Tuesday, December 03, 2013

I Don't Believe It!

Had a very Victor Meldrew moment yesterday when watching the news on TV - all about Cyber Monday (another American import?).  They said- and I wrote it down immediately and asked B to check I'd got it right as I couldn't believe it - that people had spent 480 million £££s already that day buying online, and the day wasn't yet over.

I then asked B what the population was of this country and he said 60 million (which includes children) so that works out at £8 a head, and I suppose - if you think about it - a family of six (two adults and four children - would average a cyber shop of less than £50.  Doesn't sound bad when you think of it like that.  But not every family will cyber shop, and what concerned me more was this time (and probably also on Black Friday) payments would have to be by credit (or debit) card.  Leaving more people in debt.

Now, considering this is supposed to be a recession when many families are finding it hard to keep their heads above water, where do they find all this money to go on a spending spree? The other thought that came to mind was the recent BBC charity evening (was it Pudsey Bear/Save the Children).  This year they had the best ever donations, over £30 million, with more added over the next few days.   Yet that amount seems a small drop in the ocean against the £480 million spent yesterday.   Seems that people are now becoming very selfish indeed.  Why give to charity when we can have a second plasma TV?

The more I see of this greed the less I want to spend in any shops.  I don't NEED anything, so why buy?  Make do with what I have. 
A recent comment suggested that we have this instinct to shop (the civilised name for 'hunter-gatherers of the past).  This is true, and myself do 'squirrel' things away, but now only the foods and non-foods that will store to keep us going should bad weather/illness/disaster prevent us from 'gathering' more. 

Before we ended up with this throw-away society,  people wore classically styled clothes (never go out of fashion), that would last for years, and after my mother died, several of her coats were then worn by younger members of her family (including myself then handed on to my daughter).  Things were made to last, and last they did.
When jackets were beginning to show wear at the cuffs and elbows, men would have leather patches sown over them, and it was only the other day I saw someone (was it Prince Charles?) with leather patches at his elbows.   As the soles and heels of shoes wore out they were re-soled and heeled.  How many cobblers do you see in the high street now?  Get a hole in the sole and throw shoes away.

As I keep saying, that was then and this is now.  More and more people are struggling with their finances, bills keep rising, but still seem to be tempted by what might to be a 'good offer'.  Let's say there was no Black Friday or Cyber Monday here, they probably would have not even bothered to think about buying anything anyway.  It seems just because it's THERE - and although much reduced in price, probably still not what they can afford, but what the heck, "I can pay by plastic and worry about finding the money later".  Which they can't, so pay only the interest and still owe the balance  that snowballs up and up.  Nobody seems to realise that in a very few years the interest payments alone will add up to what was originally owed, so whatever we buy ends up costing us twice the price. 

Well, had my say about this incredible greed that has come over the country, and now wish to give a small mention to something B read yesterday.  He too couldn't believe this - apparently children around five are extremely computer literate, but can barely hold a pen and cannot write.  Neither can they tie shoe laces.  "That was the first thing I learned to do - tie shoes laces" said B.  My reply was "suppose nowadays all children's shoes are fastened with that Velcro tab thingy, and they don't need to know about laces".  Seems that using comps and tablets etc, children now are losing the ability to have what we called 'nimble fingers', and you need these to take up any 'useful' skills.

This reminded me of something I used to make and sell in craft shops, and sell well they did.  It was small pinafores (like a chef's apron), that had six large pockets sown onto the front. Each had a different fastening.  The front of one pocket had two eyelet holes (fitted with a punch) with a large strong shoelace sewn on the apron then threaded through the holes and tied in a knot.  Another pocket was held together by a large press-stud.  A third closed with a zip.  The fourth with a button (and buttonhole),  Another had a little leather strap and buckle.  

As I write a thought has just come into my mind (well it usually does which is why I tend to swing from one topic to another without finishing the first, so bear with me), at one time I used to make seats (aka 'pouffes') for our children to sit on.  These started off by taking a strong cardboard box of the right size, then stuffing this tightly with rolled-up newspapers standing up on end (you would be surprised how much weight these can take). Taped the box closed then covered it with fabric (old curtain material etc), and made a matching cushion to fit on the top.  I can now see that fitting a pocket to each side of the 'pouffe' would be useful, and if a different fastening was used for each pocket, then children would enjoy using them.
A bit late this year, but the same idea could be put to use when we next make an Advent Calendar (or is that another thing we now buy for the children?).  Twentyfive little pockets each fastened with a range of assorted fastenings ("and each has to be closed once opened and the treat taken out, or you can't open the next one").

Forgot to mention yesterday about a new series about ten decades of Delia Smith that began yesterday on the Food Network (9.00am, rept. 300.pm, 7.30pm). Presumably one each day of this week?  I watched the first episode (narrated by Stephen Fry), and it is really good.  Pleased to hear a mention of how American 'took us over' (re convenience foods) in the '60s (and seemingly haven't stopped since).

The other day was saying how I enjoyed Nadia G's cookery show (sometimes called 'Bitchin Kitchen' or - more recently - Nadia's Kitchen' ).  I'd like to encourage novice cooks, and even the more experienced, to watch this prog.  Agree it is very OTT when it comes to the style, and initially this put me off watching, but I persevered (mainly because of Hans), and it really is one of the best cookery progs I've seen.  Not only does Nadia cook easily-made meals, she always explains why this, that or the other should be done.  There are three men who also give advice (not in her kitchen but their 'snippets' inserted into the programme), one is a young Greek man called 'Panos' (handsome), who talks about meat and fish, best buys and why etc.  Another is (I believe) an Arab (name in Arabic so unknown), who tells us all about the herbs and spices used that day.  The third is Hans, who is the most gorgeous body-builder I've ever seen, and gives us the nutritional information we need to know.  He is also 'good on wines' but do I listen?  I'm just looking at HIM!

Another fun thing about Nadia's programme is that she always has a theme.  One day she will be making three dishes to serve up to a boy friend that she intends to dump (let him go away feeling he's lost something good), or a meal to serve the parents of a new boy friend.  The other night she was demonstrating low fat meals to give a boy friend who had gained weight.  During her demos she also gives some really amusing chat.  Myself find her intense gazing at me (well it seems like that) without her ever seeming to blink, is almost hypnotic, and - quite honestly - I'm taking in all she demonstrates and have learned a lot.   We could do with 'a Nadia' cooking on TV over here.

As I lay in bed this morning, thought I must try and remember the name of those Palmiers that I forgot yesterday.  And there was me actually saying the name to myself, not realising I'd already remembered it.  So that's what those heart-shaped puff pastry nibbles are called.  Palmiers!

Before I begin today's recipes, must first reply to comments sent since I last 'blogged'.  A welcome to Anne (from Wales) who remembers me from the past (I'm always amazed anyone does). Hope you'll keep in touch Anne, we have many new readers who probably still read but we never hear from them again.  Which is sad.

I know you are fed up making spag. bol Granny G, but if you have a freezer, you could cook up a batch of minced beef and then freeze it in small quantities to later make up into Cottage Pies, or (with veggies) make Cornish Pasties, or add the necessary to turn it into spag bol meat sauce and layer this to make lasagne.  All can be made in advance (and cooked) to then re-heat in the oven/microwave.
Or how about Mac 'n Cheese (as they call it in the US)?  Or cauliflower cheese (with or without macaroni)? 
Something that is fairly quick to assemble (and one that children like to help with) is a pancake stack. Make the pancakes up to a day ahead (can be frozen), then place one on a baking sheet, spread this with a small amount of (say) left-over spag blog meat sauce, cover this with a pancake and spread with a tomato sauce, cover again and spread this with something 'green' (leeks in a white sauce etc), and continue layering with a pancake between each until as high as you wish.  Cover the final pancake with some cheese sauce, sprinkling grated cheese over, then place in the oven to heat through and brown off the cheese (if it is a high stack then tent with foil so that it reheats through before removing the foil to brown the cheese).
Some of the recipes today are 'child friendly' and if some of the ingredients might not be (according to the child), then substitute another ingredient. 

First recipe today is a real quickie, a cross between a Paella and Fried Rice (so I've called it Pride Rice). Although the rice needs cooking, plan to make this when you have some left-over rice OR use the 2 minute microwave rice (that can also be reheated in a pan - read the instructions on the back). Instead of chorizo, use 'ordinary' - but cooked - sausages,  instead of prawns used canned (drained) tuna or salmon. Or cooked chicken.

Pride Rice:  serves 4
10 oz (300g) basmati rice (see above)
1 tblsp sunflower oil
2 small chorizo sausages, sliced
1 onion, sliced
half tsp turmeric
6 oz (175g) frozen cooked prawns
4 oz (100g) frozen peas
4 fl oz (100ml) boiling water
salt and pepper to taste
Rinse the rice then place in a pan with one and a half measures of water to one of rice.  Bring to the boil, cook for 10 minutes, then cover, remove from heat and leave for 10 minutes before fluffing up with a fork.
Meanwhile, put the oil in a frying pan with the chorizo and the onion.  Fry for a few minutes until softened, then stir in the turmeric, the rice, prawns, peas, water, and seasoning to taste.  Keep stirring until everything is heated through, then serve immediately.

Another rice dish coming up, one of my favourites: a risotto.  This is the one dish I feel we shouldn't cut corners.  It is not expensive to make, but does need to be made properly.  Leave out the wine and you really would notice and complain.  A basic risotto can have several things added to make it more of a meal, and I give a second recipe for risotto that contains chicken (also not expensive if you use the chicken we pick from a cooked carcase.

Herb and Parmesan Risotto: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
1 teaspoon sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
9 oz (250g) risotto rice (Arborio)
half a wineglass of white wine
approx. 3 pints of hot vegetable stock
2 oz (50g) parmesan cheese, grated
2 handfuls soft herbs (basil, chives...) chopped
1- 2 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
Put the butter and  sunflower oil into a large frying pan over medium heat.  When melted, stir in the onion and stir-fry until softened,  Add the rice and keep stirring until the edges of the rice begin to look transparent.  Pour in the wine and cook until this has completely evaporated, then add a ladleful of stock, stirring continuously as the rice cooks, add another ladle of stock when the previous one has been absorbed.  After 25 - 30 minutes the rice should be softened with just a bit of a bite, and should appear creamy.  Not dry, and certainly not runny (you may not need to use all the stock). 
When the rice is ready, remove from the heat, stir in half the cheese and half the herbs, adding seasoning to taste.  Mix the remaining herbs with the oil and vinegar, adding more seasoning if you wish.  Serve the risotto in individual bowls with the remaining cheese sprinkle on top, drizzling the oil and vinegar dressing over.  Serve with crusty bread.

Roast Chicken Risotto: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
1 tsp sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)
12 oz (350g) risotto rice
1 glass white wine
approx. 3 pints (1.5lts) hot chicken stock
2 oz (50g) frozen peas
approx. 6 oz (175g) cooked chicken, shredded
2 oz (50g) Parmesan cheese
Put the butter and oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, and stir in the onion. Cook until softened then stir in the garlic.  Cook for a further minute then stir in the rice, continually stirring until coated in the butter.  Add the wine and cook until this has evaporated, then add a ladleful of stock.  Keep stirring, adding a further ladle of stock as each is absorbed.  After 25 minutes the rice should be nearly cooked (still slightly al dente), time then to add the peas and chicken.  Cook for a further 5 minutes. The rice should be creamy.  If becoming too dry add a little more stock and cook for a few more minutes until almost absorbed. When ready, stir in the cheese and serve immediately.

Nearly everyone enjoys a meal made with pasta, so this next recipe I hope will please everyone in the family (although for younger children you may wish to leave out the mustard). Granted it is a cold dish, but very tasty, and if a hot pudding is served after, doubt there will be any complaints. This is also good way to use up those oddments of cooked chicken (and remembering the time of year it could be turkey - this salad then making a good buffet dish for a New Year's Eve party).
Instead of a red onion (milder than a cooking onion) use 4 spring onions or 1 - 2 shallots. 

Honey-mustard Chicken with Pasta: serves 4
10 oz (300g) pasta bows (or other shapes)
3 tblsp mayonnaise (pref low-fat)
1 tsp whole-grain mustard
1 tsp runny honey
water if necessary
10 oz (300g) cooked chicken, torn into pieces
half a red onion, thinly sliced (see above)
a few leaves of fresh basil, roughly torn OR...
...a tblsp of chopped fresh parsley
4 small tomatoes, quartered
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions, then drain and cool under running water.  Into a large bowl put the mayo, mustard, and honey, mixing it together. Add a splash of water if necessary to bring it to the consistency of double cream.   
Gently fold in the pasta, chicken, onion, herbs and tomatoes, adding seasoning to taste, then serve.

A bit of advance preparation really helps when time is short, and this recipe shows how - once we have assembled 'the makings' - a really speedy snack can be cooked.  Served with a salad (or even baked beans for children) this can make a light meal in its own right.
Whereas we would toast a cheese sandwich under the grill and be satisfied with that, tucking cheese between two tortillas then frying it in a dry pan turns it into a 'quesadilla' (a Mexican Toasted Cheese sarnie').
This recipe goes one step (or two) further, making it more of a meal and certainly one that most children, teenagers and adults will enjoy.  Serve with a green salad to turn it into a real meal.from the carcase. 

Chicken/Turkey Quesadillas:  serves 2
4 flour tortillas
quarter pint (5 fl oz measure) cooked chicken
2 spring onions (or one shallot) sliced
1 red sweet mini-pepper, chopped
2 oz (50g) Cheddar cheese, grated
Put one tortilla into a heated and dry non-stick frying pan.  Scatter over half  of the chicken, the onions, pepper, and cheese, and cover with a second tortilla.  Press down using a fish slice (or your hand) then when the base tortilla is golden, flip over to brown the other side.   Repeat with the remaining 2 tortillas and ingredients.  Cut each into wedges and serve warm with salad.

If - for economy and ease - you wish to serve a cold meal (so you can use up odds and ends), during the colder weather always best then to finish the meal with a hot dessert.  The recipe below has been posted before (some time ago), but worth giving again as it can either be cooked in the oven, or - more rapidly - in the microwave.   Experienced cooks will realise it is the same ingredients and same weight as we would use for making a Victoria Sandwich Cake.  To make this pudding we just add the syrup.  To avoid any confusion, in this instance 'treacle' means 'golden syrup'. 
Supermarkets now stock their own-brand syrup and this is a great deal less expensive that the Tate and Lyle's Golden Syrup that still comes in those lovely tins (that I then clean out and use as plant pot containers or to hold my small kitchen utensils).

Schooldays Treacle Sponge Pudding: serves 6
6 well rounded tablespoons golden syrup
4 oz (100g) butter, softened
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
2 eggs
dash vanilla extract
4 oz (100g) self-raising flour, sifted
Grease a 1 lt baking dish and place the syrup at the bottom. Beat together the butter and sugar, and when creamy, beat in the eggs one at a time, adding the vanilla, then gently fold in the flour. Spoon this batter on top of the syrup.  
To cook in a conventional oven:  Bake at 180C, gas 4 for 30 minutes until risen and golden.
To cook in a microwave oven: cover with clingfilm and microwave on Medium for 7 - 8 minutes until risen and spongy.
Serve both with a good helping of custard.

That's it for today.  Already looking forward to meeting up with you again tomorrow.  TTFN.