Monday, October 28, 2013

What's in it for Me?

Yesterday took a look at the ingredients listed on the back of the pack of one 'Breaded Scampi  'bites', flavoured with lemon). Showed it to B, pointing out that when something is being sold for such a good offer, there is more to it than meets the eye.  Home-made breaded scampi would be made from large jumbo prawns or lobster tails with just a coating of (perhaps flour, egg, breadcrumbs). 
For the 'buy one get two free' offer of the scampi bites we got a whole lot more than that.  Here is what was printed on the back of the pack:
Scampi core (that's the fish part of the bites, and the front of the pack said 'formed fish'): (scampi 16.5%, Mixed White Fish 16%, Water, Oat fibre, Salt, Stabilisers, Sodium Carbonate, Citric Acid, Cornflour).    And that's just the fish part, not even 100% of it fish - which we'd get if we made them ourselves.

The breaded coating is listed as: Coating (Wheat Flour, Water, Rice Flour, Maize Starch, Wheat Gluten, Modified Maize Starch, Salt, Wheat Starch, Dextrose, Lemon Powder, Sugar, Flavouring, Yeast, Vegetable Oil, Citric Acid, Potato Starch, Lemon Oil.  Colour: Curcumin, Raising Agents: Disodium Diphosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate, White Pepper), Vegetable Oil.  

We expect to get what we pay for, and perhaps no law was broken when the pack said 'Breaded' before Scampi as the coating was 66.5% of each piece (the main part or ingredient should always come first), but after reading the ingredients felt that what was bought was what not was intended.  B initially pointed out that each 'scampi' (at the offer price) worked out at less that 9p each "so surely they were worth it?" He changed his mind after he had eaten his 10 (nearly a £'s worth).   Funny how what seems so cheap, when added up suddenly becomes expensive, especially when you feel you've eaten rubbish.  Live and learn.  He won't do that again.  I hope.

Bought a chicken from Morrison's.  Didn't need a whole chicken as I have many chicken breasts in the freezer, but I DID need to make chicken stock and also freeze away thickly sliced chicken (in gravy) to make 'roast chicken' meals for B later.
Asked B to bring a large chicken, and it weighed 2.5kg (that's about 5lb).  The larger the bird the more flesh on the bones.  After roasting and giving B one leg (drumstick and thigh attached), cooled the rest and after chilling in the fridge, carved it up.  One side of the breast I sliced along the length, this worked fairly well but the sliced tended to break into half.  The other side I sliced across working from the narrow end (back end?) and this was MUCH more successful, lovely thick slices, none of them breaking, so perhaps - for years - I've been carving chickens incorrectly.  

The carcase - of course!!! - was put into a large pot with a couple of carrots (cut into large chunks), a rib of celery (ditto), and an onion (cut in half).  Added two bay leaves, topped with the (jellied) juices that I'd drained from the roasting pan, about three pints of water poured over (to just about cover the bones), then left to simmer for a couple of hours.  What a gorgeous smell kept wafting in from the kitchen when it had reached its peak.  After draining through a colander, the big bowl of stock was left to cool then put into the fridge to chill.  The chicken fat (I could see quite a bit on top - this came from the skins and internal fat) will be carefully removed and kept in the fridge to use for frying.  The remaining stock will be checked for 'jell' then re-boiled to reduce down (by half if not 'jelled' enough) to then put into small containers (I use empty cream cheese tubs with their lids), cool again then freeze.   I use LOADS of chicken stock,  adding it to soups, risottos, curries, chicken casseroles....
A tomato 'cuppa soup' tastes really good when made with boiling chicken stock and not water.  More nourishing too.

A thanks to Pam and Sarnia (who both commented on the cassoulet).  It's true that we don't eat enough pulses, these being some of the cheapest ingredients we can keep in our larders.  One tip though - despite dried beans having a '' (normally these dates mean foods are still OK to use months if not years after this date), the older a dried bean gets, the longer it takes to cook, and if too old will never soften at all, so best always to cook these within the date time, or shortly after to get the best results (extra cooking takes extra fuel so the less time taken also makes sense).

As meat becomes more (and more) expensive, we are now beginning to buy the cheaper cuts of beef, that have - in my opinion - an even better flavour than the expensive rump or fillet steaks. But even these are costing more.  
Was watching a repeat of (I think) Rick Stein who was cooking veal sweetbreads and saying how good they were, but although we can now buy veal produced in this country, the farmers throw the sweetbreads away and these have to be imported from Holland.  What's the sense in that?  Who makes the rules that says we can't sell our home-produced sweetbreads?

With even the cheaper cuts now costing as much as a roast joint some years back, we now have to either turn vegetarian to balance our food budget, or buy less meat and eat this less often.  Nothing wrong with that.  Certainly, in a casserole, just a little quality meat will flavour the whole dish.  Why use more?  Make up the shortfall by using more vegetables, and include pulses (because these also contain vegetable protein easily absorbed by the body when eaten with an animal protein).

Slow-cooking is the ultimate 'fast food' because you can't get a meal on the table faster than one that is ready and waiting to serve on your return from work.  So here is a recipe that I've given before (probably some years ago), but this time the potato topping, normally added half-way through the cooking, is added at the end.  We can only add things to a slow-cooker if we are at home.  Out all day and we have to plan the meal differently.
My suggestion this time round is that the potato slices are first cooked, then covered and left in the fridge. Shortly before serving, place the slices on top of the (now-cooked) casserole then pop the completed dish under a pre-heated medium grill for 4 - 5 minutes to brown and crisp the spuds (you can lay the table while this is happening).

Please don't dismiss this recipe because the list of ingredients seems endless.  Most of them are there to add flavour, and if there is something you don't have (sherry?) then just leave it out.  But always make sure the total liquid content remains the same.

Vary the proportions and types of beans according to what you have in your larder, kidney beans, red beans, borlotti beans, cannellini beans, all work well, and can be used instead of those listed, or mixed with them.  Instead of using green beans, sugar snap or mangetout peas make a good alternative.
We can - of course - use canned tomatoes (rubbed through a sieve) in place of the passata, and water instead of apple juice.  Knowing my readers I expect many of you will completely change the recipe and end up with one better (tasting) than the original.  Go for it!

Sweet and Sour Bean Hot-Pot: serves 6
1 lb (450g) unpeeled potatoes
1 tblsp olive oil
2 oz (50g) butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 oz (50g) plain flour
half pint (300ml) passata
4 fl oz (100ml) apple juice
4 tblsp soft,light brown sugar
4 tblsp tomato ketchup
4 tblsp dry sherry
4 tblsp cider vinegar
4 tblsp soy sauce
1 x 400g can butter beans
1 x 400g can flageolet beans
1 x 400g can chickpeas
6 oz (175g) green beans, cut into 1"/2.5cm lengths
8 oz (225g) mushrooms, sliced
1 tblsp each fresh chopped marjoram and thyme
salt and pepper
Firstly, thinly slice the potatoes and boil for 5 minutes until al dente.  Drain well and refresh in cold water to stop further cooking.  Drain well again and drizzle the oil over to coat, then place in a bowl and cover until ready to top the casserole.
Melt the butter in a pan and gently fry the shallots for about 5 minutes, then stir in the flour. Cook for one minute, stirring all the time, then gradually stir in the passata, followed by the apple juice, sugar, ketchup, sherry, vinegar, and soy sauce.   Bring to the boil, stirring all the time, until thickened, then remove from heat and set aside.
Rinse the beans and chickpeas and drain well before placing them in the ceramic pot of the slow-cooker.  Add the green beans and the mushrooms and pour over the (above made) sauce. Fold this in to coat everything, then cover with the lid and cook on High for five hours.
Remove the dish from its heating container and place the sliced potatoes on top, overlapping slightly so that the contents are completely covered, then place under a pre-heated medium grill and cook for 4 - 5 minutes until the spuds are browned and beginning to crisp at the edges.   Serve, garnished with the herbs.

However good a recipe may look/seem, we usually then first ask ourselves "what's in it for me" (or what I/we enjoy eating).  Having asked ourselves that and found it wanting,  we should still keep trying something new or we may be missing something really good.  However, when money is short and food prices high, we don't want to make a mistake (like the above 'scampi'). Perhaps better the devil we know rather than the devil we don't.  
There is a saying 'The devil is in the detail', so perhaps 'our' particular devilishly good meal (which might be nothing more than good plain traditional hot-pot) could be prettied up to make it look a lot more special.  It's details like that which can make all the difference.  I'll leave you with that thought.

Despite the horrendous weather forecast, it does seem that this time we have been lucky enough to get away with high winds.  These have now dropped and it is raining.  The really bad weather is expected to be further south under a diagonal line from the south-west to the north-east.  Apparently trains, planes have been cancelled ready for the onset of the bad weather (expected as I write), and hopefully it will be short-lived.  Sympathies go to any readers who live in the worst hit areas.

Yesterday watched the final episode of 'The Great British Year'.  This time it covered autumn, with a final few minutes showing snow and frost covering the countryside.  Again am amazed at how beautiful our small island is, and credit given to all the cameramen who managed to get some superb shots of good weather etc, as the series was shot during the worst year of (especially summer) weather we have had since records began.  If only our seasons could be always as depicted in the best weather shots. 
It was good to see how Nature manages her housekeeping, with the worms pulling the leaves into the soil to recycle them, and especially something called '....slime' (full name forgotten) that did a final tidying up.  Even things without brains seem to know exactly what to do to find food, and how to pro-create effectively, above all keep the natural world in balance.  There has be some intelligence behind all this.  Why are we here?  Wish I knew/we knew then maybe life could only get better.

Daughter has just arrived so must go and spend some time with her (she's not been well), and hopefully will be back with you again tomorrow.  Please join me.  TTFN.