Saturday, December 21, 2013

Onwards and Upwards...

At this time of year many of us are fortunate to be able to stock up our larders to see us through the long winter weeks.  Those who tend to rely on a regular shop (maybe weekly or monthly) probably don't bother to keep much in store. 
With no shortage of foods in the stores these days it is undoubtedly easier to buy a lot of food ready prepared than bother to make from scratch.  But when we do put ourselves out to cook we gain a lot.  Firstly we can save an incredible amount of money, and perhaps even more importantly, home-cooked meals taste far better than bought ready-meals, and many can almost match those served in top restaurants (and not difficult to make either).  We need to believe in ourselves (as cooks) and enjoy the experience.

My Beloved has just come in to show me a flyer that came through the door.  It was from Lidl.  He was showing me some of the offers (think one was Branston Baked Beans, a four-pack for £1).  Said to him "yes, lots of good offers there, but don't really NEED any.  We've got plenty of cans of baked beans, and there is enough food in the larder to keep us going for yonks.  That's the problem with these offers, we feel we are missing out if we don't buy them, but we can't keep buying more, however cheap they are when we already have enough".   He was a bit sad about that (he enjoys shopping for bargains), but agreed with me.

My larder is like a grocery store as it is.  Seems I HAVE to make sure I have 'one in use, one back-up, and one extra to make sure I never run out.  With several things (canned sardines, tuna, baked beans, chopped tomatoes... there are quite a few more than 'one extra').

This time next week my larder will start to be in full working order.  I'm treating it as a grocery shop in its own right.  As in the days before supermarkets, I will 'shop' almost daily, 'buying' from myself what I need to make the meals that day.   In those days too I used to keep a record of the amount spent on food - we could even buy little account books specially for this purpose, writing down how much spent on meat or fish each week, then the greengroceries, baker, dairy etc.  It was common for husbands to check once a month to make sure their wives weren't wasting money.

Cooks who worked in the larger houses also had to keep records of where the money went.  The mistress of the house would then check the expenditure.  In catering establishments today, this is also done, mainly because spending too much money means less profit.  The cook shops around for quality foods at the best prices, and changes his menu according to what are the 'best buys' that day/week.  The professional way that we should bring to our own domestic kitchens.  In fact stop thinking 'domestic', we home-cooks can probably put a far better meal on the table than many of the younger 'chefs' (as I've noticed watching a recent professional Masterchef).

As we usually eat a lot more over Christmas than usual, if not the actual main meals, we snack on mince pies, chocolates, Stollen, cheese and biccies.... by the end of next week we will probably only be wanting light meals (at least for a while).  This is a good time to eat meat-less meals, if not every day, at least on alternate days (we probably have cold cooked meat we wish to use up - but this keeps quite well in the fridge and of course can be frozen).   So today am giving some vegetarian recipes (in that they don't contain meat, but do use eggs and cheese).

The first recipe is a risotto 'cake' that can be served in slices with a good 'pizza type' tomato sauce poured round or over it.   As I've mentioned before, leeks are not often used in the Goode kitchen, so have adapted this recipe to use an onion instead, but if you have a large leek, use that instead, finely chopped.
Pesto Rice Cake: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
1 onion (about 6oz/175g) finely chopped
12 oz (350g) risotto rice
1.75pts (1ltr) vegetable stock
4 oz (100g) green pesto
2 eggs, beaten
ground black pepper
5 oz (150g) ball mozzarella, thinly sliced
a good tomato sauce, for serving
Melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the onion for 5 or so minutes until softened, then stir in the rice. When this is coated with the butter, pour in a ladleful of stock and simmer until almost all has been absorbed, then stir in another ladleful. Continue simmering, and adding more stock when needed, and keep stirring continuously.  After about 20 - 25 minutes the rice should be tender and creamy.
Stir in the pesto, eggs and black pepper.  Then spoon half this mixture into another (9"/23cm) non-stick frying pan.  Arrange the mozzarella slices on top, and spoon over the remaining rice.  Press down gently with a fish slice, then cook over medium heat for five minutes.
Put a plate over the frying pan and carefully invert the rice cake, then slide it back into the pan so the top-side is now underneath.  Press it down to reshape, and cook for a further 5 minutes or until golden (you could if you wish leave the 'cake' in the pan and finish it off under the grill).
Serve with a well-flavoured home-made tomato sauce.

This next dish is made with courgettes and bell peppers (plus other things of course). Have to say that courgettes are not my favourite veg, so would use any other that would 'roast' (butternut squash, parsnips, onions....maybe adding mushrooms and tomatoes towards the end of roasting.  As far as I'm concerned the more veg the better, the different colours look attractive, and each keeps its own flavour.  So although this dish is given in its original simplicity, feel free to use different vegetables.
Roasted Vegetable Pasta: serves 4
2 courgettes, cut into sticks (see above)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into sticks
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
3 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
10 oz (300g) pasta shells (or other shapes)
1 x 200ml carton crème fraiche
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
3 oz (75g) Cheddar cheese, grated
Put the courgettes and peppers into a roasting tin and sprinkle the garlic on top.  Drizzle with olive oil, making sure all the veggies are coated, and add seasoning to taste.  Roast at 200C, gas 6 for approx. 20 minutes until just tender and beginning to brown.
Meanwhile, bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta for approx. 10 or so minutes (until al dente).  Drain well and stir them into the roasted vegetables with the crème fraiche. mustard, and cheese.  Serve immediately.

If, like me, you buy different cheeses (such as Brie, Feta, Mozzarella, Halloumi, Goat's cheese) instead of (or as well as) just mouse-trap Cheddar and other hard cheeses that are favourites, then almost any of the 'specials' could be used in this recipe.  The original recipe (as given) suggests Feta, but cubed of Brie or a creamy goat's cheese would work just a well. Some 'hard' cheeses (such as creamy Lancashire) also melt down quite rapidly when warmed, so I'd use what I have rather than stick to what I should.
A few tins of chickpeas always can be found in my larder, but as 'back-up' also have a pack of driend chickpeas as I occasionally make hummous.  I've a jar of tahini (chickpea paste) in the larder that has separated (oil on top, ground chickpeas under), and find it impossible to stir the two together again.  The supermarkets don't seem to stock tahini,  and am wondering if there is any way I could get my jar of tahini back to how it should be.  Maybe heat it?  I don't want it to go 'off'.   Maybe someone has a remedy.  If so, please let me know.

If you haven't red onion, then use a white one.  If no courgettes, use celery or add cucumber to the dish (don't roast this).  If using a harder cheese than the one suggested, add the cubed cheese to the roasted veggies the minute they come out of the oven, during the standing time the cheese will soften.
Warm Chickpea Salad: serves 4
1 red onion, cut into wedges
2 courgettes, thickly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
ground black pepper
12 oz (350g) ripe tomatoes, halved
5 tblsp olive oil
juice of 1 small lemon (or half a large)
3 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
2 x 400g cans chickpeas, drained
4 oz (100g) feta cheese, cubed (see above)
pitta bread - for serving
Put the onion, courgettes, pepper and tomatoes into a shallow roasting tin, seasoning to taste with the pepper. Drizzle over 2 tblsp of the oil and toss well.  Roast for 30 minutes at 200C, gas 6, stirring half-way through, until the veggies are tender.  Leave to cool for 5 minutes while you make the dressing by mixing together the lemon juice, remaining oil, and the parsley.
Tip the still-warm veggies into a bowl with the chickpeas, feta and pour over the dressing.  Toss lightly and serve with pitta bread.

Using similar ingredients to the above recipe (plus a few more) will turn them into a more substantial warming winter stew.  Don't know why, but I always feel that 'casserole' sounds more appetising than a stew, and believe I'm right in that a 'stew' is cooked on a hob, and a casserole in the oven.  This dish is cooked both way, most of it on the hob, so suppose it is a 'stew'? 
Again courgettes are used (so I'd be substituting another veg of my choice), and as I know several readers do freeze courgettes, this dish will make good use of them.
As ever, use something similar if you haven't the exact ingredient.  Harissa paste/power is fairly hot, and cayenne or paprika would give a similar (but not as authentic) taste.  Myself would probably add a good dash of Heinz Tomato Sauce 'with Fiery Chilli' (I love this so much I add a squirt to almost every soup I make for myself, and also add it to mayo to make a spicy dressing for my seasticks).

The dumplings for this dish are flavoured with cheese, so every mouthful eaten is full of flavour. Goes without saying, use any hard cheese you have (I grate up all my odds and ends - Red Leicester, Double Gloucester, Cheshire, Cheddar, and together they give more flavour than if using a 'mature' cheddar).
Plum tomatoes have a lot more depth of flavour than the cans of chopped toms.  But if you only stock the chopped, then use these.  If no harissa, add a teaspoon of tomato puree/paste, and a good dash (to taste) of chilli sauce.
Spicy Tomato Stew with Dumplings: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
4 ribs celery, thickly sliced
1 x 400g can plum tomatoes
1 tsp harissa (see above)
2 large courgettes, halved then sliced
1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained
1 vegetable stock cube
1 oz (25g) butter, diced
7 oz (200g) self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 oz (75g) extra mature Cheddar, finely grated
4 fl oz (100ml) milk
Take a large flame-proof casserole and put in the oil.  Place over medium heat and fry the onion and celery for five minutes or until beginning to soften and change colour.  Tip in the tomatoes, fill the tomato can with water and add this to the pan, then stir in the harissa, courgettes, and chickpeas.  Crumble in the stock cube, cover (if you haven't a lid, make a cover with foil) and simmer for 20 minutes or until the veg is almost tender.
Meanwhile, make the dumplings.  Rub the butter into the flour and baking powder, adding a good pinch of salt, then stir in the cheese using a round-bladed (butter) knife.   Two minutes before the stew is ready, add the milk to the dumpling mix and stir with the same knife to form a dough.  Divide this into 8, rolling each into a ball.
Place the dumplings on top of the stew and then place in a pre-heated oven (200C, gas 6) and bake for 15 -20 minutes until fluffy, golden and cooked through.   Take the casserole to the table and serve hot, straight from the dish.

Wasn't sure whether to take the rest of the week off, seeing that readers will be busy doing other things, but for those who maybe live alone or who perhaps like some 'me-time' at the computer, will probably pop back now and then to see if anyone has sent comments (that I will reply to), and once Boxing Day is over we'll be eating meals made with left-overs, and after that what is in store.  So probably plenty to chat about even then. 
I won't be blogging tomorrow, and Monday we have arranged to meet our son at a restaurant on his way up to Scotland, so not sure if I'll find time to blog that day either.  The next day it will be Christmas Eve, then two more festive days before I can gather my breath again, so it will be a case of 'expect me when you see me', but if I've disappeared from your screens for a week you will know the reason why.

Before I leave you for today, must reply to comments...
It was good to know you keep reading my blogs Margie, so will try not to keep you waiting too long for my next one. 
Perhaps you can clarify something for me.  I recently sent our daughter some money for Christmas, and the rate of exchange gave $1.58 to our £.  So she'd have half as much again in dollars.  This might be to her advantage if prices are cheaper over there than over here.   But it could be everyone pays half as much again as we do for just about everything.  Is that how it works?

We now have two Alison's writing in (today), and as I've forgotten which one I should reply to as Ali, I'm adding their county of residence, but am sure they would have sorted the replies out anyway.

I'm cooking a gammon myself today Alison (Shropshire). And sneezing over the keyboard as I write. Let us hope I haven't caught a cold.  Do hope yours improves by Christmas.  Eating raw onions really helps I've found.  
We've had really cold weather these last few days, lots of wind and sleet tapping on our windows. Am hoping we get through to New Year without any snow, as although I'd love to see some, it wouldn't be good for those travelling at this time of year.

How fortunate you are Alison (Essex) to still have milk delivered to your doorstep.  Even though it is more expensive than supermarket milk, the fact that milkmen deliver lots of other dairy products (yogurts, butter, cream, eggs, cheese, sometimes potatoes and a host of other things) this often means we don't have to go to the supermarket very often as we could just about live off what is delivered (plus some other items from our stores), this alone can save us more money than the extra we pay for what our milkman delivers.  When we used to have doorstep deliveries, I'd buy the full-cream milk then water it down to turn it into 'semi-skimmed' (which is wasn't but over-all it ended up less 'fatty' per serving, and went further anyway).

The one place I'd hate to go to is a supermarket this time of year.  All the people shopping there and queuing up at checkout would stress me out full time.  Why does everyone seems to want to buy so much food?  After all, a Christmas dinner is 'just a dinner', and although it may be traditional (turkey etc) we don't HAVE to pile our plates full.  Traditionally we would serve at least 10 different things on that day: turkey, sausage, bacon rolls, stuffing, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts....and gravy as well.  Seems that red cabbage, peas, and quite often roast ham are now also included.  To fill our plates we need only one slice of turkey and a tiny bit of everything else, and yet we still ask for seconds (and sometimes thirds). But it IS Christmas, and we can always eat less (a lot less) once the Twelve Days are over.

Keep harping on about the 'old days' (like in my youth), but somehow then food was not given the importance it has today.  We then 'ate to live', not like today when everyone seems to want to live just to eat.  We did so much in our spare time, and because we worked longer hours and a five and a half day week, we enjoyed our free time so much more, out and about, never staying indoors unless the weather was bad.
Today youngsters seem to prefer staying indoors, eyes glued to TV and computer screens, and even if out doing something similar with 'tablets' and mobile phones, incessantly tapping texts to each other - or 'tweeting'.  Do they ever lift up their eyes to gain pleasure from all the free 'treats' that nature provides for us?   They will tell us 'that was then, this is now, and of course things are different'.  They are - of course - right, but does this difference make things better for us or worse?  In a few ways probably yes, the rest of the time a resounding NO! from me.  Only those old enough to remember how it was can understand how we wish and pray it was still like that now.  I'd even give up my washing machine to return to the 'good old ways', and that's saying something).

If I don't return before 'the day', then wish every reader A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS and make sure your family/visitors give you a helping hand (especially with the washing up).  Keep watching this space as I'll be back, hopefully sooner than later.  Bye for now. xxx