Tuesday, November 05, 2013

A Change is as Good as a Rest

Firstly, many thanks - and welcome - to Kath M for sending more details about Jack.  Also to Alison and Joy for their comments.  Feel we all agree that Jack is doing sterling work for those on low or non-existent incomes, especially as she has the know-how to be able to take a recipe and adapt it to feed more for less cost.  Coincidentally, a recipe for Kale Pesto is in the new Dec/Jan issue of "easycook" mag, and it's worth comparing both recipes to see how the original can easily be adapted to feed many more than the four originally.

Just shows how easily I can be misled.  After reading a couple or so of Jack's early blogs, believed that she was forced to go looking for free meals (and eventually the foodbank) because she had only £10 to feed herself and her son and no family to turn to for help (not necessarily financial but perhaps to give sustenance).  Mind you, when we were on our beam ends, we didn't turn to our parents for help either. B because he was ashamed, me because I was too proud.  So I'm not in any position to cast the first stone.

Regarding my mention of giving free books to the library.  The publishers would arrange that, and Jack would would lose no money because with any new publication a certain amount of copies are set aside for libraries in any case, these usually have stronger covers to allow for the regular and constant reading.  But to get a copy in every library, this would probably be by the insistence of Jack, as normally books are stored in a central library to be sent to different libraries on request.  It has to be this way, a library cannot keep every book that is has been published.  The most popular probably would be.

Goodness me, Pam mentioning the Alvin Blossom Show  really took me back.  That was around my start with a weekly spot on Radio Leeds, and carried on for many years with different presenters.  Probably the letter was typed on my very old typewriter (although later did buy a more modern one). The most recent progs were live from my own kitchen, they would bring the OB van and the presenter and I just sat and talked, or I cooked - or at least made 'sounds of cooking' - and you'd be surprised how much cheating we did, whisking just water, opening oven doors - mine had a squeak - and 'sampling' dishes that weren't even there. "Gosh this tastes good" sort of thing). Great fun.  Had to give it up when I was taken ill, some six years ago, so must have been with Radio Leeds for many years.  Can you remind me Pam, what my letters referred to?  It might bring back more memories.

It was lovely to hear about your mum Wendy P (think a welcome for you also due), am I wrong in believing that people seemed to manage better and certainly be happier in the 'old days', even when living like sardines in a can?  B's eldest brother left home at 16 (B wasn't born then) to allow extra room for his siblings, and for a couple or so years worked on a clipper ship, travelling to and from Australia.  Now that IS hard work.  (We have a print of this ship - The Lawhill - hanging in our living room, just like the Cutty Sark in full and splendid sail).  In those days there was no mechanical help to furl the sails, every man had to tug the ropes by hand and climb up rope ladders to secure them, and this in turbulent seas.  This eldest son eventually flew planes in the war, was captured by the Italians and ended up in a prison camp (several as he kept trying to escape). received the DFC, and has been mentioned many times in a book.

Which reminds me - nearly forgot!!  Tonight on Film 4 (think Freeview 15) there is a film called 'Hope and Glory', and this I am sure is the one about a small boy living through the blitz and contains several scenes that actually happened to me (the author of the book the film is based on requested memories of the wartime 'blitz' and I wrote and sent mine).  So anyone watching and sees the barrage balloon landing on the roof and the parrot screaming - well, that was one of the memories I sent, as was the plane being blown up in the sky as I watched.  Other memories also there, but which I have forgotten, but no doubt will remember when I watch again.. 
The film is set in London, and I lived in Coventry, but the bombing was just as bad in both cities, so no difference there.  What you see in the film was much the same for me.

Agree Joy that the easiest way to make Lemon Curd is in the microwave, I've given the recipe for this several times.  Perhaps it is the one your Mum used.  When I wish to make something that needs egg whites, this is the time I make the curd as I can save a three or so whites from the eggs, just adding an extra yolk or two to compensate.

A brief return to the poverty problem that our country is suffering from at the moment.  However much we older folk may feel that the problem could be solved if people did more for themselves rather than expecting others to provide, the fact remains that nowadays these skills (if you can call them that) have now been lost.   The fault does not lie with the younger folk, the whole nation has been brainwashed into believing that there is no need to make anything any more as everything is there ready-made for us.  Just sit back and enjoy life, and if you don't earn enough to buy all you want, then use credit cards.  Pay us back later.  And we all know what that has led to.

I can't believe a government is so short-sighted to see what would happen when we have a free hand at spending.  And why they discontinued teaching domestic skills in schools (cookery, carpentry, sewing, gardening etc...).  Too late for the recent (adult) generations, at least some of these skills are now (or will be) taught again, so hopefully it will be youngsters who will be able to teach their parents what can be done - when you know how.

The tendency is to blame the lack of cooking skills onto many of today's overspending on food, so we then point the finger at mothers who can't cook, won't cook.  But do we do the same when it comes to other 'domestic needs'.  Do we cut out fabric and make our own clothes (as we used to do), do we knit and crochet, do we build our own furniture... or - for that matter - sole and heel our shoes, or service our own cars?  Of course we don't most of us don't, . and nobody bats an eye when we pay someone else to do these one-time simple tasks.  So why should learning how to cook take priority?   Almost certainly because it is the only way we can guarantee that we are feeding our family both cheaply and well, knowing they will be far healthier than when living on a diet of the more expensive  'readies' and junk foods.
We can wear old clothes (or even second-hand clothes), we can buy cheap (and good) second-hand furniture from an auction room.  We can slip plastic covered cardboard into shoes that have holes in their soles to help keep our feet dry.  Even do without a car.  But we should never do without having the opportunity to eat good food at a price we CAN afford.  The only way to do this is cook meals ourselves. 

Few people now seem to have the time to spend cooking, so in a way those who are at the moment unemployed, do have an advantage - they have more hours in the day to learn how to cook, and get those home-made dishes on the table.  Even so, no point in tackling something that is unable to be understood.  Too many recipes these days have loads of ingredients (usually just there to add more flavour, but all have to be bought...), and often pages of 'method (the how to prepare/assemble/cook).
My approach is to make things easy.  It is doubtful that a truly novice cook will be reading this blog (for one thing there are no pictures due to problems with my camera), and there are better sites than mine to give basic instructions, but do hope that for those with some experience of cooking, my recipes are useful - if only to prove that we can spend less and still eat well.

One thing that seems to happen is that people eat what they enjoy without seemingly understanding the 'balance' of a meal.  By this I mean eating chips with curry AND rice (or even a chip butty).  Or having a meat pie as a main course and apple pie as a pud.  Do you get my drift?   I've gone as far as not serving potatoes when pastry covers a meat pie (pastry and potatoes - both carbos), but do add extra veg. to compensate.  The thought of pie for 'mains' and pie for 'afters' makes me shudder.  Yet (ashamedly) I have given B a fruit crumble as pud, when he's had steak pie for mains (crumble made with exactly the same ingredients as pastry but without any liquid).

We often provide more nourishment than our body needs when we serve meals.  For instance Yorkshire Pudding served with beef.  As the Yorkie is made with flour (carbo), eggs and milk (both proteins) do we need to serve all that beef, all those roast spuds.  Some at least because that makes our traditional Roast Beef Dinner, but we could reduce the amount, and by doing this reduce the cost (meat IS expensive, and potatoes are not as cheap as they were).   In the old days they got it right - serve the Yorkshire Pudding with gravy (often onion gravy) as a first course, so people were full before they got to the meat/veg, and so needed to eat a lot less of these.  Finish off with a substantial and economical pud (steamed pud) and who even needs a main course  We can learn a lot from the past.

Today am giving recipes that are normally eaten as a 'treat'.  Based on eggs/milk/flour all we really need to add is the fruit or veg to give balance.  Although not a main course, there is enough nourishment there to satisfy us for a few hours, and maybe even - with a few additions - make a light lunch or supper dish.

Am beginning with what would - in the US - be a breakfast dish.  In the UK I would suggest serving  these at other meals, a savoury version as a light lunch or supper dish, the sweet version as pudding after a main course.

Although called American Pancakes, these are very similar to our Scotch Pancakes (aka Drop Scones).  Once cooked and cooled, they will freeze, but always best freshly made and eaten whilst still warm.  As supermarkets provide the cheapest eggs, milk and flour, you can see these are some of the least expensive 'treats' we can make.  A variation can be made by adding grated apple to the batter before frying.  If you prefer something more savoury, omit the sugar and add sweetcorn kernels and grated onion.
American Pancakes: serves 6
10fl oz (250ml) full-fat milk
4 tblsp sunflower oil
2 eggs
6 oz (175g) plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tblsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tblsp water
oil or butter for frying
Put the milk, oil and eggs into a bowl and mix together.  In another bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, and stir in the sugar and salt.  Slowly pour in the wet ingredients and mix well together.
Heat a heavy-based frying pan, and add a teaspoon of oil, or rub butter over the surface.  Pour in a good tablespoon of the batter (about 75ml). Add further spoonsful of batter leaving room between each pancake. 
When bubbles appear on the surface, break and then leave holes, flip the pancakes over to brown the other side.  When done, remove to a cake airer covered with a clean tea towel, and then cover the pancakes with more of the towel to keep them warm and moist.  Alternatively keep warm in a low oven, on a plate, covered with a tent of foil.
Serve the pancakes with stewed fruits (as a dessert), or with crispy bacon and maple syrup (for breakfast, lunch or supper).

Quiche can be a reasonably cheap dish to make as it is basically a custard made from eggs and milk to which we can add different ingredients to change the flavour (grated cheese, flaked canned fish, roasted vegetables....).  Ideally, work with a mixture of 3 eggs to each half pint of milk, but we can get away with 2 large eggs per half pint, and if we can beat in some cream cheese or crème fraiche this will give an even thicker quiche.  When I can I prefer to use cream rather than milk, but that really is only lifting the dish from 'savoury egg custard tart' to 'quiche' level.
The more filling we can include the less custard we need to make, so the final cost of the quiche depends mainly on what we have that can be used (up) as a filling.

Here is a variation of the savoury tart, a cross between a quiche and a soufflé.  As it is a bit special, am including smoked salmon 'scraps', and using goat's cheese, so it is worth enough to serve when entertaining.  For a family meal used flaked canned salmon or tuna, and any grated hard cheese, and you can just use cheese only and omit the fish.
Salmon Souffle Tart: serves 6
1 x 9" (23cm) shortcrust flan, baked blind
2 oz (50g) plain flour
2 oz (50g) butter
half pint (300ml) milk
3 large eggs, separated
zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
3 oz (75g) smoked salmon pieces
5 oz (150g) crumbled goat's cheese
Put the flour, butter and milk into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring all the time, until thickened into a smooth sauce.  Cool slightly, then beat in the egg yolks, lemon zest and seasoning to taste.
Beat the egg whites until thick enough to hold their shape, then fold one third into the white sauce to slacken it, then gently fold the remaining whites into the sauce, taking care not to lose any trapped air.
Tear or chop the salmon pieces into small scraps and place over the base of the cooked flan case.  Cover with half the cheese, then pour the soufflé sauce over. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake at 200C, gas 6 for 25 - 30 minutes until risen and golden.   Best served immediately, at the table, straight from the tin.

One of the simplest breakfast (or light lunch) is egg on toast.  Normally poached egg, or scrambled.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it they say, but why not ring the changes from time to time? Here is another way to serve that carb and protein ensemble.
Fried Egg with Rosti and Onions: serves 1
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
half red or white onion, finely sliced
2 oz (50g) potato, coarsely grated
1 tsp mustard (pref wholegrain)
salt and pepper
1 egg
2 tomatoes, sliced (opt)
Heat half the oil in a frying pan and fry half the onion until crispy. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, and set aside. 
Put the rest of the onion in a bowl with the potato, mustard and seasoning to taste then shape into an approx. 5" (12cm) circle shape. Add the remaining oil to that left in the pan, and when hot place in the potato 'cake' and fry for 8 - 10 minutes until golden, turning several times.  Towards the end of the cooking time, fry the egg alongside the 'rosti'.
If using tomatoes, arrange the slices, overlapping, on a plate, place the rosti on top, cover this with the egg, then spoon the fried onions over the lot. 
If you wish for a dressing, add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Final recipe today ticks all the boxes.  Well balanced (carbs, protein and veg), it can be eaten hot, warm or cold and will keep well in the fridge for a couple of days.  The vegetable suggested is spinach, but cooked cabbage, kale, broccoli, or green beans could be used instead.
Green Spanish Omelette: serves 8
1 x 400g bag spinach leaves
3 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 large potatoes, peeled and finely sliced
8 large eggs
salt and pepper
Plunge the spinach into a pan of boiling water for a minute until wilted, then drain. Cool under running water, then drain well again and squeeze out as much moisture as possible.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-low heat and gently fry the onion and potatoes until softened (takes about 10 minutes).
Meanwhile beat the eggs with seasoning to taste.   Add the spinach to the onions and potatoes then pour over the eggs.  Giving an occasional stir, carry on cooking until the eggs are nearly set, then finish off under a pre-heated grill to set the top.
Take a large plate and slide the omelette onto this, then flip it over back into the frying pan to finish cooking on the underside.  Remove from heat and slide the omelette out onto a board and leave to cool.  It can stay at room temperature overnight (lightly covered), or can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 days.   Serve, cut into wedges.   Can be eaten cold or reheated in the microwave.

That's it for yet another day.  After making kedgeree for B last night, he has told me he is going to make his own supper tonight (bacon sarnies! but then he likes them very much). I'll make him a fruit crumble to make sure he has something 'home-cooked' to fall back on, and now that he has worked his way through the cinder toffee I made (two batches, neither perfect), and umpteen bags of popcorn, feel he needs some cheese straws and Fork biscuits ready and waiting on the side-lines.  Believe there is a footie match on tonight (as well as it being Bonfire night, it will be noisy both outside and indoors as B shouts at the ref while watching TV).  Myself will be in the other room watching Masterchef if it doesn't clash with the film (film has priority).

Paul Hollywood's new series 'Pastry and Pies' (or some such name) began yesterday afternoon and was quite watchable.  Did learn something new, but at the moment can't quite remember what.
Must stop nattering, I've been writing this blog for several hours (yes it does take me that long), so will take my leave.  Hope we'll be able to meet up again tomorrow and look forward to seeing you then. TTFN.