Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Lifetime of Changes

One hundred and eleven years ago today my mother was born.  I try and imagine what life was lack in her younger years, and one reason why I enjoy watching the repeats of 'Upstairs, Downstairs, and now 'Downton Abbey' as both these cover lives in those times.  I can imagine my mother at those dances (she loved to dance), and also the clothes she wore for these (usually her step-mother's hand-me-downs, but very fashionable).   Never did get to hear about the food they ate in those days, but then food was secondary, eaten 'to live', not necessarily to enjoy.  It was only after the war, in the '60's when we got the chance to try a much wider range of convenience foods, and sampled new dishes from other countries in ethnic restaurants and take-aways where they used produce imported from all over the world (later we experimented making meals from these ourselves).

Sometimes I think cooking would be easier if we could go back to the simple meals we used to eat.  In the 'old days' (above) the same meal eaten every Tuesday of every week of every month of every year does get a bit boring. Perhaps it is because nothing is a surprise any more, and only the seasonal fresh produce (esp. fruits) that we then had a chance of looking forward to.

If we make the same meals today, having not eaten them for many years (younger generations may not have eaten them at all), now they would be a real treat, so today am giving a few dishes from the past that you may like to try.  Some of you perhaps still make these, some may have the pleasure to come.

Before I begin, was snatching a few minutes to watch the Food Network yesterday, and an early prog showed iced lollies being made in a prog. called 'Unique Sweets'.  One shop seemed to specialise in making these, but the explanation was so simple that I felt it was something we should all try (in the hope we get another warm summer next year). 
What the cooks did was to just put their chosen fruit in a liquidiser with other flavours, give it a whizz then spoon into lolly moulds, shove in a stick, and freeze.  Only saw a few being made, but one was whizzed up ripe bananas with some peanut butter and then folded in some chocolate chips.  Another seemed to be just whizzed up fresh peaches, with (I think) a little honey to sweeten.
Even as I write I am imagining making a 'traffic light' lolly, with pureed kiwi fruit at the base, peaches in the centre, and strawberry at the top (put in the lolly mould in the reverse order). 

We could puree canned fruits, pineapple with a little coconut milk perhaps.  It's not beyond any of us to come up with some yummy flavours that the children (and adults) will enjoy, and how much healthier than those on sale (no additives, food colourings etc).  A good way also to use up oddments of fruit that has ripened, but not enough to make a fruit salad with - just whizz (or mash) the flesh together and spoon into lolly moulds....

Also watched a repeat of Ina Garten's prog (The 'Barefoot Contessa').  She was saying how she had never learned to make an omelette properly, so had asked a well-known (US) chef to show her how. So side by side they made an omelette (well they called it that, I didn't).  Beginning with breaking two eggs into a bowl (I'd have used three eggs), a good 2 fl.oz of milk was added (that's wrong for a start- no milk should be added), beaten together then poured into melted butter in a hot pan (that was OK). Then the chef showed how to stir the middle (only) of the omelette using a flat rubber spatula that he worked up and down, "a bit like scrambling the egg?" asked Ina, "yes" was the reply.  When the top was set, the chef said the omelette should be flipped over to cook the other side "like a pancake?" asked Ina. "Yes"!!!  This of course is NEVER done when cooking an omelette.  Myself (and Delia Smith, and some other chefs) drag the sides of the omelette in towards the centre, tipping the pan so the unbeaten egg runs to the sides making an evenly thick omelette, slightly rippled in the centre.  Just as the top is beginning to set but still 'wet' we then add grated cheese or whatever filling we are using.
Ina Garton and chef added a great pile of filling onto the top of their 'pancake' (well it certainly wasn't an omelette by then), folded one side over and slid it onto a plate to eat.  "Best I've ever eaten" said Ina, "now I'll know how to make one".  Not!!  Go to France or come to England if you want to know how to make a proper omelette, or perhaps this is just the American way. 

Thanks to Les and Joy about letting me know more about the Thermomix.  It does sound a useful appliance, but not one I'll be getting as I've found that when I do buy something new these days it usually ends up standing on the sidelines as moe and more I seem to prefer using the old methods that admittedly do take longer - such as grating cheese by hand instead of using the processor, beating with a wooden spoon instead of using an electric mixer.  Perhaps - subconsciously - I am trying to burn up a few calories doing this.  I'm even brushing the carpets with a stiff bristled brush instead of always using the vacuum. 
Perhaps at a certain time of life, we stop growing older in our minds and rapidly start returning to how things used to be.  A few more years and I'll almost be ready to wear nappies!! B is already at the point of wanting somet of his meals blitzed in the processor (ending up like baby food).

We didn't, in the end, go to B. Grange yesterday as our neighbour wasn't feeling too well.  The previous week she had been caring for an in-law (who had flu), and herself had had a flu jab towards the end of the week and she though she might be having a bit of reaction to that.  Let us hope she hasn't caught the flu from her family member.   Will be in touch with her later, and hopefully we will be able to go to B.G. next week.

Having already said I wouldn't be blogging yesterday, decided to make an early start in the kitchen and sort out both freezers, removing everything and then replacing what-goes-together (like all things lamb: lamb shanks, lamb's kidneys, lamb's liver, minced lamb, lamb chops...) in one drawer.  Beef (minced beef, stewing beef, beef rib trim, beef stock, boxes of cooked mince etc...) in another drawer. Seemed to have plenty of chicken (various joints) that filled a drawer completely, and one smaller drawer held loads of tubs of chicken stock I'd made recently.  Another smaller drawer held fish, and shelves held stacks of boxes of cooked meals (curries, spag bol, chilli etc).  Frozen veg on a shelf, and 'oddments' (water chestnuts, bamboo shoots - to add to stir-fries etc), on the door shelves along with packs of puff and shortcrust pastry.  One drawer holds a variety of frozen fruits that I'll shortly need to thaw and turn into jam (to make room to freeze food for Christmas et al).

At least now I know where everything is although I didn't - this time - bother to write down everything I have as at least know each type is kept together, not a bit here, a bit there as before.  Surprising how much I had that I had forgotten about.  Thought I'd just about run out of chicken, and it was hiding all the time.

It's turning much colder now and even with the heating on can feel the difference.  We were supposed to have frost last night, but nothing to see on the grass or rooftops, so maybe we missed that. At least all the plants that need protection have now been brought into the green house, and the spring bulbs planted (still have a few tulips to plant), so that's one job done.  Not that it makes life easier, all the indoor plants now will need watering, even  if only occasionally.

The first recipe today is one cooked many years ago (centuries even), and despite the name contains no hare at all.  The traditional recipe uses shin beef, but we can use any stewing beef that we have, just make sure it is cooked long enough to become tender (one reason why I usually cook stewing beef in my slow-cooker for 8 hours, then freeze it away - with or without some of its cooking liquid' (I always freeze the liquid the meat has been cooked in to use later as 'meat stock').  Once the meat has been cooked/thawed this means a dish, such as the following, can be assembled/cooked in far less time.  The disadvantage is that sometimes the other ingredients then don't get a chance to absorb the lovely meaty flavours.  As ever, the cook's choice as to how to go about making it.

Any gravy left over after making this dish could be added to beef stock (thawed from the freezer?) to make tomorrow's 'Soup du jour'.  To make it even more economical use less meat and make up the shortfall by adding more of the other ingredients.

Poor Man's Jugged Hare: serves 4
1 lb (450g) shin beef, cubed (see above)
sunflower oil
46 loves
1 onion
1 lemon
small amount of water or beef stock
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
ground black pepper
1 pkt (3oz/85g) thyme and parsley stuffing mix
1 egg yolk
2 ribs celery, finely chopped, pref. grated
1 tsp tomato puree
Put the flour and cubed beef into a bag and toss together, then fry in a little oil.  Drain and place in a casserole dish with the onion that has been studded with the cloves.
Grate half the lemon, and peel the remaining rind into strips (being careful not to include the pith). Add the lemon strips, herbs, and half a tsp. of pepper to the meat mixture, adding a very little water. Cover tightly and cook at 150C. gas 2 for about 3 hours (5 - 6 in a slow cooker) our until the meat is tender.
Make the stuffing as directed on the packet, adding the grated lemon zest and juice, the egg yolk and the celery.  Roll this mixture into balls and place on an oiled baking sheet in the oven on a shelf above the casserole, and cook for 30 minutes (if using a slow cooker, add the stuffing balls to the casserole at the start of the cooking).
When the beef is cooked, strain off the gravy and thicken this with cornflour, then add the tomato puree, adding more water/stock if needed.
Serve the meat in a dish with the gravy poured over, surrounded with the stuffing balls. Traditionally served with redcurrant jelly, and seasonal vegetables.

This next recipe takes the place of (say) Welsh Rarebit as I find it has more uses than just cooked on toast. My version makes a 'spreadable cheese' that can be eaten on biscuits, in sandwiches, and also on toast.  Although this basic recipes uses a strongly flavoured Cheddar, we can make it by mixing together several different hard cheese (that need using up).  Fresh herbs could be chives, parsley, tarragon, or whatever you feel go together. You might even prefer to omit the herbs and instead add a little spice (cayenne ro paprika pepper etc) to make different flavoured cheese spread.  When you find one you really, REALLY like, then make sure you write it down or next time you will have forgotten how to make it again. 

Cheese Spread:
4 oz (100g) mature Cheddar cheese, grated
1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped
1 squirt garlic puree
1 tblsp mayonnaise
1 tblsp Greek (thick) yogurt
1 tblsp fresh mixed herbs, chopped (see above)
salt and pepper to taste
Put everything into a bowl (preferably a food processor) and mix well.  Chill and keep covered in the fridge (it will keep for up to a week) and spread on biscuits, sarnies, toast etc.  It can also be piped into savoury profiteroles, or spooned into the centre of vol-au-vents.

As it's been a good year for plums, here is another old recipe (apples could also be used instead of the plums).  Make in a similar way to Summer Pudding, this one is cooked.  Preferably use up bread that is becoming stale as it soaks up the fruit juices better.   No need for a proper list of ingredients (although I will given an idea - but no weights). It's more a matter of assembly and then cooking.

Plum Charlotte: serves 4
thick (toasting size) slices of stale bread
lightly stewed plums
plum juice
caster sugar
Butter the bread and - reserving some for the top - line a pudding basin with the bread (buttered side out), making sure all the crevices are filled with crumbs.  Fill the basin with the cooked, drained plums, reserving the juice.  Cover the top with more bread (buttered side upmost) and bake at 180C, gas 4 until the bread is brown and crisp. 
Thicken the juice with a little cornflour.  To serve the pudding, turn the pudding out and sprinkle with a little caster sugar, serve the sauce separately. 

Final recipe today is very much 'farmhouse style and a very economical one to make after Christmas as a way to use cooked turkey (and stock made from turkey bones).  But no reason why we can't make it now - like this week - (which we tend to eat all year round unlike in my youth when it was only eaten on special occasions).

Ploughman's Pot: serves 4
12 oz (350g) white cabbage, finely shredded
2 oz (50g) bacon scraps
1 onion, chopped
1 dessert spoon plain flour (pref. wholewheat)
1 tblsp tomato puree
10 fl oz (300ml) turkey stock (made from bones)
ground black pepper
1 large apple, peeled and cored
6 oz (175g) cooked turkey, diced
4 oz (110g) cooked pork sausages, sliced
chopped fresh parsley
Cook the cabbage in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain well, reserving the water. Gently fry the bacon over low heat until the fat begins to flow, then add the onion and continue to fry for 3 minutes. Stir in the flour, cooking for a further minute before adding the tomato puree and stock.  Keep stirring until thickened, adding the reserved cabbage water if the sauce becomes too thick.  Add pepper to taste.
Layer the cabbage, apple, meat and sliced sausage in a casserole.  Cover with the sauce and cook for 1 hour at 180C, gas 4.  Stir well then sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve hot with jacket potatoes.

A final tip before I leave, probably given it before but one worth remembering as it can make a great deal of difference to the end flavour of a dish:
fresh/dried herbs... always add dried herbs at the start of assembling/cooking a dish.   Fresh herbs should be added towards the end of cooking (or at the very end) to maintain their flavour.  Use four times as much (by measure) of fresh herbs as you need if using dried - 1 tsp dried herbs, OR 1 good tablespoon chopped fresh herbs.
The one herb that is best used dried rather than fresh is oregano as this -when fresh - has a very strong flavour that may not be to everyone's taste.  If you wish to use a fresh herb then use marjoram which is very similar to oregano but has not such a strong flavour, and use a little rather than a lot.  Do the taste test when adding herbs and spices, you can always add more but never take it away.

Hope to be back with you again tomorrow.  Thursday is hair (and coffee) day, both Friday and Saturday I will be baking for the social club, so may have to take days off blogging towards the end of the week.  Will try to plan my cooking to allow me time, and if I don't stay up late I get up early enough to give me time to sit and have a chat with you.  So keep logging on, you never know, I might be back most days.  Keep warm both indoors and out, and enjoy the sunshine even though it is cold. Nothing like sunshine to lift the spirits.    Keep those comments coming, and any queries you send will be replied to as immediately as possible.   TTFN.