Saturday, November 09, 2013

Sublime to the Ridiculous...

Decided, after all, to write a short blog today (what's the betting it's another long one), as - after watching something on TV, then eating my supper, felt it was worth a discussion, and would love to hear your views.

Firstly, Paul Hollywood was showing us how to make a really special fish pie.  With no criticism on the contents (I'd loved to have eaten a portion), felt that the idea behind it must have been to show us how easy it was to make (which it was), not bothering at all about the cost (to me that is the important bit).  How much would it have cost to make.  You tell me?  We saw Paul poaching large chunks of monkfish and salmon, the poaching liquid having Pernod added.  After poaching for only 4 minutes,, the fish was drained and placed in a shallow casserole dish, the poaching liquid then reduced and used to make a (Pernod flavoured) béchamel-type sauce, to which chopped fennel was added. 
On top of the fish was placed a goodly number of cooked and shelled langoustines, the sauce poured over.  Then came the mash.  This made the usual way with potatoes, but with enough saffron added to give it a good colour, about half a pint of flaked crab meat was folded into the potato before it was spread over the fish 'n sauce.  Baked in the oven it came out with a lovely golden brown crust.   From the size of it I expect it would serve at least six, maybe even eight.  Not the cheapest of dishes to make by half, but doesn't it sound sublime?
In an earlier programme of this series, Paul H made a hotpot or casserole and used what appeared to be several pounds (weight) of stewing meat.  Again, what used to be an economical 'farmhouse' dish, appeared to be priced beyond most of our purses. 

Although we home-cooks are happy to scour the stores seeking quality (usually fresh) food that is on offer at the time (or wait until it is), and spend more time searching through cookbooks to find ways to use up what we already have, now and again it is a real treat to have a meal cooked FOR us, not BY us.  This could be because what I call 'fast food' (food that cooks rapidly) IS expensive to buy. The cheaper cuts, other less expensive ingredients, take time to prepare, become tender, and quite often (as with a risotto) need constant attention.  Not everyone has that time to spare.

Have to admit that I love eating out, but am generally over critical, always saying to myself "I could have made this even better" (and of course cheaper) begrudging having to spend extra for the 'convenience' even when someone else is paying. Very rarely have I eaten at a restaurant where I feel I've had my money's worth, but how wonderful when I do.  Trouble is even these are now not as good as they were, usually due to a change of chef. 

The danger (with me) is falling prey to the 'ready meals' just to give me a day off cooking. True we do (occasionally) have a Chinese Take-away for that very reason, but just know it would be better made at home.  B's stir-fries certainly smell and look wonderful (he wafts his plate under my nose for me to appreciate it), but so far they have been made for only himself, and am waiting for the time when B brings me in a plate of stir-fry he's made for me.  One day soon I hope. (Memo: buy him a larger wok.  He is going to M'sons today, they may stock them and tonight, and if so, he might feel generous enough tonight and I will get a treat).

Last night's supper was the other end of the spectrum - in other words ridiculous.  I'd dug my toes in and asked B to get his own supper because if was feeling a bit under the weather.  Suggested stir-fry but he chose to use one of those 'buy one get two free' packs of Scampi that he bought home recently, choosing to eat with oven chips.  Nothing difficult there as both cooked at the same oven temperature for the same time.  I asked B to share the scampi with me again, but I didn't want chips, just the scampi. This time he was a little more generous, I was given 7, he had the remaining 9.

As I'd eaten the scampi before, did not expect much, but when I speared one with my fork it pulled out the scampi 'core' (as it is called on the list of ingredients).  I did expect it to look like a prawn, but as the shape of the whole scampi - after 'breading' - was a ball (about the size of a walnut in shell), probably to0 much to expect anything more than a ball of fish inside.  Well, it wasn't a ball, it was a tiny weeny cube (about the size of the trimmed nail on my little finger) that had perfectly Nestraight edges and was an unpleasant grey colour.  Really didn't fancy eating it, but as it had been paid for, and wasted food is not in my mindset...Suppose it had a similar texture of prawn when eaten, but no flavour at all.  It was the massive amount of 'breaded coating' did have flavour, and that mainly (synthetic) lemon. 
How on earth could any manufacturer expect these were good enough to sell (packs originally £4 each for 16 'scampi') beats me.  No wonder they are on offer (and still with a good year's freezer shelf-life left).  Thankfully, B has learned this lesson, but he still gets tempted whenever anything is on offer (even if I say I don't need ANYTHING, he stills brings in 'a too good to miss' offer that I probably would never use anyway).

The good thing is that more experienced cooks can always make top quality (restaurant type) meals for their family, and still within their food budget, but it gets more difficult every time the prices rise (which seems to be nearly every week now).  So where do we go from here?

Have had quite a few comments since yesterday, several of these are new names to me, so a welcome to all, and we hope you will continue to read this blog.  Rarely do I read other blogs, but recently have been taking another look at 'a girl called Jack', and am amazed how professional her site is.  Trouble is I can't seem to find her earlier blogs, the page references seem to keep coming up with recent 'newsy' events she has been involved with, and even if I click onto past posts, the new ones keep returning). 
After seeing such an amazing site, feel that apologies are needed for all my readers who will find my blog very dreary-looking.  At one time I used to put up photos of dishes made, other money-saving ideas, windowsill gardening etc, but the comp won't now accept photos from my camera (Steve is supposed to be sorting that out for me, but hasn't come back yet with any solution).  At the moment readers have to just accept the 'verbals', and do hope they won't be too boring.

A good idea Tessa to freeze milk that has just 'turned', as it can be used to make scones. Why didn't I think of that?!!  Just shows that when we share our ideas we can all learn something new, waste less, save more money.
Also a good idea (again from Tessa) to give recipes using ingredients that are those most often thrown away.  A few of those yesterday were based on that idea, and more are given today (and in the future).  It would help if readers could let me know what foods they often have to throw in the bin.

With cooking for two and living on a pension, feel there is an affinity between Catngrams and myself.  It's good to hear from a reader who has the same lifestyle, but good also to hear from younger readers who may have small children and also trying to feed a family on short commons (as the expression goes).

Was interested hearing about Barbara's Potato Hot-pot (which sounds mouth-watering), cooked in her slow cooker, as myself have had little success cooking vegetables at such a low temperature.  Unless they have been part cooked before adding.  Onions are usually the only veg that I cook with meat as they do soften quite easily.

It could be that newer crockpots are better at cooking veg.  I had one of the first (chosen as payment - instead of money - for a feature in Good Housekeeping.  The G.H. Institute had just tested several of these 'new' appliances, and this was the one they considered worked the best.  Well, after 40 years of use it still works, so must have been good.  Unlike many of the newer models, mine has a wide and shallowish ceramic dish (with lid), that sits on a heated base.  Nowadays the appliance seems smaller but much deeper.

Was only thinking about you yesterday Cheesepare, so good to hear from you again.  Yes, do remember that feature (was it in Home and Freezer Digest?) where it showed how to make four dishes from one chicken (three to feed four, one to feed ten).  I'll need to search through my piles of books/mags to find it again.  Did once put the recipes up on this site, if they are still here I can give the date/s.  So keep watching this space.

Like Jamie, quite often I use pearl barley instead of rice when making a risotto.  His name for this 'orsotto' sounds unusual, and wonder if it was a similar dish made with 'orzo' - this looks like rice but is in fact a pasta.  I bought some orzo once to make a Greek dish, but since then the remainder of the pack is still in my larder. 
Many years ago I bought and used 'pot barley'.  Same as pearl barley with the outer skin (husk?) left on the grain.  Very much more 'chewy', and does have more flavour I suppose.  Perhaps now sold only in specialist shops, health food shops, or on-line.

So pleased Lizzie that you enjoyed the stir-fry recipe that I gave recently. Have never used peanut oil (think this is what we call groundnut oil) as I normally use either sunflower oil or olive oil (extra virgin, ordinary olive oil or 'light' olive oil - the latter I make by mixing olive oil with sunflower oil).
Quite often I use chicken fat for frying (scraped from the chilled surface after making chicken stock), and also save the fat that leaches out of the sausages when cooked in the oven.  Goes without saying we also save every bit of bacon fat (in a special pot).
These are not the healthiest of fats, but its what cooks used in the past and a little goes a long way, especially in non-stick pans (we do have several non-stick pans that are not really non-stick anymore due to B using a metal spoon or fork for stirring despite my pleas for him to use plastic, wooden or rubber spatulas/spoons). He's even managed to scratch his own wok despite me buying him tongs that have plastic tips (which he won't use as he prefers to use the metal ones). 
If we get a new wok then perhaps this should be a metal one, or get B to pay for a new (and larger) non-stick as at least he does take a lot more care of things he has paid for using his own money.

Here are a couple of recipes that uses several vegetables that often end up languishing and limp in the veggie basket (or fridge -which is where I keep most of my veggies (but not all). Butternut squash will keep for months at cool room temperature (I've had one sitting in my onion basket since last spring and still feels 'perfect' - once cut it won't keep too long so I cover the cut part with cling-film and put it in the fridge.  Best used within a week.
Parsnips can get a bit 'bendy', but still usable (if too soft, just keep skins on and slice to use for flavouring stock, soups etc).  Bagged leaves never keeps for long, and when cooking for one or two, worth seeking out recipes (such as this where you can use half of everything) that makes the most of spinach, watercress, salad leaves etc.   Onions keep well, but after time they too can soften, and sometimes only a few outer 'rings' are worth using.  So keep giving them a gentle squeeze to catch them before they start rotting from the inside.
At certain times of the year, white onions certainly begin to sprout, and can still be used.  Keep the inner 'sprouting' core with its green shoots, and place in water where the leaves will continue to grow, then they can be snipped and used to flavour a dish as we would do using chives.

It's not always necessary to removed the peel from squash, as when cooked in slender wedges, the skin will soften and can be eaten (or - if you prefer - after cooking, just scoop the flesh from the skin).
A useful dish to use up stale ciabatta bread, but any stale crusty bread can be used.
Warm Root Vegetable Salad: serves 4
1 butternut squash, cut into wedges
2 red onions, halved and cut into wedges
4 parsnips, peeled, cut into wedges
3 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tblsp runny honey
1 small ciabatta loaf, torn into chunks
1 tblsp sunflower or pumpkin seeds (opt)
1 x 225g bag spinach leaves
2 tblsp white vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Put the root veggies into a bowl as they are being prepared, and drizzle over half the oil and toss the lot together.  Add seasoning to taste and tip into a roasting tin.  Roast at 220C, gas 7 for 20 minutes, turning once or twice so they roast evenly.  When softened drizzle over the honey, scatter the ciabatta on top with the seeds, then return to the oven for a further 5 minutes or until the bread is toasted.
Put the spinach into a large bowl, then in another bowl whisk together the vinegar and mustard with the remaining oil and seasoning to taste.  Tip the roasted (still hot) vegetables on top of the spinach, add the salad dressing, and toss until the spinach has wilted slightly.  Serve immediately.

Mushrooms I use regularly, preferring the chestnut variety as these have a firmer texture and keep 'fresh' longer than the normal whites.  However, |I often buy the 'value packs' of mushrooms as they really are good value, but they don't keep forever, so always pleased when I find a recipe that can use them up  (in the past I've dried surplus mushrooms and keep these in an air-tight jar to add to casseroles etc).
Here is a recipe that makes good use of potatoes that are beginning to sprout, mushrooms that are close to being binned,  the few scraps of cooked ham or the odd rasher of bacon (that might be drying out) and cheese (which could be a mixture of odds and ends that need using up).
Use the recipe as a guide, never worry too much about weights - use less potato, more onion, more or less mushrooms etc.  As long as the total weight remains the same, it works with the amount of liquid used.

Spud and Mushroom Bake: serves 4
2 lbs (900g) potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
5 oz (150g) mushrooms, sliced
5 oz (150g) diced ham or bacon
salt and pepper
half pint (300ml) milk
7 oz (200ml) stock
3 oz (75g) grated hard cheese
Throw the prepared spuds, onion, mushrooms, ham (or bacon) into a shallow baking dish with seasoning to taste.  Mix them all together and spread out evenly.  Mix the milk and stock together and pour this over the veg, then sprinkle the cheese on top.
Cover the dish with foil and bake at 180C, gas 4 for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for a further half hour until the potatoes are tender.  Take dish to the table and serve.

Final recipe today uses mainly storecupboard ingredients, but also mushrooms and bell peppers (two fresh foods that all too often go soft or dry out and are binned).  If you don't have basmati rice, then use ordinary long-grain.
If you don't have rosemary (fresh or dried) than use another dried herb to your taste (or mixed).

Rice with Mushrooms:  serves 4
8 oz (225g) basmati rice (see above)
1 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves OR..
...1 tsp dried rosemary
8 oz (225g) mushrooms, pref chestnut
2 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
3/4 pint (425ml) vegetable stock
salt and pepper
chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Rinse the rice under running cold water, then leave to drain.  Heat the oil in a flame-proof casserole, and fry the onion until softened (takes about 5 minutes).  Stir in the rosemary and mushrooms, frying for a further minute before adding the rice.  Stir until the rice is coated with the oil, then add the peppers, tomatoes, stock, and seasoning to taste.  \Bring to the boil, give a final stir then cover tightly with a lid and place in a pre-heated oven (190C, gas 7) and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the rice is tender.   Scatter the parsley on top and serve. 

Last night we had an unexpected thunderstorm,.  Was dreaming at the time and a very bright flash of lightening I thought was a camera flashing held by a man who appeared in a door (in my dream I was in a darkened room).  An immediate thunder clap woke me, and I realised what had happened.  Fell asleep to continue the dream and the same thing happened again, another flash of lightening, this time (in the dream someone shining a bright torch in my eyes), and wakened by another immediate crash (not rumble) of thunder. Something close by must have been hit, twice.  After than only one rumble later, some distance away, so was able to go back to sleep and continue dreaming.  I do enjoy my dreams (well most of them).
During the thunderstorm the rain pelted down in sudden bursts, but today the weather has improved, plenty of blue sky, white fluffy clouds and - of course - sunshine.  Still not cold enough to need the heating on for more than an hour or two.
A tremendous hurricane (tornado?) in the southern hemisphere (winds up to 250 miles per hour), is making me wonder if we too will be experiencing worse weather during our winter months.  Doubt we will ever get such extremes as is happening at the moment, but who knows?  Anything worse that we already have could cause chaos when we remember the heavy rain of last year with all that flooding.  And that is nothing like other countries have normally in their monsoon periods.

We've had a wonderful summer (compared to recent years) so let us hope our winter remains equally 'seasonal', even though this may mean more snow and ice than we have been used to over the past few decades.  In 'my day' we used to have weeks of snow/ice during the winter months, often up to Easter, and we accepted this as normal. People just seemed to cope so much better in conditions like that that they do today. 

As taking tomorrow off, will be returning to blogging again on Monday.  Do hope you will be able to join me, and keep those comments coming.  TTFN.