Wednesday, November 27, 2013

'A Bit of This, a Bit of That...!'

Woke this morning to find I'd had another allergic attack from (presumably) something I ate.  At least I rarely get them these days now the doctor removed Ramipril from my prescription.  However, the other two B.P. pills I take also have the same side effects, so maybe these still build up in my body. If I'd taken three anti-hists before I went to bed, probably there would only be a slight swelling.
At the moment my bottom lip is protruding like a grouper's  and both cheeks are swollen.  Have to wear a bib when I took a drink to take my pills this morning as the swelling makes me dribble.
It'll be back to normal by mid-afternoon, but will not go out for a scoot as planned as I don't like people staring at me - even in sympathy.   Plenty of kitchen work to do as I'll be making lots of tray-bakes in a week or two for the local Foodbank (they have several open evenings planned and I'm also making lots of gingerbread men (or is that now not PC and it should be gingerbread 'persons'?) to hand out to the children.  Need to clear at least one drawer of the chest freezer to store some of the cakes, so that means another clear and sort out of said freezer (also Boris).

Was not so familiar with the Loughborough side of Leicester Barbara, my 'stamping ground' was mainly Bradgate Park and the Market Harborough side (Foxton Locks etc).  B was born in Leicester so knows it well, and my mother was also born in Leicester, as was most of her immediate ancestors. It was fun to check the census records and then drive past the homes that they all lived in (mainly in the outlying villages).  Many were framework knitters and worked from their own homes.

Of my early years living in Coventry, my most vivid memories were of the war - especially the Coventry blitz, but worse for my parents who really knew what could/might happen.  Remember my mother every day giving her home a thorough clean and polish a she 'wasn't going to let anyone know her home was a mess when it was bombed'.  Myself never felt too unsafe as my dad had built an Anderson shelter in the garden where we went to every night for weeks and weeks, and as he said we'd be safe in there, I knew we would be.  It was when daylight raids began unexpectedly and my mother pushed me under the stairs for shelter that I got really terrified (we lived under the flight path and the planes would start dropping their bombs as soon as they reached the houses - we were one road away from the countryside).

Everyone seems to love Sticky Lemon Cake Alison, in fact anything lemony makes good eating (whether a sweet or savoury dish). 
Was very pleased to read your memories of your childhood, and the same thing seem to be happening with all the readers who write in about similar things (the old, cold days when there was no central heating).  Just EVERYONE remembers how much fun life was then, and cold weather was not so much of a problem (because everyone sensibly wrapped up warm?).  Am pretty sure that the next generation will hear about how dreadful life was for their parents and grandparents because they couldn't keep warm, fuel poverty, how people had to rely on foodbanks etc.  Perhaps youngsters today have become to rely on others far too much.  In the 'old days' everyone had to learn how to cope, and cope well they did on what today is considered real poverty.

How strange it is that we have become a nation of having to always rely on others.  Have you noticed that most new-builds now have no open fire-places.  They may have such luxuries as under-floor heating and power-showers et al, but it all costs money to use these.  With an open fire you can burn almost anything that will burn (safely).
Today elf and safety would never allow a young person get a fire started by covering up the opening (to a just-lit fire) with a sheet of newspaper.  I was usually given this job as it would then cause the fire so suck up more air from underneath and very soon flames would appear - and not just in the fire, the paper also caught fire and can you imagine children holding that?  We just used to throw it back onto the fire where it rapidly burnt to ash.   I never did get burnt even though (by today's standards) this was dangerous.  In even older days they would have used bellows to puff air under the grate.  Sometimes I would lie on the floor with my face close to the coals and blow and blow, puff and puff until I was worn out, this too worked, but not as well as the newspaper.

Those of us (like Alison) who have learned 'necessary' skills such as knitting, sewing, cooking, growing food etc, always have these to fall back on in times of need, although most of us continue to use them even when there is no financial need.  They are just fun to do and give a great sense of achievement (which is lacking these days). This feeling of pleasure comes across so often in your comments and gives me a real glow when I read them.
Yet, how often do we hear about parents who are fretting because they now don't have enough money to buy their children the presents they think they deserve (like computer games etc).  One of the most-liked presents I gave my first grandson was a very cheap stamp album and a packet of used stamps.  He absolutely LOVED it, saved stamps for years and earned a badge from Cubs because of it.  Yet I remember his mother (my daughter) certainly made me feel I'd been mean not spending enough money on his gift.  Maybe she was right, or was it that I just had a bit more experience of what truly a child will enjoy?

Readers of this blog who use skills (or re-learn them) will all have far more contentment in their lives than any who have plenty of money to splash around.  We don't need money to be truly happy. It's in our genes to carry on creating thing and be independent of others.  My B says, "the one thing about having money is that we can be unhappy in comfort".  By 'we' he means 'he'.  I am far happier when having to cope. B doesn't like 'coping', he prefers a good life, but has never reached the heights he has always wished for (but could never be bothered to work hard for).  His way is to sit back and wait to win the Lottery.  Then keep moaning until he does.  |He is almost a clone of Victor Meldrew at times.

Yesterday I very nearly felt like moaning myself.  I went into the kitchen to find a brand new frying pan on the dish rack (B had obviously bought one and washed it).  I asked what had happened to our old one, and he said it was scratched at the base and couldn't be used any more (think he had cooked himself his favourite 'Bananas flambe' and burnt sugar in the pan).  Trouble was - as I knew the moment I picked up the new pan - it was useless.  Larger than the one he threw out, shallower, and very light-weight.   I can't now fit two frying pans, one large and one (that was) smaller on the hob at the same time as the new one is a couple of inches larger than the old one.  Also it can't be left on a low light to simmer as almost certainly anything in it will burn due to it being very shallow and thin.

Said to B that a good pan is always expensive - at least £30 or more - and I bet the one he bought was cheaper, like £12.  He said it cost him £6.  I was determined not to get really, really cross, and suggested he kept the new pan for his own use (along with his own wok), and I would use the other pans I have and he was not to touch these ever again!!!  B rapidly turned into Mr. Grumpy.  Just wish he'd told me about the ruined pan and allowed me to choose the new one.  This is the problem when someone thinks they know a bit about cooking.  They usually don't, especially when it comes to choosing the right pans/knives/other appliances.

This reminds me (have I already told you this?), the other day was watching Masterchef where proper chefs were completing against each other.  One of the tests was for them to make rolls, a baguette, and a four-plait loaf from a batch of dough.  Think all the chefs seemed unable to make an even-looking plait, but when I had a go I made it perfectly.  It looked wonderful when cooked and B said it was the best ever bread he'd tasted.  This might be because I brushed the surface gently with melted butter before baking which helped to keep the crust a bit softer than normal. 
It's really good to know I can do something that even a top chef can't.  After watching Masterchef, it does seem that there is more than one thing I'm capable of doing (to their standard), so it's not all bad being 'just' a domestic cook.  Maybe after years of practice I've raised my bar to a slightly higher standard without realising it.

We should always remember that it isn't just a matter of 'us and them' when it comes to cooks/chefs. True, many of them do have skills we don't really need to learn, but often this just leads to 'icing on the cake' (the presentation etc).  If we can afford to buy the best quality foods, then don't ruin these by cooking them incorrectly, we can all be chefs in our own kitchen.  Just think about it - nowadays many of the top restaurants serve what we would call 'farmhouse fare' or 'meals like grandma used to make', the only difference being they serve small amounts attractively displayed on a plate (where we would pour gravy, they just drizzle it round as 'jus').  Just try making Sticky Toffee Pudding and you'll think you've died and gone to heaven.

If you want the recipe for this pudding you'll find it on this blog (Dec. '06) where it was given the (new) name of 'Ticket Office Pudding' (B called it this because it sounds the same when you say it) and have checked the recipe hasn't been deleted.  Same recipe that I used when I made the S.T.P's for the sailing club do last weekend.  Just not giving the actual date of the month as I hope very much you will scroll down from the top as again there is much content throughout that I hope would be useful for newer readers.  Or is it that I just enjoy reading back what I've already written (so long ago it seems as though it was written by someone else)?

Today am giving a few suggestions for 'treats' that you may wish to serve over the Twelve Days. As ever, these could be served at any time I suppose.  However, this is more to show how we can make the most of what we buy.  Rather than using it all up, make it travel in several directions.

What we need to remember is that when we buy a pack of something (sausages, chicken breasts, smoked mackerel....) and we don't wish to use it immediately, or at least not all of the pack, then on the day of purchase we should open the pack and wrap each piece individually to store in the freezer (we could open-freeze sausages for about an hour until fairly solid, then put them in a bag as 'free-flow').  Far better to thaw out only what we need (even if it is two individuals), than have to thaw out a much bigger pack and then find a use for the surplus.

B and I love smoked mackerel, so we usually eat up a pack between us.  But we can make one pack go further.  If the s.mackerel is vacuum packed, any surplus fillets can be wrapped and frozen.

Smoked mackerel pate is something I really love eating. Once made (using 'fresh' smoked fish, not thawed) the pate can then be frozen in small pots for up to a month.  Make this pate slacker by using more crème fraiche and it can then be served as a dip (pref. not frozen).
Smoked Mackerel Pate:
2 fillets smoked mackerel, skin removed
1 heaped tablespoon creme fraiche (or soured cream)
2 spring onions, finely chopped (opt)
1 - 2 tsp horseradish sauce/cream, to taste
squeeze lemon juice
ground black pepper, to taste
Flake the fish and mix in the rest of the ingredients.  Pot up into one large or several small containers. Cover and keep chilled for up to 3 days (or freeze the surplus).  Serve with toasted thinly sliced bread or crostini.

Next dish uses one or two of those smoked mackerel fillets which is pretty good seeing it serves 4
This is the good thing about smoked fish, the stronger flavour carries further so we can get away with using less. Fusilli (spiral) pasta is suggested, but any pasta shape that holds a sauce well could be used.
Smoked Mackerel and Pea Pasta: serves 4
6 oz (175g) fusilli pasta (see above_
4 oz (100g) frozen peas
1 - 2 fillets smoked mackerel, skin removed
3 rounded tblsp Greek yogurt
2 teaspoon horseradish sauce
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions, adding the peas for the last 3 minutes of the cooking time.
Meanwhile, flake the mackerel and place into a bowl.  In a smaller bowl blend together the yogurt and the horseradish sauce with seasoning to taste (you could omit the salt and just use pepper).
Drain the pasta and return it to the pan (over a low heat), folding in the yogurt mixture, and finally the trout and peas.  When warmed through serve with a crisp green salad.

Canned salmon is always handy to have on the shelves. Many people remove the bones, but - like sardines - these are full of calcium and will crush up easily, so work including in the recipe. 
Being 'fishcakes' we could use almost any cooked fish (including smoked mackerel). The idea behind this recipe is to make a can of salmon go further (stir any surplus salmoninto some whipped cream and tartare sauce and use to fill vol-au-vents, or add to a fish risotto).
Incidentally canned new potatoes - when heated and drained - mash up well and could be used to make these fishcakes (they can be 'crushed' rather than mashed right down), although my preference (especially when intending to freeze) would be to use a thick reconstituted 'instant' potato.
Crispy fish 'n beetroot cakes: makes 4
9 oz (250g) mashed potato (see above)
2 spring onions (or one shallot) finely chopped
4 oz (100g) cooked beetroot, finely chopped
salt and pepper
3 - 4 oz (75-100g) canned salmon, drained
1 tblsp sunflower oil
Put the potato, onions, and beetroot in a bowl, adding seasoning to taste and mash them all together. Flake the fish and gently fold it into the mix, then form this into four fishcakes.
Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and fry the fishcakes over a fairly high heat until the underside is brown and crusty.  Turn and cook the other side.  Serve with salad.

Having made the above cakes, and if using the vacuum packed cooked beetroot (but not in vinegar), you will then have beetroot left over to use up.   Although not giving the recipes for these (they have been given before), cubed beetroot (and left-over corned beef) can be added to a pan of fried cubed potatoes, onions etc, to make a 'Red Flannel Hash'.
Or you may wish to add the beetroot to the following salad - and this in itself means you will have some of the other ingredients left over to use for other dishes/meals such as roasted red peppers, radishes, olives, Feta cheese.....  This is what I call 'jigsaw cookery' where we use only some of one ingredient, the rest fits neatly into one or more other dishes.   There was a time when I was so frugal I'd use half a whole egg in one dish, half in another.  Now I rarely do that although often now use an egg yolk to make something, and then use the white elsewhere.

Although the recipe below serves just two, it is worth making a larger amount as it is a perfect dish to serve at a buffet party. 
Lentil and Roasted Pepper Salad: serves 2
1 x 400g can lentils, drained and rinsed
5 roasted red peppers (from a jar), chopped
6 radishes, sliced
handful of olives (black or green or both)
2 tblsp balsamic vinegar
4 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
2 Little Gem lettuce
6 oz (175g) Feta cheese, crumbled
Put the lentils and peppers into bowl, adding the radishes, olives, b.vinegar and oil.  Mix well together then add seasoning to taste.  Cut the root end from the lettuce and separate the leaves, laying these over a large plate.  Spoon the lentil salad on top, finishing off by scattering over the Feta cheese.  

When we think about it, most of the above ingredients would sit happily on the top of a home-made pizza (other than the lettuce and radishes that could still be served with it as a salad).  In fact most  ingredients that go together to make a meal - when we think about it - should be able to be cooked together (then maybe pureed) to make a soup (well it all goes down the same way once in our mouth). So any unused part of a can or packet could possibly be used in this way.  The more experienced cooks might find this worth thinking about.

Anyway, that's it for today.  Already my face is feeling less swollen, so that's cheered me up.  Time now for me to go into the kitchen and find work to do there.  I won't be blogging tomorrow as it is 'hair' day (coffee with neighbour after).  But will return on Friday.  Hope you'll be able to join me then. TTFN.