushrooms, raise the heat and fry for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Pour in the wine and when it begins to bubble, stir in the remaining ingredients.  Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 or so minutes until the sauce is thick and smooth (you can blend it if you wish it even smoother).   

Several times I've cooked pig's trotters Stephanie, but not recently.  They make very good 'jelly', perfect when wishing to make a pork pie (this you could make using your gammon shank).  My version of 'pork pie' is more like the trad. 'fidget pie'.  Using the food processor I whizz up a rasher or two of bacon with a pork chop (or piece of gammon), maybe even adding the meat from a skinned sausage (or two), then add grated apple, some grated onion, a pinch of ground (or crushed) dried sage, then pack it tightly into a pastry case (I tend to use shortcrust pastry that has lined a small loaf (or round cake) tin, covering with a pastry lid.   When the pie is cooked (timing depends upon the size), I let it get cold then pour in the liquid jelly through a hole in the top.  Chill and set and then turn out, eat and enjoy.   If you want a detailed recipe, let me know.

Pigs trotters also contain meat, so this could be removed and added to the other ingredients for the pork pie.  Myself find no reason why both freshly cooked (cooled) and raw meat should not be put together in the pie because it will all be thoroughly cooked again anyway.  As long as the cooking is done immediately and not left hanging around for a day in the fridge.

That's it for today.  Off now to make the Chilli, then B can heat it up when he returns from the gym. Me, I'll be watching Tenko!  Last episode of this series, but the next begins tomorrow. 
Have to finish by letting you all know that although eagerly waiting for '....Bake Off' yesterday evening, I fell asleep (again!) about 5 minutes after it began and woke about one minute before it finished.  Why can't I concentrate on it any more?  Never happened to me with the previous series.

Won't be blogging tomorrow, but expect to be back again on Friday.  Hope you can find time to join me then.