Saturday, December 28, 2013

Day Three...

Thankfully the storms have now blown over, but much flooding and more power lines down, travelling (by any form) very difficult.  Gusts measured at 117mph in Cumbria.  Think here - in the north west - we got some of the worst of it.  But it's over now.  Until next time.  I can wait.

Had an email from our daughter in Ireland who had read my blog, and told me that there it is traditional to always cook the potatoes in their skins, serve them that way, then each person is given a small plate for them to put the skins on as they peel each spud.  Can't see that happening over here.
Myself normally cook potatoes in their skins, peeling them only when wishing to roast, never serving them skinless and 'plain boiled', although I do peel them for mashing.   Sometimes I leave the skins on the small new potatoes and just 'crush them' (the cheffy way that I'm sure was invented because they didn't have time to peel and mash them properly).

Thanks to jane et al for mentioning potato ricers.  I do have one and certainly they make good 'mash' (as do large potatoes that have been microwaved in their skins - their flesh never seems to have lumps).  It's just that B has decided he doesn't like mashed potatoes (in any form) so that's that.

Yesterday my plans for meals went a bit awry, but that's normal anyway.  I gave B a choice of cauliflower cheese or bangers and mash, and that alone was something new.  He has always been asked what he would like (chicken, beef, lamb, pork, fish....then when he picks one of those I then roll out a list of different dishes that can be made from each, the final choice is then up to him).  So thumbs down for the two suggestions above.  He decided he'd make his own meal (probably bacon again, maybe with eggs... don't know, don't care I(he was going to the social later and never eats a lot - at home - before he leaves.

I made myself some Smashed potatoes, and into these mixed a small can of mushy peas (that B had bought for himself and then didn't like - and am not surprised).  Still not much flavour in the spud mixture so worked in some Dijon mustard and plenty of pepper, also a few dried onions that I had in the larder.  Somewhat better.  Served these with Merguez sausages that I'd bought some months back (to try).  A bit disappointed with those as well as had hoped they would be mega-spicy.   Anyway a good dollop of Heinz 'Fiery Chilli' Tomato Ketchup livened up the plate, so ended up comfortably full.

But being 'full' is something I must try to avoid.  I've put back quite a bit of the weight lost, and am planning to lose AT LEAST 1lb a week for the next six months, hopefully 2lbs, then I'll be less than I was before I gained (if you know what I mean) when I next go and have my six-monthly check.  This is another (this time personal challenge) to be added to the others I'm doing.  Maybe, if each week I can tell you how much weight I've lost, then that will help me keep on track.

jane also gave a mention of her monthly food budget, it sounds very reasonable, but am a bit puzzled as to whether her suggestion of allowing £10 a week to 'top up the fresh', comes on top of that, or she - like many readers - will be using up her stores, and spending no more than £10 a week when she does so (preferably later than sooner).  With a good stock of cheese, jane also requests suggestions for use - some will be given today.

Was delighted Sarina, to read that you 'had managed to budget for all the (Christmas) food despite your financial low'.  Almost certainly this would be because you had given it more thought this year, maybe shopped around for the lowest prices. But whatever, certainly not 'shopped 'til you dropped' as so many people still seem to do.

Sorry to hear about your power cuts (and wind damage) Alison (Essex). Especially for your parents. The new-style camping gas stoves work well (they look like a small one-ring portable hob, powered by a gas cylinder that slots in).  I've often thought of getting one to use in our kitchen as 'back-up', and am sure they could also be used in a dining room, to cook actually at the table.  Not just 'flambing' a dessert (Crepe Suzettes etc), but cooking Japanese style.

Thanks also to Eileen for sending us an old poem that mentions bread and milk (but given the trad. name).

Never got around to making the fruit loaf yesterday.  We now have a problem with our plumbing (bathroom), and B and I spent my 'cooking time', in there trying to sort it out.  All we need is a plumber, but that would cost money, so B is going to dismantle the cistern and try and repair it himself.  Normally, when he tries to repair things, they get worse, so watch this space.

Got up late this morning (it is now 10.00am) due to me returning to bed for 15 minutes, then spending a happy three hours in dreamland where B has managed to make a hot air balloon (using one huge but strong plastic bag (that had once contained fertiliser I think), and when ready to launch, we had taken it to a high flat area where it was very windy.  Pointed the open end of the sack into the wind and it immediately filled up full, but of course wouldn't take off, the basket underneath being too heavy.  All I was concerned was getting the basket back (it was/is my best one). 
I was reminded - in the dream - of an earlier hot-air balloon trip that I thought was the most wonderful experience ever.  I just love to see the land from above.  Maybe in a previous life I was a bird.  I can remember this trip so clearly, and described it to B in the dream.  But even this memory was just in my mind, another dream I had in the past.  I have never yet been up in a hot-air balloon, and probably never likely to.

Anyway, enough rambling, must get on to recipes, and here is my first suggestion for using up surplus cheese.  Not a recipe as such, but worth doing.   Grate up hard cheeses (a mixture if you wish) and store them in the freezer ready to add to all sorts of things (I find shredded iceberg lettuce, given a French dressing, then scattered with grated cheese works well - the gratings sticking to each bit of lettuce - adding flavour to every mouthful.  A useful tip when there is not much left to make a salad except lettuce.   Some grated cheese I also keep in the fridge, but usually not for longer than a month.

This first recipe comes from the Have a Good Year book. This cheese spread is traditionally eaten with country-style wholewheat cobs (crusty rolls).  The cobs are torn in half, some of the crumb taken out (this can be frozen to crumb and use in a later dish), and each half filled with the spread, then reassembled.  But it also works well just spread on - pref. brown - bread to make sarnies.
If, like me, you find that 'mature' Cheddar really isn't very strongly flavoured at all, then use a mixture of cheeses (Double Gloucester, Cheddar, Red Leicester, Cheshire really work together well).

Although the weights vary slightly, see no reason why you can't use the same for each ingredient - this then makes the recipe easier to remember.
Incidentally, it has now been proved that eating walnuts (or using walnut oil) regularly really helps to lower cholesterol, so as the recipe below has both cholesterol high cheese and butter, the walnuts then balance this out.
Cheese Spread for Country Cobs:
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, grated (see above)
3 oz (75g) walnuts, finely chopped
3 oz (75g) butter, softened
salt and pepper to taste
Work the cheese and walnuts into the butter, add seasoning to taste, then use it as a 'cob' or sandwich filling.  Keep any surplus in small pots (covered and chilled) and this will keep well for at least a week (if not longer) in the fridge.  Best spread at room temperature.

The good thing about an 'open sandwich' is that is uses only half the bread of a standard sarnie (so that's a saving in itself).  The following recipe is called 'open sandwich' but when reading it, it is more like 'something on toast' (but still uses only one slice of bread).  Goat's is the cheese suggested for this, but there are plenty of cheeses with similar textures (soft and crumbly) so we should not find it difficult to find something similar in our end-of-festive-season cheese collection.
Instead of grilling a pepper to blacken the skin prior to peeling, myself would use the ready-prepared peppers sold in jars (and these are not expensive).   Also - if you have no smoked mackerel - then just omit this (and the horseradish) and just use cheese as the main ingredient.
A griddle pan (the one with ridges) is used for 'toasting' the bread, but if you prefer just crisp it up in an ordinary frying pan, or under an ordinary grill, or even use a toaster.

Open sandwich of Cheese, pesto....
1 sourdough round - or other bread
olive oil
1 - 2 tblsp pesto (to taste)
4 tblsp mayonnaise
half a cucumber, peeled into ribbons
1 red bell pepper, charred, peeled and sliced
5 oz (150g) soft goat's cheese, crumbled
1 - 2 fillets smoked mackerel, skinned 
1 teaspoon horseradish sauce (opt)
Cut 2 slices of the sourdough bread (or other bread of you choice), drizzling both with a little oil, then cook on a griddle until you get griddle marks on the bread (or see above for alternative methods of 'toasting'). Meanwhile, mix together the pesto and mayo, and then spread a layer of this on each slice of 'toasted' bread.  Sprinkle the cheese on top, followed by the cucumber ribbons, the mackerel fillets (these could be flaked), and finish with a smear of horseradish (if using) and finally the pepper strips on top.

Next recipe uses mozzarella cheese, but again no reason why we shouldn't use another of similar texture (if there is one - and later I'll be having a go at making my own). With no mozzarella I'd use feta cheese, or maybe a soft and cream goat's cheese (if I had any - which I don't), even dollops of Philly cream cheese flavoured with garlic and herbs (this I do have).
Vacuum packed beetroot (with a long shelf-life and NOT in vinegar) is something I always keep in the fridge, and reading through the rest of the ingredients very shortly hope to be harvesting some mixed salad leaves (winter variety grown on the windowsill), the other ingredients I already have.  'Experimental' cooks usually do stock a few more ingredients than most, so if you have none, then just use something else that is similar.  Or leave it out.   Myself prefer to use almost all recipes (at least savoury ones) as just a guide, then end up doing my own thing with it.
Beetroot (esp its juice) is another 'healthy' food as it's been proved that it helps lower blood pressure.  I always drink a sherry glass of the juice before I have my check-up and it's amazing how much lower my b.p. is when taken shortly afterwards (compared to what it used to be and probably normally is).

Beetroot and Mozzarella Salad: serves 4
2 packs cooked beetroot
salt and pepper
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tblsp finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tblsp finely chopped fresh chives 
3 tblsp balsamic vinegar
4 tblsp extra V. olive oil
6 small mozzarella balls
mixed salad leaves or watercress
Put the contents of one pack of beetroot into a food processor and give a quick whizz to turn it into a smooth paste.  Add seasoning to taste, then set aside.
Cut the contents of the second pack of beetroot into quarters and place into a bowl, adding the shallot, parsley, chives, balsamic vinegar, and oil.  Add seasoning to taste, then set aside to 'marinate' for 15 minutes.
Take four individual plates and spread the beetroot puree over each, scattering the marinated wedges on top.  Tear the mozzarella into small pieces and dot these on top of the beetroot, topping with salad leaves or cress.  Sprinkle the left-over marinade juices over the top as a dressing.  Then ready to serve.

Next recipe is for a cheese soufflé, but this time with a twist.  It's cooked in a (combination)microwave.
Whether cooked in a conventional oven or any other way, soufflés are not as difficult to make as they seem to be.  Basically all they consist of is a batch of white sauce, lightened with beaten egg white, and then the chosen flavouring (cheese, vegetables etc) folded carefully in, then baked in a Bain Marie (roasting tin half full of hot water).   The only problem with soufflés is that they rise so much that they quite rapidly drop before reaching the table, but only then if the container is knocked (which tends to release much of the trapped air.
Any finely grated cheese can be used to make this soufflé, or a mixture. If you haven't dry mustard, then blend a teaspoon of made mustard into the milk.
If you prefer to cook the soufflé in a conventional oven, make up the white sauce in a saucepan, thenr remove from heat, cool slightly before beating in the eggs and cheese etc, fold in beaten whites and place in a soufflé dish, standing this in a Bain Marie, and bake at 200C, gas 6 for 25 minutes or until well risen.  Carefully remove from oven without banging the dish, and take to the table immediately ready to serve from there.

Microwaved Cheese Souffle: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
2 oz (50g) plain flour
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
half tsp dry mustard powder (see above)
salt and pepper
3 oz (75g) Stilton cheese (or other) finely grated
3 eggs, separated
Melt the butter in a microproof bowl on High for 1 minute.  Beat in the flour, then gradually whisk in the milk.  Heat on High for 2 - 3 minutes, stirring once during that time.
Stir in mustard, seasoning, cheese and egg yolks.  Whisk whites until stiff, then carefully fold these into the cheese mixture, using a metal spoon.
Spoon into a buttered/greased 6" (15cm) soufflé dish, levelling the surface with a palette knife, sealing the edges to allow even rising.   
Stand on the low rack and cook on Combination 3 for 25 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Goes without saying that one of the best ways to use up odds and ends of cheese is to use grated in a quiche.  When I use five different flavours of hard cheese (Cheddar, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester, and Cheshire - plus Parmesan to sprinkle on top before baking) the end result is really yummy.  Working with one egg for each quarter pint of cream makes for a good set.
Sometimes I use crème fraiche instead of cream and can then get away with using one egg less.

Before I leave, a recent comment from 'anonymous' did say something we should all give thought to.  Basically it was we should be glad of what we have, as we still have an abundance of food to choose from, so need never feel deprived.

My current 'read' at the moment is a book called 'Fifties Britain' (ISBN 0-7537-1403-5 if you want to get it from the library).  Lots of photos of that time, and the foodie bits were very interesting, but what was said in the first chapter really does show how things have improved for us - even for those now relying on benefits (and Foodbanks).  I quote:
Before World War 11 life was certainly uncomfortable for the majority.... Even those who had relatively secure well-paid jobs had little job security and could lose everything almost overnight.
Without the protection of a welfare state, the unemployed became trapped in a grim cycle of poverty and depression.  Their diet consisted mainly of tea, bread, margarine, potatoes, stew, and an occasional piece of bacon.  By 1939 only 10% of houses in Middlesborough contained a bath, and 35% had no electricity."
Then came the war and rationing helped to provide everyone (whatever class they were) with just enough of the right foods to stay alive - and reasonably healthy as well (just shows how little we need to keep well), everyone could afford to buy the food as there was virtually no unemployment any more because all the young men (and some women) were conscripted to the army, navy, and air-force, some lads went down the mines, girls joined the Land Army, or were nurses.

What made interesting reading was about the advent of supermarkets.  Until then people used to shop locally, and this was more than just to buy goods.  Shops were meeting places where women could have a good gossip (in those days still usual for men to work, women to stay at home raising the children). Suppose today we still 'gossip', but this time by Twitter.  But it's not the same as chatting to 'real people' like in the flesh.  Is it?

Anyway, nearly noon, so have to make my departure into the kitchen and 'get on'.  Probably won't be blogging tomorrow being Sunday (I've now begun to take this day off) however, once Gill has phoned, I MIGHT feel like having a wee blog.  But don't bank on it.  Will however be back with you again on Monday.  Now the weather is back to gentle, hope you all have a pleasant weekend. TTFN.