Friday, December 06, 2013

Don't make it Difficult.

Have just watched the final episode of 'Delia Through the Decades' and how good the series has been, having shown how - over the years - we have succumbed to using manufactured products rather than making from scratch - although Delia did do a 'How to Cheat at Cooking' where she also used many packaged and tinned products but - like myself - only to speed up and enhance a meal made from 'proper food' (as I call it).
For anyone who has missed watching, it is repeated on Saturday (tomorrow) on the Food Network (Freeview 48) at 2.00p0m when I think the whole 5 half-hour progs will be shown back to back.  If you haven't seen it, do hope you will (or at least tape and watch it later) as there is so much common sense talked.
In the last programme (referring to buying the ready prepared) it showed a man holding a bag of baking potatoes and his girl friend horrified "they have to be peeled" she said "and washed".  You may laugh (as I did) but it is true - so many youngsters just don't want to prepare any food from scratch if they can buy it already done for them (and at what cost? - I may add).

In Wednesday's newspaper they had an article showing us how we could buy everything we needed for the Christmas lunch (not all ready prepared) to feed 8 for only £2.73 a head!  This consisted of a turkey, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sprouts, suffing mix, cranberry sauce, Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, Brandy butter, and mince pies. (a total of £22).
But to get these at the best price we'd have to go to more than one store, Lidl, Morrison's, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Asda.  

At least they did give a idea of how much the same foods would cost if we chose to do a one-stop shop (buy all the abovefrom in one store), with the total price from stores mentioned above, and other main supermarkets.
Lidl worked out the cheapest (total £27.33), Morrison's (£30.53), and Aldi at 31.70). Asda (£33.12), Tesco (34.03), Iceland (£35.75), Sainsbury's £39.04, and Co-op (£39.69).
Waitrose was the most expensive at £53.15, M & S slightly lower at £51.29 (both almost double the price at Lidl).

Myself feel that even the basic shopping list (as given above) is not what I call a 'proper Christmas Dinner'.  No mention of bread sauce, sausages wrapped in bacon....  Myself would probably not serve parsnips (but might serve peas for those that don't like sprouts - as the 'green veg'). And I would never consider the cake or mincepies as part of a dinner.  Neither do I make/buy brandy butter for the pud, I serve brandy sauce.
So if we omit the above mentioned 'not served for the Goode Dinner' that should cut the cost down by a few pounds (I'd make the bread sauce myself using stale bread and the onion - to flavour the sauce - would then be added to the stuffing-made-from-a-packet-mix).

Honestly, I find it necessary to read closely the finer details of this 'shopping list' as I've come to use 'portion control' when costing out a meal.  I'd allow 9 oz (250g) potato per person, and for eight that would mean 2kg.  But the list specifies 2 x 1.5kg bags of (Aldi) Maris Piper.  So that's 1kg too much.
Although I do serve both roast potatoes and mashed potatoes, with everything else on the plate people don't really need a 'whole portion' of everything.  Do they?
It could be that a different variety of potato would be cheaper.  In any case, the prices shown are almost certainly the price they are NOW, and it could be some might be reduced closer to the time (certainly not likely to go higher).

Mentioning this to B he said "I bet when most people go to buy what has been shown as the cheapest (as in the paper) they will say 'sorry sold out' (this happened to B when he once went to buy a 3-bird roast, which wasn't worth it, far too much stuffing and not enough meat), so while in the shop we'd probably buy something else while we were there, then return later when the new stock has arrived (as did B)".
Give me on-line shopping any time, it saves the stress, hassle, and always sure of getting what we want (even if a substitution - usually better - has been made).

As ever, a million thanks for your comments.  I do so enjoy reading them. 
Do agree with Judy and David that charity shops are a very good place to buy clothes.  Many quality ones there - some unworn with the label/tags still attached - and at such a low price.  One of the best places to find hand-knitted woollen garments (church jumble sales also), and - as Judy says - these cane be (carefully) unpicked and unravelled, the wool washed and 'stretched' gently to remove the kinks, and used again.

A recent comment mentioned a soon-to-be-installed wood burning stove, and at the time forget to mention how - many years ago - there used be a sort of 'press' where you could pack in newspaper that had been soaked in water, and after screwing it down it turned into paper 'bricks' that could be burned as 'logs'. 
Do remember my mother folding sheets of newspaper into long strips then folding these over, then folding back and forth to use as 'fire-lighters'.  Once lit they didn't burn as rapidly as you would expect, due again to the 'pressure' the paper had been given I suppose.  They certainly worked. I got the job of making them when old enough.

"The Goode Kitchen" was a 10-part series on BBC1 Barbara, nothing to do with Pebble Mill, although later I did appear many times (sometimes a one-off, at other times a short series) at 'the Mill'.  Later I appeared - in several series - as one of the resident cooks in 'Bazaar'.

Our sympathies Kathryn for your sad loss, and with your skill at sewing am sure you will be able to re-make your mother's lovely clothes into something for yourself.  If you'd given them to a charity shop and then seen them (as though you were someone else) you'd probably be buying them anyway.
Good to hear they might be too large for you now because if they were too small it would be more difficult to adapt them.
The material doesn't always have to be used for clothes.  If some are the same type of cloth they could be used to make a lovely cushion covers/patchwork quilts etc.

Know what you mean Kathryn, about a room being too cold for bread to rise, but it would eventually - possibly left overnight - and a speedier way is to put the oven on at low (or if gas just a pilot light will give enough heat), and put the bread in there to rise.   Myself sometimes stand the bread tin in the sink that has been filled (halfway up the sides of the tin) with medium-to-hot water (it soon cools down so add a bit more hot water every 15 minutes). 

Anne's mention of pancakes has reminded me how we often forget that the very basic (and cheapest) ingredients can help us out when in financial difficulties.  If we have plain flour (and raising agents), sugar, fats (oil/marg or butter), eggs, and milk (could be dried milk), we can make a whole host of things, and not necessarily need to use all the mentioned ingredients.
So - once we've run out of pasta, we can still make our own.  Also pastry, soda bread, scones, cakes, puddings....and of course: pancakes! 
Several of these can take the place of the 'normal' carbohydrates we use such as potatoes, rice, noodles, couscous... all we need to add are the veggies, and - at a pinch - even omit expensive protein from a meal as long as eggs and milk are included (and a bit of cheese if you have some).

Delia makes a point of saying we should stick with the old-fashioned ways of cooking, and not make things too difficult for ourselves, although her point that 'restaurant food' does not have a place in the domestic kitchen is debateable as nowadays it seems fashionable for the 'top eateries' to serve dishes such as Lancashire Hot-Pot, Bread pudding, Spotted Dick... the only difference being they 'tart it up', serving smaller (but more attractively presented) portions, such as Sticky Toffee Pudding the size of a sugar lump placed in the centre of a very large plate with the sauce drizzled round.  We can have it too - but much more of it for far less cost than when 'eating out'.  Carry on home-cooking that's my advice.

Here is a recipe that serves two, just use half the amount if making for one, or double if wishing to serve 4.  With any recipe that uses chicken breasts, I don't always stay with the amount suggested.  Some chicken breasts can be very large (the ones I buy from Barton Grange are HUGE), and some are very small (like the frozen 'Value' ones from Tesco).  So either use one (small) breast each, or cut a large one into two.  No point in paying more if you don't have to.

This dish is a version of 'coq au vin', so you could say almost 'restaurant style' without all the palaver that goes into making it correctly (and we ordinary mortal wouldn't taste the difference anyway). This is as good as it gets when made in the domestic kitchen by a cook who is more interested in serving a special meal to the family within a fairly tight budget, that takes less time than expected.
Don't forget (especially at this time of year) to freeze some wine in ice-cube trays every time a bottle is opened.  Then you'll always have a cube or two to add that little extra something to give a meal man appeal - as they say.
If using banana shallots, being larger then the normal round ones, you need only use 4.  I never mention peeling onions/shallots/garlic etc, because everyone knows they have to be.  Or perhaps today they don't.   However, I assume that readers of this blog have enough common sense for me not to have to spell out every step, but maybe that is a mistake, perhaps I should. You let me know if you feel otherwise.

Myself would use home-made beef stock (this is the liquid I save after a lot of meat has been cooked in the slow cooker, but I suppose you could use Bisto or a stock cube, but not a whole cube).

Chicken and Sticky Shallots: serves 2
8 shallots, quartered (see above)
2 chicken breasts (see above)
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 oz (25g) butter
4 tblsp balsamic vinegar
1 glass red wine
5 fl oz (150ml) beef stock (see above)
Simmer the shallots in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then drain and set aside. Sprinkle the chicken breasts with a little salt and plenty of pepper, then heat half the butter in a large frying pan and - when sizzling - cook the chicken for 5 minutes on each side or until turning golden.
Add the shallots to the pan, sizzling these in the pan fat/juices until they start to brown, then add the balsamic vinegar.  Allow this to reduce down by half before adding the stock.  Continue simmering until the liquid has reduced to a thickish sauce (and by then the chicken should be cooked through - but do check).  Using a slotted spoon, pick up the chicken breasts first, putting each into an individual serving bowl, then spoon the shallots on top, pouring the sauce from the pan over everything.

Many years ago- before the war - my mother used to cook onions whole, sometimes she would remove the centre and stuff it with some cooked minced beef.  During the war an onion was worth more than it's weight in gold, so we never ate them in this form again.   Have not eaten them this ways since but it seems such a simple dish to make so will have a go at making this more up-to-date version that uses cheese instead of meat.
The 'roasted peppers' - as given - are the red bell peppers ready-prepared sold in a jar, but we can roast our own in the oven or under the grill, then remove the skins.
Onions can be boiled in water or roasted in the oven, but to make them easy to handle, best to microwave them first (timings for this given), then they are finished off in a conventional oven.

This is a dish where the ingredients can easily be reduced to serve one or two. 
Baked Cheesy Onions: serves 4
4 large onions (peeled of course!)
3 oz (75g) mozzarella cheese, chopped
3 oz (75g) Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tblsp pitted olives (pref black), sliced
2 oz (50g) roasted bell peppers, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 oz (50g) breadcrumbs
few fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper
Halve each onion through the middle.  Place in a microwave dish, in pairs, and cook on High for about 4 minutes until softened.  Remove the centres from the onions, leaving about 3 outer layers - this way you've turned them into little 'bowls'.
Either chop the onion 'middles' very finely, or put them in a food processor and give them a quick whizz.  When they are pulpy, place into a bowl with all the mozzarella, half the Cheddar, the olives,
peppers, garlic, breadcrumbs, half the thyme, and seasoning to taste
Spoon the filling into the onion 'bowls' (they will pile high) and place in a baking dish, sprinkling the top with the remaining Cheddar and thyme leaves.  Place in the oven (220C, gas7) and roast for 15 or so minutes until heated through and golden on top.

Final recipe today is another chicken dish, this time using chicken thighs.  The thighs are cheaper and have more flavour than the breasts, but as with the above recipe, how many you need depends on size.  Barton Grange (boneless) chicken thighs are also HUGE and I'd only use one per person.  Cheaper 'value' thighs and you'd probably prefer to use more, especially if the bone is left in.  Up to you.  Mindful - as ever - of cost, I'd suggest using less (sometimes a lot less) as this is better than none at all, and - with a casserole type dish - the flavour carries through everything.

Recently I was watching Guy Fereiri (?) cooking a dish with parsnips, and he said no need to peel if they are fairly young.  I've always peeled parsnips and I also always remove the core (as it takes a lot longer to become soft than the out part).  However, the peel/cores can be kept/frozen to add to a pan when making vegetable stock.
If you don't care for parsnips, then choose another root vegetable.  We can choose carrots, turnips, swede, or even butternut squash (which is actually a 'fruit').

Never dismiss a recipe because you don't have all the makings.  How often do we read that we need to use a certain fresh herb when we have none (as below). If we haven't got it we can't use it.  Live with it.
Dried herbs are always useful, myself find dried oregano and dried mixed herbs are the ones to keep in store, a pinch of one or t'other of these usually makes a good enough substitute for fresh.  Some herbs are a bit 'special', mint for example, also basil.  Not really worth substituting any other herbs.  I often add a spoon of bottled mint sauce to a dish when I have no mint (mint dies down at the end of summer), and pesto if I need basil.

Honey Mustard Chicken with Parsnips: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
8 skinless chicken thighs, bone still in (see above)
2 onions, finely chopped
12 oz (350g) parsnips, cut into sticks (see above)
half pint (300ml) vegetable or chicken stock
2 tblsp wholegrain mustard
2 tblsp runny honey
a few fresh thyme sprigs (see above)
chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (opt)
Heat half the oil in a large frying pan, and when hot add the chicken and brown on all sides until golden.  Remove chicken from pan and set aside.  Add remaining oil to the pan with the onions and cook these for about 5 minutes until softened.
Return the chicken to the pan, pushing the thighs down into the onions, then lay the parsnips on top. Blend the mustard and honey into the stock and pour this over the parsnips, scattering the thyme on top.   Bring to the simmer then cover then pan, reduce the heat and cook for about half an hour (or longer depending on size of thighs) until the chicken is cooked through.  Season to taste and sprinkle the parsley (if using) on top.  Serve with a green vegetable.

Overly thrifty as I am, I'd probably collect the thigh bones once the meal is over, possibly freeze them, to add to other chicken bones when making stock.  It makes even better stock when the bones (raw or cooked) are chopped in half to open up the centre - where the marrow is - this then adds a lot more flavour and gives a better 'set' when the stock is chilled.

We've had a dreadful night of extremely high winds that together with spring tides have caused a lot of coastal flooding.  The worst has been on the eastern side of the country, but even here in Morecambe, in our very sheltered bay where we hardly ever see a ripple on the water, the waves were crashing on the prom wall as far over as the road.   Wish I'd seen it, but by the time B told me the tide was going out.

It was 60 years ago when the spring tides - together with stormy weather - played havoc on the east coast, and it was a lot worse a that time in the Netherlands.  Here it was feared the conditions would be as bad again this time, but a lot more sea-defences have been built, so hopefully less people will have been flooded out.  Sadly, some have been, but we'll have to wait to hear the news to find out more as the high tides will be sweeping further down south today. Also there will be a couple more high tides before the worst is over.  At least the wind is in the right direction, not pushing from the east, this would push the tides higher and also slow down the water that ebbs away.

The weekend starts tomorrow, and recently I've been taking both days off from writing my blog, but as am planning to go to B.Grange on Monday (early start), and may need to take Sunday off as have a very busy day baking for the FoodBank (and continuing throughout the week), am planning to have my usual chat with you tomorrow.  Probably won't be blogging Sunday and Monday, should be OK for Tuesday.  So - at the moment - it's 'expect me when you see me'. 
I always check my 'inbox', so if you have sent a query or a request for a recipe I will find time to get back to you even if it is a very short posting, published late evening.  Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.  TTFN.