Friday, November 29, 2013

Tastes from the Past - and Future?

After slow-cooking some mince beef earlier this week and then freezing most of it away as 'cooked mince', kept back one small bowlful to use to make either spag bol meat sauce or chilli con carne.  In the end, decided yesterday to use it up making Cottage Pie - one of those meals from the good old days that I haven't made for ages.

Firstly I cooked for goodsized potatoes in the microwave as 'jackets', then when cooked scooped out the flesh and mashed it up with some butter, pepper and salt - this was for the 'topping'.  Meanwhile the minced beef was reheating in a saucepan.  Knowing that on its own this beef really didn't have much flavour I'd added a couple of squirts of HP sauce and a teaspoonful of Bisto Best Beef gravy granules.  To help thicken the granules I then added a bit of hot water.  Was very pleased with the flavour, lovely and 'beefy', but unfortunately the mixture was a bit too sloppy. 

I'd already heated the grill, the spuds were still hot, so I used an old trick and threw a handful of porridge oats into the 'sloppy meat' and these absorbed all the excess liquid and also the flavour.  After cooking for 3 minutes you wouldn't even have known oats had been added.

The meat piled into one of B's 'individual dishes' (large enough to make two small helpings), topped with the mashed potato, and for a final flourish, sprinkled cottage cheese over the top.  Popped it under the grill and then made my own 'supper.  As there was some minced meat mixture left, I added this to some mashed potatoes also left over, THEN added a handful of grated cheese.  Mixed the lot together and piled it into the now almost empty potato shells.  A sprinkle more cheese on top, placed on a baking tray and also popped under the grill just to heat up a bit.

Frozen peas (for B) were microwaved (4 mins max) and by then the Cottage Pie was ready to serve.  For once, B and I both ate supper at the same time, although not quite in the same form.  Have to say the flavour of the meat filling did taste really good.

Sometimes I feel we don't add enough flavourings to the meals we make.  Certainly I feel that just a tiny pinch of salt makes a world of difference, yet we are advised not to add salt to our foods any more.  But how often now do we see recipes for 'salted caramel', 'salted chocolate'....? 

Although not going to the lengths of many American cooks- Ina Garden will add a TABLESPOON of salt to some of her dishes, yet would add only a teaspoon of pepper - we can add much to the flavour of any savoury dish by reversing this and adding just a pinch of salt and a 'good grind' of black pepper.

Pasta should always be cooked in heavily salted, rapidly boiling water as this really does improve the flavour, with most of the salt staying in the water anyway, so individually we barely eat a couple of salt crystals if that. Myself prefer to use coarse crystals of salt, either sea salt or rock salt.  The fine table salt I leave for B to pour over the several slugs he finds crawling across our carpets at this time of year (and goodness knows where they come from).

The flavour of a dish can be improved very simply by just 'adding something' (obviously). If you normally just boil rice to serve with curries, next time either add some grated lemon rind (and juice as well if you wish) to the rice (and water), another time add desiccated coconut, or add a few crushed cardamom pods and a couple of bay leaves (don't eat the pods or leaves after cooking but the c.seeds are edible).  Each choice will give a lovely but still subtle flavour to the rice which is way about the 'plain boiled', using the one that suits the flavour of the chosen dish.

Adding flavour works well also when making sweets.  If we make a 'ganache' (equal amounts of double cream and chocolate), we can add a dash of rum then turn the mixture (when cold) into 'rum truffles'.  If the ganache is left plain, it can be rolled into small balls then dropped into saucers of finely chopped nuts, or cocoa, or desiccated coconut, rolling the truffles round until coated.  If you wish to make them a bit more elaborate, freeze a few uncoated truffles, then dip these into melted chocolate (which will then set almost immediately), Keep chilled (if made to give at Christmas the undipped ones can be made now and frozen), then eat up within a week.

We can make our own 'after dinner mints' by spreading a thin layer of melted chocolate on a sheet of baking parchment, then kneading in a few drops of peppermint essence into some icing fondant, rolling this out very thinly and placing it over the layer of chocolate, then pouring a thin layer of melted chocolate over the top to cover.  Leave to set then mark into squares with a knife.  When firmly set cut through and 'presto' you have made your a.d.mints.  Store between sheets of parchment in an airtight container in a cool place (pref fridge) then plate up when ready to serve.

In a current issue of one of the major food magazines I see they are now giving recipes for 'fusion desserts'.  These seem (at least to me) to be not even worth attempting.  Why bother to make something that is half a croissant and half a doughnut?  What's wrong with making and enjoying each separately?  Have a feeling this is a sign of the times.  In the same mags I again see some of the same recipes and photos that have already appeared in them before - and this is happening more and more often.  Seems now that the cooks have run out of ideas and now having to invent new ones. 

Those of us who watch the Food Network will already have seen some of these 'fusions', and of course a lot of the US cakes and biscuits - although eaten for years in America - have now reached our shores and fairly 'new' to us, which is why we have been working our way through cupcakes (just a larger version of our Fairy Cakes (every year the cupcakes seem to be givne more and more frosting and decorations on top - they've even been stacked up as wedding cakes!!!).  We then had Cake Pops, and something called Whoopie Cakes (?) whatever they are supposed to be.  Think S'mores are just about reaching our shores (and how I wish they wouldn't).

Strangely, two of my favourite 'cakes' have been around a long time, not in America but in France.  These are the Croquembouche' (a pyramid of profiteroles), and Macarons (aka macaroons).  Both are supposed to be difficult to make, but in fact are dead easy.  Remembering Ina Garten's version of how to make a proper French omelette (as demonstrated side by side with a 'proper chef') possibly French cooking is as difficult to understand as the French when they speak perfect English (where they always use subtitles).

A belated 'Happy Thanksgiving' to our American readers, and watching the late night US news heard that severe weather conditions were preventing many people from reaching their destinations in time.
Yesterday the main topic was what they call 'Black Friday' (day after Thanksgiving) where apparently everyone makes a mad dash to the stores to pick up as many bargains as possible (from the crowd scenes - possibly from last year - it looks as though people buy 'just because it is there', not because they really want it.  Sadly, the same seems to happen here.  We just can't resist a bargain.

Pam's mention of 'turkey being cheap at this time of year, 50c a lb.  Not sure how that works out in our £££s but turkey would never be at it lowest prices around Christmas time as this is when people 'need' to buy it.  With so many Christmas office parties and dinners, the turkey dinner always on the menu, many have eaten the traditional Dinner even before the 25th, so now we are turning to roasting a large joint of beef or pork instead.  Goose was the traditional meal until turkey was introduced to this country after the colonisation of America.  Some people still cook goose, but nowadays turkey is probably the least expensive of the 'traditional meats' we can serve on Christmas Day, but this doesn't meat it doesn't' cost a lot (more than we can afford). 
In the past, when there has been just B and myself, I have tried a 'three bird roast' but found it unsatisfactory as there is a lot more stuffing than there is meat.  Maybe there are better varieties, but now usually buy a 'turkey crown'  or 'turkey breast', just a huge chunk of turkey meat that can be roasted to slice and serve in the normal way, leaving a good amount of meat left to later slice and eat cold with salads or in sarnies etc (or to cook with other ingredients in other dishes).

Tomorrow is the last day in November, and then December begins and the countdown to Christmas really begins.  Suppose it is time I made a start, but can't seem to get my head around anything these days.  I'd put off having a scoot this week due to my allergy (which has now died down, thanks for asking), and now there is a high wind and it is raining off and on, so that's a no-scoot day today.  Maybe next week - if the weather stays fair.

Yes, I remember those terry babygro's Mandy, though think they didn't appear until after my own children were grown up, but my grandchildren wore them. I still have some 'stretchy' terry sheets that I used to put on our teenagers bunk-beds.  They were warm to sleep on and suppose they absorbed some of the perspiration during the night.

The mention of dolls has brought back to mind mine.  I didn't have that many - perhaps because of the war - but my two favourites had china heads and soft fabric bodies.  One I called 'Pinky' (as she had a pale pink face, the other was named 'Olive', as her face was slightly browner.  I also had a little black doll that I loved, and a Golliwog (also much loved).  
When I was about six my parents bought me a huge doll (made of various fabrics and stuffed with sawdust) she being at least as tall as me.  I called her Jean and she wore a yellow jumper and a tartan skirt and carried a little terrier in her arms.  She also had wool plaits.

Other toys that I remember - and played with the most - was a big doll's house my dad built for me, it even had little lights that could be lit with a switch on the wall (by the door, as in a real house), and also fireplaces that lit up (all worked from batteries fitted in the roof).
My most favourite toy was a 'farm set', in those days all the animals and people were made from lead (painted over) so legs broke off easily. My dad used to make plaster moulds of some of the animals (esp. baby chickens) and melt down the broken bits of lead and pour it into the moulds to make new ones.  When set he would paint them.  Think I was able to set up a chicken farm in its own right with the hundred (or so) tiny yellow chicks that my dad had made for me.

When I was a teenager, a school friend and I became very interested in clothes, not that we could afford many, but we liked designing them.  What we did was find a drawing or photo in a magazine of a model who - at that time - was wearing a swimsuit.  We would cut out the picture4 and stick it onto card, then carefully cut round, leaving a large piece at the base that we could fold back so the model could then stand up.

To design clothes for our 'model', we would place her on a sheet of paper, carefully sketch round where here shoulders, waist etc would be, marking where her feet would appear, then use this as a guide to sketching out a dress, costume (matching skirt and jacket), dance dress, sports clothes, winter coat, fur coats... anything that came to mind.  We would colour them in, add any (drawn) trimmings and ruffles we desired, draw in little taps to fold around the waist, over the wrists, over the shoulders etc, then carefully cut them out.   Over the weeks we could make a whole wardrobe of different clothes for our 'models' to wear, and we had great fun competing to see who could design the best wedding dress etc.

In our Sunday supplement this week saw several pages of clothes (all the same size that would fit the  'paper model' that I thought would be worth cutting out to begin a new hobby - that is if I was 13 again).  Just shows that with a bit of imagination (or past experience) we can always come up with 'new' ideas that cost virtually nothing at all but can give a lot of pleasure to some youngsters.

My B regularly goes to the library and this week brought back a book he thought would interest me.  And how right he was.  It is Agatha Christie's autobiography, and my goodness, what a good writer she is.  I've never read any of her books, but of course thoroughly enjoyed all her Miss Marple's and Hercule Poirot's that have been dramatized on TV (especially when acted by Joan Hickson and David Suchet - I'm not so interested when played by other actors).

Agatha's childhood life has taken up nearly half the book, and quite enthralling even though she seems to feel she wasn't really any good at anything.  Her words really bring to life how it was in those days (and how different to what it is now). It's the sort of book you cannot skip through, every word has to be read, and how I am loving it.   If my neighbour hasn't read it already, then will lend it to her before it needs to be returned (we can always renew it).   There are several mentions of Greenways (I've checked in the index), but looking at those pages not a lot is written about those times, and I doubt that my neighbour's mother is given a mention.  But will have to wait and see when I reach those chapters.  A lot has to happen before then - a divorce from Christie then a meeting with Max (new husband), World War II as well (Greenways taken over by the military).  Lots to read and enjoy.

Still think festive, and also 'making the most of', am hoping this next recipe is worth planning for.  Certainly it is more than your average dessert - one perhaps best kept when entertaining - but we could still put by some of the ingredients in readiness.  Although whipping cream is used in this dessert we could use double cream (and as double cream can be frozen a good ide to free some away when you get the chance).  Wine can also be frozen, so pour a little away once the bottle is opened (if you leave it until the end someone will grab the bottle and empty it into his glass (by 'his' I mean B) before you manage to save any.  'Fresh' berries (opt) can be frozen (raspberries thaw out as though just picked), and although we usually have fresh lemons, we can also freeze the zest and juice, so all we need to provide from the larder is the sugar, the rest - just thaw out.
A good way to keep lemons from drying out is to wrap each in cling-film, then store them in the fridge where they will keep for several weeks.  Keep checking and remove any that are beginning to feel soft, then use them up (you could cut the flesh into small chunks, put each in an ice-cube tray with some lemon juice/water, freeze and then add one of these ice-cubes to a drink (gin etc).

Lemon Syllabub: serves 4
half pint (300ml) whipping or double cream
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
2 fl oz (50ml) white wine
zest and juice of 1 lemon
fresh berries, to serve (opt)
Put the cream and sugar into a large bowl and whip together until soft peaks form.  Gently fold in the wine, lemon juice and most of the zest, until well combined.
Spoon the mixture into four wine glasses or bowls, sprinkle the remaining zest on top, and serve - with or without fresh berries.

Am not even sure I should be encouraging anyone to make this because nothing is made from scratch, but if you have students in the family, then a packet of scone mix, a can of fruit cocktail, and a can/carton of ready-made custard could be included in the food parcel they take back to college. Plus of course this recipe.  They will be very glad you did.
On the other hand you may prefer to keep 'the makings' in your own larder, using frozen berries instead of canned so that you can quickly knock up a hot dessert when the unexpecteds come to visit.

Storecupboard Shortcake: serves 4
1 x 320g pk scone mix
1 x 250g pk frozen mixed berries (or canned)
2 tblsp Demerara (or gran) sugar
1 x 500g can/carton ready-made custard
Make the scone mix as per packet instructions, the press the dough into a circle approx. 8"/23cm in diameter, making sure the edges are slightly thicker than the middle. Place on a lightly floured baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes at 220C, gas 7 or until risen and light gold in colour.
Meanwhile, put the fruit (drained if canned) and sugar into a shallow baking dish and microwave on High for 5 minutes until hot, but the fruit is still holding its shape.  Heat the custard as per can/packet instructions.
Spoon a layer of custard onto the scone base, then top with the drained fruit.  Serve with the remaining custard.

Final recipe today uses lemon curd and Greek yogurt (plus a couple of other ingredients).  Both these are useful foods to keep in the fridge.  I always make my own lemon curd - at speed, in the microwave, the recipe has been given several times - and also make EasiYo Greek yogurt.  If equal quantities of lemon curd and the G.yogurt are blended together and then frozen they make a very good 'ice-cream'.  However this goes one step further (and without the freezing).  Just another dessert that is worth serving to guests without any hassle.  I see I've made a note this recipe has been given before, but as I've mentioned frozen fruits in the above recipes, and you may have some left over, it's worth giving this recipe again to use up the remaining fruits.  Use either one type of fruit (as shown) or a mixture of berries.

Lemon and Yogurt Fool: serves 4
11oz (300g) lemon curd
1 x 500g carton Greek yogurt (pref 0% fat)
1 x 200g punnet raspberries (fresh or frozen)
1 tblsp icing sugar
Put the lemon curd and yogurt into a bowl and fold gently together to give a rippled effect.  Divide between four serving glasses and place in the fridge to chill.
In another bowl mix the raspberries and icing sugar together, gently crushing the fruit so that it begins to release some of the juices but still holds some of its shape.  Spoon this over the top of the chilled  lemon/yogurt and serve immediately. 
This is good served with sponge fingers (that can be bought - I keep these in store to use when making Tiramisu), or shortbread fingers (which should be home-made - so why not make shortbread nearer to Christmas to give away as presents, and also for eating over the Twelve Days).

Am getting very naughty these days, staying in bed because it is still dark instead of getting up at 6.00am which is my normal (summer) time. But these colder days, bed is so cosy, and although I have plenty I should be doing, am now finding it more fun to stay in bed an extra hour - or three - as I then have lovely dreams, and dreams now being far more interesting than real life, it's a wonder I don't stay in bed all day.  Maybe - if I live long enough - I'll be too old to do much more than stay in bed and dream all day.  Is that a good or bad thing?  Let you know when I reach that point, although by then I'll probably have forgotten how to use the comp. forgotten who B is, forgotten even who I am.  Perhaps best not dwell on my future,  just enjoy the moment - adding a bit of something spicy to add more flavour to my life (if I can find out what to use to achieve that effect - a new man in my life would be nice).

Too late for me to do much with the rest of my morning so think I'll have an early lunch (or late brunch), the usual mug of home-made tomato soup that is very chunky and warming.  I always enjoy it. 
No reason for me not to be back again with you tomorrow, so hope you can find time to drop in for a chat.  Would like to hear from more of you but expect this - being a busy time of year - many readers only find time for a quick read once a week, if that.  Just as long as you are still with me (and as I can check the numbers it does seem these are rising rather than falling so that's good to know), I can still keep thinking of you 'out there', for each one who bothers to send in a comment then becomes a real person in my eyes, and always remains so.  My thoughts are with only the one I reply to at that time, even though all comments and replies are able to be read by all.  

Whether a personal reply (from me to you) makes any difference I don't know, but it is something I wished to do once I'd begun my blog after I'd sent queries into several 'cheffy' websites (including Delia Smith's) and never got any response.  They don't mind getting comments from readers and replies to these from other readers, but are not at all interested in giving any personal replies - which I think is a pity.  On the other hand (and only from what I've read) is seems that people who 'Tweet' to celebs (chefs and others) can often get a reply via 'Twitter'.  I'd like to feel that queries on my blog have a bit more about them than just a 'tweet'.  Or is this just the 'old-lady' having a moan again?

Must say my farewells for today or it will be too late for me to do anything today (I like to take some of each afternoon off to watch TV before starting B's supper). Until tomorrow... TTFN.