Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Which Path to Travel?

Do hope that some of you were able to listen to The Food Programme (either Sunday or the Monday repeat) as I'd love to hear your view on this. It was very good to hear 'the girl called Jack' mention how she costed out virtually everything she cooked/made, and I was very impressed with her version of 'restaurant style salmon mousse' (made with a pot of fish paste and yogurt!!). Something I ought to have a go at myself. Problem with me is that once 'Jack' mentioned the cost (per head: 27p) of the above 'mousse', my mind instantly went to 'what else can be made for that amout - per head (and more nourishing)'. Chicken liver pate for instance. Yet, in today's world, perhaps it is more 'the treats' that seem to be missing from pauper's plates. Good nutrition is not the be all and end all of eating (even though it should be). A man on the programme mentioned that life is nothing without treats, yet myself know that it IS possible to make plenty of foodie delights that cost a lot over the counter, but pennies to make at home. And there's the rub. We first have to learn how. Mixig together fish past and yogurt a child could do. So that at least is a start. Have to say my 'curry dip': creme fraiche or yogurt with a teaspoon of curry paste and ditto mango chutney also falls into that category. 'Jack's' mention of having only £10 a week to spend on food (for herself and small son), again made my mind tick over again. £10 is quite a lot of money when spent wisely, but again we need 'the knowledge'. Something else puzzled me. 'Jack' mentioned using food banks, once a week for 8 weeks, yet I've been told that only three 'allocations' are allowed (one per week for 3 weeks), although 'Jack' said she could have only 7 food items, plus some fresh fruit and veg. Here in Morecambe a lot more food is allocated, approx £40's worth at a time, but no fresh foods. Perhaps it's all to do with the area and who runs the food banks. What would I buy for £10 to last me a week (with some left over for a following week - or to feed a small child?). I've a good idea, but think this will be my next challenge. Go to the supermarket and see what I can buy for that amount. For anyone on a very tight budget, unfortunately the supermarket would have to be within walking distance as bus fares would take a goodly proportion of the budget before we even start shopping. Alternatively we could shop at local shops but prepare to pay more for the same foods. It's often hard for me to remember that many people who have a very tight food budget often don't keep many foods in store as there is little money left over each week to begin building up stocks. Once we have a few packs of 'dry goods' and tinned foods to tall back on, then we can spend less each week on what is needed, using the surplus money to build up even more stocks. All we then need is knowing the best way to put them all together. I've personally always felt that if someone is interested enough in food (whether the costing side or the actual cooking), then they will make good use of their kitchen. Some people are just not interested at all in cooking and even dangling the carrot of 'look how much money you can save' is not enough to encourage them to make a start. My B tried that approach when I had a car. "Learn how to do car maintenance" he would say "it will save you loadsa money". But I just wasn't interested. Thinking about it, he could have looked after my car as well as his, after all I cooked meals for him, but then a man's mind doesn't work that way. This mention of 'men's minds' has led me away from food poverty to an article I read yesterday by Mindy Hammond (in the Sunday Express supplement), maybe some readers also have read this. Mindy (who is married to Richard H -of 'Top Gear' fame and other TV progs), wanted to improve her kitchen, but her husband felt it would be too expensive. Considering Richard owns a goodly number of cars, and also motorbikes, plus - I believe - has the use of a helicopter (could have got that bit wrong), and almost certainly earns a LOT of money, you would think that spending a few thousand £££s on providing a new kitchen and Aga for his wife would not be too much to expect. At least they have 'compromised'. New worktops, an extra cupboard or two and a new (maybe reconditioned)Aga. It can't be easy living with a man like Richard who - considering all the TV works he does, hardly ever seems to find time to be at home. But I do enjoy reading his wife's 'diary of her life' each week. With such an amazing variety of animals to care for (horses, ponies, ducks, chickens, sheep, dogs, cats....) how does she find the time to clean, feed and water them all, drive her girls to school, do the shopping, the house-work, the laundry...? Am sure, in the background, there are people employed to help her, but it wouldn't make such interesting reading if they were mentioned. Returning to the topic of 'food poverty', is it me, or am I now just too old to see things as they really are? In today's world it does seem that providing food for the family is more to do with buying the 'ready-prepared' and cooking (other than re-heating) doesn't really come into it any more. Even if it did, like the man on the programme said - he doesn't want to know about the 'economy meals' as shown in Sunday Supplements etc, or the '100 different ways to use rice'. He just wants to know general stuff then make his own mind up what he will do with what he buys. Have to say I'm now extremely puzzled as to what road to take next. It's doubtful I'll travel along the 'fish paste and yogurt' path as that's just not 'me'. Maybe the difference between me and the rest of the world is that I'd take time to make some chicken liver pate (much cheaper than 27p a head), because I do have the time, others may prefer the speedy 'paste and yog' approach, and who would blame them? I'd be more than interested to receive as many comments from readers as possible as to the road they have chosen to take re 'food budgeting'. Do they prefer the quick and speedy approach, or do they wish for economy recipes that make take a little more time, but have more food value? Have any been 'forced' to learn to cook (as happened to me) because of food poverty, but then found they enjoy the 'making and baking', or do they still find they don't enjoy cooking. If so, why not? Two comments to reply to. One from Sooze (and welcome, or welcome back). We do have a Morrison's about 3 miles from where we live, so will look out for those spicy sausages next time I go. Loved hearing about the 'pantry meals' you have been making Margie. This is a perfect time of year to use up the rice, pasta, couscous, etc as they make great 'bases' for all sorts of cold summer salads. My comp. wouldn't accept the typing again this morning, but by devious ways I've managed to get it to accept it, not the normal print type, but hope it publishes as normal. Tomorrow is Norma the Hair day, so will again take that day off 'blogging' and return on Thursday, and although I miss writing daily, have to say the extra free time I am now getting has improved my life considerably, even though some of it I do spend sitting in the garden getting more of a tan. Almost feel guilty at the good weather we are having in Morecambe, the rest of the country seemingly suffering from very heavy downpours of rain, flooding, and extreme thunderstorms. We too have had rain, often during the night, the days still fairly sunny, yesterday being very hot sun all afternoon (so I sat outside and enjoyed it). So far we haven't had any thunderstorms other than a slight rumble. Storms are forecast over Cumbria today so maybe we will catch the edge. Have to wait and see. Seem to have twisted my left knee as it pains me greatly when I walk. Feels like it's being stabbed with sharp knives from the inside with each step. I shout with the pain sometimes. Have found it easier if I use a walking stick in each hand as then I can take more weight off the leg as I walk. Have had this pain before, is it something called 'housemaid's knee'? Am sure it will improve, but the sooner the better as far as I'm concerned. One of my favourite 'easy-to-cook' meals is just pasta with pesto sauce. Usually I buy ready-made pesto, but as I have plenty of home-grown herbs and the rest of the ingredients in my store cupboard will make 'salsa verde' to use as an alternative. You see, this is one of the problems that I find difficult to cope with. I love giving economical and cheap recipes, but almost always expect readers to have most (if not all) the ingredients ready to hand. So my recipes won't suit everyone, however cheap and tasty they are. Salsa Verde' 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley 1 clove garlic, crushed zest and juice of 1 lemon 2 tbsp capers, chopped 3 tblsp extra virgin olive oil salt and pepper Chop the parsley finely, then add the remaining ingredients. Toss through cooled, cooked pasta. As the comp is playing up again, think I'd better leave it before it shuts down altogether. Do hope this publishes properly (spell check won't work so excuse errors). Hope to able to return to you on Thursday, see you then.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Weekend 'Wittering'

Just time for me to write a few words before Gill phones me (in 70 mins), as have decided that if I can't write enough interesting things in that time, then it's not worth me writing at all!

Turning a disaster into a triumph has always been my motto, so I was very pleased when I checked the Internet and discovered that the leaves from a lemon tree CAN be used as flavouring in the same way as bay leaves.  So I collected all the fallen leaves - still 'fresh' so why they fell off I don't know - and layered a few in a jar with some caster sugar in the hope the sugar would end up lemon flavoured (could be very useful when making cakes and biscuits).  Today will also tuck a few leaves into the rice when cooking it for tonight's supper (curry).  The remainder of the leaves have been frozen to use later.

I was surprised at how strong the scent was from the lemon leaves, reminding me very much of those 'sherbet dabs' we used to have as children.  So - as it appears a lemon tree won't begin fruiting until it is at least 7 years old and I'm too old to wait that long, growing a lemon tree from a pip has still worked out to my advantage.  Had I not forgotten to water the plant it would still be growing (and growing, and growing), and no real use to me whatsoever.   Anyway, I've pruned it down to about a foot high (the leaves on this part still intact), and tucked the top 6" of the plant (still with new leaves growing) into the pot at the side of its 'mother'.  It may root, it may not.  Don't really care.  All I know is I've now got some wonderful leaves to flavour things with lemon and that's something worth knowing about BECAUSE THESE WERE FREE (the tree grown from a lemon pip).

If readers log on early enough to read this they might be interested to know that this lunchtime (12.30), on BBC4 the Food Programme is covering 'good food for those on a low income'.  If reading this later, it will be repeated tomorrow (Monday at 3.30pm Radio 4).  I look forward to listening to it.

In the paper yesterday was pleased to read that 'families could save £200m a year by lowering their fridge temperature by just 3 degrees.  Of course this means a national saving, not 'per family', although the way food prices are rising....!!

Apparently many people keep their fridges set at 7deg F,  but if lowered to 4 then foods that have a 'use-by' date should keep several days longer.  This I've discovered myself as regular readers know I've often mentioned that our fridge is set at 3degF,  and have to say that many 'use-by' dates can keep 'fresh' at least a week longer (and dare I say it up to a month?).  
It seems that the little extra power needed to lower this temperature is far less cost than the food that many families throw away because it has reached it's 'use-by' date at the higher setting.

There was also a mention that most of the use-by foods could be frozen when they have reached their date rather than be thrown out (something I also do) "but families often let them spoil in their fridges".

Margie, you mentioned - because of a power failure - you lost a lot of frozen food.  Firstly, hope that you insured it (most household policies cover the loss of frozen food - as do freezer insurances), ideally, photograph all the food that has to be thrown out (as proof) and make a written record.

One good thing about freezers is that if the power fails, as long as the door is left unopened, the food should stay solidly frozen for several days, especially if the freezer is well packed with food.  Think 4 days is certainly mentioned as a safe time to keep food in a freezer that has lost power.

Any food that has thawed out could still be cooked (as long as there is an alternative source of cooking other than electric all that source of power has failed - and one reason why I always have a gas hob and electric oven).  Camping 'gas' stoves, or even a barbecue can be used to cook foods that need cooking. 

'Angel Delight' is still sold Taalaadee, and possibly also 'Birds Trifle Mix' that I often used to buy when our children were small.  It was at that time I noticed that carrageen (moss) was the setting agent used in this trifle mix, and this led me to buying some of this from a health shop (or was it a chemist?) and use this to set my jellies instead of gelatine.  It worked well.

Do hope you reminded the plasterers to clean your garage door before they left Taalaadee.  It was their mess, they are supposed to clear it up.  I'm afraid I'm not a 'workmans' friend' when it comes to what they leave behind, I tend to take a good hard look and then say something like "would you like a cup of tea before you start cleaning up the...and the....and the.... before you leave?"

Myself enjoy eating savoury rather than sweet Eileen, although not due to my diabetes (type 2), although I do indulge in a bag of Wherther's Original toffees each weekend, but these are the 'sugar free' ones.  They are smaller than the 'original'' and I'm saving every golden wrapper (I already have a box full!!) ready to thread on strong cotton to make shiny gold strings to hang around the Tree at Christmas.  I already have a reel of strong cotton (it was my mother's!!) so that's another 'freebie' in the making.  A really good reason to eat these sweets don't you think?

Not sure if you've written before Kerry, but would like to give you a welcome (or welcome back whichever fits..).  What a good idea to be able to have an 'unread list' of postings so you don't miss any.  Maybe most readers already have this, but then I'm so far behind the norm when it comes to computers I really don't know what can be set up and what can't (and quite honestly don't really want to know, just as long as I can read my emails/comments and write my blog that's all I need it for.

Got up early this morning, believing it was earlier than it was because it was still on the dark side, but no - just after 6.00am so decided to stay up and begin cooking the chicken that had been marinading in curry sauce (from a bottle and I'm not even apologising for that) overnight.  I'd thawed out a big bag of 'Value' chicken portions (having saved only the thighs - the drumsticks used for the barbie the other weekend), plus another few from an earlier bag, so ended up with 10.  Decided to cook five as 'Butter Chicken' the remaining five as 'Tikka Masala'.  The first five I cooked earlier this morning, and now turned out ready to remove the bones and freeze most of it away (B having some for supper tonight).  Later this morning will be cooking the Tikka chicken, and then cooling THAT and freezing it away (although I might have a portion of both myself as a treat tonight).  

Darker this morning for two reasons.  We have now passed the summer solstice and the nights are drawing in (days getting shorter), also it was very overcast and raining when I woke.  This was promised and the garden could do with a good soak.  Luckily yesterday I was able to grab a couple of hours sitting in the sun again before the clouds rolled in, and each time getting browner and browner.  B is quite miffed as I'm now browner than he is, so he keeps going and sitting on the bench to gain a bit more of a tan in the hope of catching me up.   I have to say, my 'bingo wings' certainly look better when tanned, I can even wander around wearing a sleeveless T shirt without being embarrassed about my 'floppy bits' (but at my age who really cares???).

Just time for me to give a few foodie suggestions.  The first is re 'Merguez' sausages.  I've often read about these and wish I could buy them as they are highly spiced lamb sausages that originate from North Africa.
Recently I discovered a recipe to add the same flavour when making lamb kebabs, so anyone who makes their own Merguez sausages might like to use this recipe than shove the mixture into sausage skins.  For a 'skinless' sausage version, just roll the mixture into middle-finger length and thickness and fry until cooked.

Merguez Lamb kebab/sausage mixture: makes 12
2 tblsp each cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds
1 tblsp paprika pepper
2 tblsp harissa
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1lb 12oz (800g) minced lamb
salt and pepper
Put all the spices into a small dry frying pan and toast until beginning to 'pop' (do not let them burn). Tip into a mortar and grind to a powder with a pestle, then mix in the harissa, garlic, and cinnamon. 
Put the minced lamb into a bowl with the spices and seasoning to taste and dive in with clean hands and work the lot together until everything is well combined (if you wish to use this mix to make sausages, you can pulse the meat/spices/seasoning together in a food processor to make more of a meat 'paste', but don't overdo it or it will end up like a puree/pate).
This mixture can be made and chilled for a day before forming into kebabs or into sausages.  Then barbecue/fry in the normal way until cooked through.

Time for me to take my leave as Gill will be phoning shortly.  I will be back again on Tuesday. See you then.    

Friday, July 26, 2013

Having a Good(e) Time!

For some reason the computer has decided to speed up.  Couldn't believe it this morning as I had hardly any waiting time to receive my email, then change to another part of this comp to set up my blog page.  Let us hope it continues.

Even though we have had some rain, still the sun shines and I sat out again yesterday getting browner and browner (this after Norma had done my hair), and it is good to have just that little bit more 'me' time now I'm not writing the blog EVERY day.   I even finished reading the second of Betty MacDonald's books.  Have to say I preferred 'The Egg and I', and 'Onions in the Stew' to the middle two books.  In none of them she mentioned meeting her to-be husband(s), which is something I hoped to read about.

It is good to have two readers in Australia - Sheridan and Kate.  Maybe there are others who have yet to let us know they exist.  It is good to hear from all readers, even if they comment only once, just so we know 'they are there'.
Kate mentions the seeming lack of vegetables served in schools and hospitals.  This is true and perhaps because (especially) children won't eat them so there would be much waste (which cannot be afforded). But there are other foods that supply our 5 a day such as baked beans, lentils, canned tomatoes/puree, canned fruit, dried apricots or dates (or other dried fruits), orange juice, and maybe many (or all) of these are included in 'institutional' meals.

I've lent the 3 Nella Last's books to my next-door neighbour, so am waiting to see if she enjoys them, and yes Mandy, I did watch 'Housewife 49'.  Must have seen it several times now, and still enjoy it.

A bit unfortunate with my lemon tree Pam.  I forgot to water in for a couple of days in the heat, and it began to droop.  Soon picked up after a good drink, but half the leaves have now fallen off, but at least the bottom (and top) have leaves, I was going to prune it down anyway.  I tore a fallen leaf in half and gave it a sniff and it had a most gorgeous lemony scent.  Am wondering if lemon leaves can be used to flavouring in the same way as bay leaves.  I will collect the fallen leaves and put them in a bag in the freezer until someone lets me know if they have a use.

I've always understood that although apple trees can be grown from pips, they don't bear fruit unless grafted onto an established 'stock'.  But then didn't someone like Johnny Appleseed go across America (or was it England) sowing apple pips as he travelled, and they all grew into trees that fruited?

It is said that the (wild) cherry trees that often line the side of the old Roman Roads in England originated from the cherry pips that the Roman soldiers used to spit out as they marched across our country. 

Your mention of Vesta meals Taaleedee has taken my mind back to those times.  How we used to love them (and how dreadful they really were).  Am sure they are still on sale (hopefully 'new improved'), and also those crispy pancakes I'm sure I've seen on Tesco's website. 

What other delights did we begin eating in the 60's?  Arctic Roll comes to mind, also Prawn Cocktail, and Black Forest Gateau.  Have to say the latter two I still make regularly.  What other retro dishes can readers remember, and either liked or disliked?

Today has dawned sunny again, no clouds yet in sight so I hope to be able to spend a few more hours in the garden.  It is amazing how many more flowers have sudden bloomed after the rain.  It doesn't matter how many cans of (saved) rain water I give the plants, there seems to be some magic ingredient in 'fresh' rainwater.  This necessitated me doing quite a bit of dead-heading yesterday to make sure more and more blooms appear.  I've never seen the garden containers look so pretty AND healthy.

Just noticed that we do seem to have a good crop of apples on the tree this year (it did have a lot of blossom in spring but I thought the frost had caught them). Last week couldn't see any apples (too small) but the rain seems to have made them grow too.  Hopefully will be able to harvest them before they drop from the tree and get bruised.  That's a job for B, so will have to make sure he picks them in time.  As they are cooking apples, they will store well (if perfect).

Having more time to myself, still managed to do plenty in the kitchen and had a good time yesterday sorting out the larder, intending to use what I've got rather than buy more (at the moment).  The recent Superscrimpers prog (based on food/meals) highlighted food storage.  One family had about £100 of food in store (I then began to wonder how much mine would add up to - and a great deal more than that if I included all the meat and fish in the freezer). 

It seemed there were only the two young adults in the family, yet they spend THOUSANDS of £££s on food over the year (including take-aways and eating out).  Also threw a lot of food away they didn't get around to eating.

They were given the task of creating a meal to serve 8 using only the ingredients they had in store, but allowed £5 to spend on 'fresh foods' (and they got away with spending a few pennies less than that).  It was an interesting experiment I suppose, but am pretty sure all my readers will have been able to rustle up a meal many times using ONLY what they had in store and without spending one penny more. 

My B had a meal made from 'what I had' yesterday. Liver, bacon, cabbage and potatoes.  But then the liver came from the freezer, the bacon, cabbage and small potatoes from the fridge - and all three of these have a reasonably long 'shelf-life'.
For 'afters' made a 'sort-of' cheese-cake by beating up some Philly 'light' cream cheese, with the last of the 'raspberries and cream' EasiYo yogurt (both from the fridge), and then beating in some 'just-about-to-thicken raspberry jelly that I'd made with half a pint of water instead of a pint.  Poured this into a buttery crumb-lined flan dish and left it in the fridge to set.  It worked well enough, even I enjoyed it (hardly any sugar in it), especially with cream poured over.

At the moment I'm trying to avoid going into the fridge because the light-bulb has blown.  The freezer side of 'Boris' still has a light and when I open THAT door it all looks so welcoming with a 'come inside and take a look, wander round the shelves and pick what you fancy. Don't forget to peek inside the drawers in case you miss something good'.  Then I  open the fridge door and it's so dark and gloomy in there it's like looking into a dungeon and I rapidly retreat.  "It's so depressing when we look in the fridge now" I said to B.  He laughed, but when I first opened the freezer door, then shut it and opened the fridge door, he said he knew what I meant. 
Unfortunately we can't find out how to get to the bulb to replace it, so as we've mislaid (or even lost) the manual that came with the appliance, am hoping to be able to find out the details on the Internet.  At least the fridge is still working, and it is insured so perhaps (playing my very old lady card) I might be able to get the insurance to send someone out to replace the bulb.

We had a very old 'retro' fridge when we lived in Leeds, and the light bulb in that gave up the ghost after a few years and we never replaced it, so I suppose it doesn't really matter if we have to do without for a while, and at least it might stop B snacking late a night when he can't see what's in the fridge unless he takes a torch (memo - hide the torch!).

The previous day's main meal (did I get around to mentioning it?) was Fish Risotto.  B said it was absolutely lovely, great flavours.  Must admit I do make it 'properly' but only because I have all the necessary to hand.  First I fry some finely chopped shallot (could be onion) in a little butter, also adding some chopped red bell pepper (mainly to add a bit of extra colour), then stir in Arborio rice, followed a couple of minutes later by a small glass of white wine (I pour a large glass but drink the rest while I continuously stir the risotto - the maybe get myself another glass as I continue stirring.....). Once the rice has absorbed this then add a ladle of (home-made of course) boiling chicken stock, then once this has gone add boiling water the fish (smoked haddock, salmon, and 'white fish') has been lightly poached in.  As this time I'd run out of salmon, substituted some frozen prawns.
During the cooking time and between slugs of booze, I flake the fish and - when the rice is just about ready (al dente if you want to be posh), I add some frozen peas, the flaked fish, and once this has heated through, finally the frozen prawns (no need to thaw). Cover the pan, call 'Supper's ready' to B, and by the time he has gathered himself together (in other words woken up) and strolled into the kitchen, the meal is ready to serve. 

Sometimes I don't add the peas, but add chopped parsley for the 'green' colour. Oh, yes - do add plenty of 'seasoning' (in this instance pepper) otherwise risotto can be a bit bland.A very easy - and tasty - dish to make, when made as above, the only downer is that it needs to be stirred continually throughout the cooking, not that I mind because I can sit down while at the bob, and with the radio on and have to say that stirring with one hand and holding a glass in the other is a very enjoyable was to cook.
Maybe, next time I make a spag.bol meat sauce I will add red wine (plus a glass for me to slurp), as the wine in not something I usually add (HP and Worcestershire sauce give a better flavour in my opinion).  Have just about drained the box of white wine (kept in the cupboard alongside a box of red - for 'cooking purposes' only B hasn't yet sussed that and most of the time he drinks it before I get a chance to use it). Even if the tap on the box refuses to drain off any more wine, even when tipped, there is always a glass and a half left in the box, so I always cut the box and inner bag open and pour it out before throwing the box away.  These 'dregs' (perfectly drinkable - and usually drunk by me), can be frozen in ice-cube trays to use for risottos and other dishes later (unfortunately this way I don't get a chance to have a sly drink, but the meal benefits and so does the eater (who is B of course).

A recipe suggestion today for making use of courgettes.  B and I don't really like this vegetable, B not at all, and me only when very young and very fresh, but I do know many readers grow courgettes and have quite a glut of them when in season (are you growing them again this year Eileen?).
The ricotta cheese used in this dish is the only 'expensive' ingredient, but as we can strain our home-made yogurt to make our own version of 'ricotta', then that's one way of reducing the cost.
Because the oven cooking time is fairly short, the pasta sheets are part-cooked before assembling, If you wish to use the 'no-need-to-first-cook' lasagne (as I do), whenthe dish is assembled and left to stand a while before cooking, the lasagne will begin absorbing some of the tomato sauce and so begin to soften but probably need longer cooking time, in which case cover the dish with a tent of foil (shiny side up), removing this 5 minutes before the end of cooking time.

Creamy Dreamy Courgette Lasagne: serves 4
9 dried lasagne sheets
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
6 courgettes (about 1.5lbs/700g) coarsely grated
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 x 250g (9oz) tub ricotta cheese
2 oz (50g) cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
350g jar tomato 'pasta' sauce (or passata)
Cook the lasagne sheets in boiling water for about 3 minutes until softened but not cooked through, then rinse under cold water, drain dry, then drizzle with a little oil to stop them sticking together.
Meanwhile, put the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion for 3 minutes, then stir in the garlic and courgettes. Continue cooking until the courgettes have softened and turned bright green.  Stir in two-thirds of the ricotta and half the cheddar.  Add seasoning to taste.
Heat the tomato 'pasta' sauce (or passata) in a pan until hot (or heat in the microwave for a couple of minutes), the begin layering up the lasagne.
Take a large, shallow oven-proof dish and starting with half the courgette mix, place this in an even layer over the base, top with pasta, then tomato sauce.  Repeat, then finally top with blobs of the remaining ricotta cheese, sprinkling the last half of the cheddar over the lot.
Bake on a high shelf at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for about 10 minutes or until the pasta is tender and the cheese is golden. 

As all cheeses are fairly expensive, we should never throw away the dried up odds and ends that tend to get left in the fridge.  Grate these up and store in the freezer to 'add to things'.  The harder the cheese has dried out, the finer the grating and it can often be used as a substitute for the much more expensive Parmesan.

One of my favourite savoury 'biscuits' is the Parmesan Crisps.  Basically this is just piling small heaps of grated Parmesan onto a baking tray and baking for a very few minutes until melted and golden crisp.  Very fragile, but absolutely gorgeous.

To cut costs, here is a recipe for something similar, not so quick to make of course, but as the mixture can be frozen and a chunk cut off to thaw and slice to cook as and when needed, this makes good use of the oven when on for something else. 
If you dry out some Stilton (or even grate the Stilton rind) this give another dimension to the flavour, in which case coat with finely ground walnuts rather than poppy seeds.  Another suggestion would be use Gruyere cheese and coat with sesame seeds.   As you can see, plenty of opportunity to experiment with cheese flavours and coatings.
If you use salted butter, then omit the pinch of salt.  Well, I think that makes sense.

Spicy Parmesan Biscuits: makes 30
3 oz (75g) finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 oz (75g) plain flour, sifted
pinch of salt
pinch of cayenne peppe4r or chilli powder
3 oz (75g) butter, pref unsalted, chilled and cubed
1 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp poppy seeds
Put the Parmesan, flour, salt, and chosen spice into a bowl and mix in the butter and oil, gently working it all together with the fingertips.  If the mixture is too crumbly, add a few drops more oil.
Roll into a log shape about 8" (20cm) long, then roll this in poppy seeds to coat the outside.
Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge to chill for half an hour or so.   Alternatively store the wrapped dough in the freezer until needed and defrost when ready to bake.
Cut the dough into thin slices and place on a well-greased baking tray.  Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for about 10 - 15 minutes until golden (and smell wonderful).  Cool on a cake airer.

Funny weather we are having.  While I was writing the sky clouded over, then suddenly it is wall to wall blue sky again.  Will go out now and have a bask in the sun while I have a chance, plenty of time for me later to get on with my 'chores'.  Really do need to sort out my freezer/s and list what I have and what I need (not that I 'need' anything, but do like to keep in as wide a variety of meat/fish as possible).   I bet we ALL decide to go out to the shops to buy 'something for supper' when we have already enough in store to keep us reasonably well fed for at least a month (and probably a lot longer).  Why do we do it?  Perhaps it is our 'hunter-gatherer' instinct that we still find hard to control. 

I may take the weekend off from blogging, much depends on the weather, and whether I do anything today that I feel is worth a mention (otherwise I might forget).  Worth logging on for I could be back tomorrow, probably not Sunday (as that is the day Gill phones which takes an hour anyway), so tomorrow or Monday.  It's rather nice now I don't feel so pressured to desperately think up something of interest to blog about each day.  Hopefully my blog will now begin to improve.

As ever, hope all of you have a good day and don't suffer too many thunderstorms - which we seem to have avoided so far, although I still get the occasional thunder headache.  We do need the  rain, so am grateful for that.   The Tumbler tomato is really good this year, yesterday picked 17 ripe toms with plenty more to come.  Am beginning to 'ramble' again, so must take my leave. TTFN.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Making a Start

Just popping in for a quick chat as I won't be blogging tomorrow (then - hopefully - back again on Friday).

A reminder to those who enjoy Nella Last's books, that the prog. 'Housewife 49" is on ITV3 tonight (Freeview 10) at 9.00pm.  I've watched it several times, and hope it doesn't clash with anything else so I can watch it again.  Even if readers are not familiar with her writing (wartime diaries of her life) am sure they will enjoy watching this programme, especially as Victoria Wood plays Nella (anything with Victoria Wood in it is worth watching - as is anything with Julia Walters, who is in 'Jury' the programme that follows the one above).

Am having to rethink my approach to cooking as it is becoming more and more obvious (watching TV progs) that there are so many people now who have no idea of how to cook at all.  Yet I still believe that those who wish to, will find a way to learn.  After all, I was 40 before I really understood anything about cooking, and this only because I was forced to learn to cook from scratch (because I'd run out of money).  Previous to that I HAD served home-cooked meals, but always the plain and simple, with no knowledge of how to make bread, pasta, yogurt, and all the little 'necessities' that we normally buy. When your stores are close to running out you either have to learn how to make using the very little left (such as flour), or starve.  In those days there were no 'foodbanks', and perhaps just as well or I'd never have learned enough to start me on the road to where I have arrived now.

Unfortunately, the more nutritional knowledge that we are given can often make life more difficult for novice cooks.   I've just been reading a long article about our 'five-a-day' - which seems fairly simple until I discover that some foods should be twinned with another to get the best from both.  I did know that our bodies can absorb more iron from iron-rich foods when taken with Vit. C, but never got further than drinking orange juice when eating an egg (at breakfast for instance).  Knowing that we can gain more iron from spinach when eaten with Vit-C rich fruit or veg (lemons, oranges, peppers...) widens my cookery horizons I suppose.   
Anyone who enjoys eating broad beans should also eat parsley as the two together helps our bodies to absorb the essential whatevers.  Is that why - in the old days - broad beans used to be served with parsley sauce?  And I bet then the nutritional reason was not known, it was that they just tasted good together.  Perhaps that's nature's way to get us to eat the right things - if they 'go well together' then they do us good.

The article also has a page showing 30 different fruits and vegetables, each with the correct amount for our 'five-a-day'.  Many are what I call 'expensive' (asparagus, avocado, grapes, melon...) and it annoys me that if I eat half an avocado, that counts as one of the 'five', but eating the whole avocado won't count as 2 of the 'five'. 

It seems harder these days to eat at least five-a-day (and that is the minimum - the recommended amount is seven, and in Italy I understand they eat 12 - just because they grow so much fresh fruit and veg I suppose).
Maybe summer meals - all those salads - will give us our recommended amount (lettuce, celery, tomato, cucumber, radishes, bell peppers, mushrooms....) without even having to think much about it.  We also have plenty of fresh fruits around at this time (summer berries etc).  Baked beans also count, but annoyingly potatoes DON'T (although 1 large sweet potato does).

My mind goes back to pre-war (and post-war days) when little was known about nutrition other than serving 'meat and two veg' plus pudding seemed to be the order of the day.  Even then, suppose we did get our 'five-a-day' with prunes (to keep us regular) for breakfast, carrots, onions, and maybe a green veg with our main meal of meat (we always had spuds but as I said, they don't count), an apple a day (keeps the doctor away) as a snack, probably a tomato or cucumber sarnie at tea-time, and not forgetting the fruit puddings for 'afters'.
In those days it seemed the rule was always to serve 'a balanced meal', and that's what my mother did. Like all of use old enough to remember, how those meals were boring compared to the dishes we have learned to cook since then.  But at least the 'old-style' were healthy, what we got was what we needed, nothing more, nothing less (other than wartime rations when we did get less - but still got enough to keep us well).  How different it is today when we now seem to live to eat, rather than eat to live. 

I'd be interested in hearing reader's views on the nutritional advice given today.  Maybe experienced cooks already know it, or at least have learned enough to understand what is going on.  Novice cooks I'm sure would be put off cooking anything when faced with too much information.  Who can blame anyone for preferring to buy a ready-meal when all the work (including the 'balance' of ingredients) has been done by someone else.  All I can say is thank goodness I learned to cook before the supermarkets arrived in this country.

We give a welcome to Mo who has sent her first comment.  Hope to hear from you again Mo. It is good to have different views on the various foodie subjects I chat about. Especially good to know I'm not always right!!

Did watch an earlier series of The Hungry Sailors Sairy, but so far have not yet watched this new series.  Thanks for the tip about how to extend the washing up detergent.  Every penny saved soon mounts up.

At the time my series was on TV Pam, I did record the programmes, but somehow the cassette (tape) got recorded over by one of the family, so I lost them.  Not that I enjoyed watching myself, so perhaps better they disappeared.  I'd also set the recorder to tape the live Pebble Mill at One progs and also Bazarre when I was appearing on these shows, but somehow these tapes too have disappeared.  Anyway, cassette tapes seem now obsolete, everything is on CD or is it DVD or maybe I'm still behind and we now record on something else (like the TV set itself?). We only seem to catch up and decide to buy when things have gone out of fashion, so have stopped buying recording equipment altogether.

Received the latest copy of Lakeland the other day and very pleased to see they now have a slow cooker that also does 'sous-vide', and FAR cheaper than the original sous-vide appliance they had before.  Only problem when cooking at the very low temperature for sous-vide is that we also need a vacuum-pack appliance to bag the food to be cooked, and this - at the moment - is dearer than the slow-cooker.   I have seen several cooks tightly roll chicken etc, in clingfilm, twisting the ends tightly to close (and some also tie the ends with string), then slow-cook/poach them, so maybe this could be a cheaper way to 'sous-vide'.  Am sure Les would be the man to tell us if this cling-wrap suggestion of mine would work.

Well, have had my chat (longer than intended but enjoyed every minute of it), so now much pop outside and re-pot my lemon and avocado 'trees' that are fast outgrowing their pots.  I understand that lemons need pruning in the spring, but may have to do this now as the lemon (grown from a pip) is now about 4 ft high, with just one long stem, and a small offshoot branch very much lower down.  It doesn't look attractive the way it is now, so I won't miss the bit taken off.  Who knows, if I shove the top bit into the soil at the side of the original plant it may even root.   

A gardener once told me that geranium cuttings root more easily when pushed into the soil at the sides of the pot that held the 'mother' plant.  It's nice to know that the 'babies' thrive better with a guiding hand from mother hovering close nearby.   Perhaps many other plant cuttings also grow better when in close proximity to their 'parent'.

One way to prevent 'leggy' seedlings, usually grown indoors on windowsills where they strive to reach the light, is to gently brush the seedlings back and forth with the hand, once or twice a day.  This gives them similar conditions that they would get if grown outdoors with the wind blowing over them, so they grow sturdier to cope with this 'stress'.  I've tried it, and it does work.

Well, that's it for today.  No blog tomorrow as Norma the Hair will be here early, and I may go out afterwards.  Should be back on Friday (if I've got anything interesting to day). 
So far a reasonable day, cloudy but fairly bright.  Had a real 'thunder headache' yesterday (this feels like I've a pile of house bricks sitting on top of my head), but apart from slight showers of rain and a very distant rumble of thunder, barely noticeable, we had none of the storms that the rest of the country seemed to have suffered with.  My headache disappeared after the 'rumble', so it probably was a storm some miles away, but hopefully not a bad one.

Two of the baby seagulls seem now to have flown the nest (or rather flown the roof) but one still there sitting sulkily alone, perhaps not yet sure what to do.  Let us hope its mother doesn't forget it, or perhaps if she does this will make it decide to take its first flight.

Whatever the weather throws at us today, there are more high pressures over the continent that appear to be moving our way, so once this rain belt has moved up and over, we may be back to more sunny days again. Let us hope so.  

Enjoy your day, hope to meet up with you again on Friday.  TTFN. 


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Planning the Future...

Many thanks for all your comments.  Many times I've been told there was no need for me to write a blog every day, but myself felt I was letting readers down if I didn't.  That, of course, was making myself far more 'useful' than I really am.   It is good to know that readers also feel that a few blogs a week, as and when I feel like it, will be acceptable, and - in a way - will allow me to write when I do have something really interesting to write about (or moan about), rather than desperately try to fill a page (or pages) with just my 'rambling'. 

So, while this good weather lasts, and there is work to do in the garden, I will be taking days off and probably not deciding until the actual day, so can't give you fair warning.  If I 'disappear' for a day or two, expect me back again, but if the computer is preventing me, then I will get Eileen or Steve to put up a message for me.

Although it appeared to have rained last night, we didn't have a storm (unless I slept through it), and the skies are clearing with the sun shining again.  Shortly I'll be going out with Norris down to the shops.   Certainly feel more inclined to blog when the weather is bad, and certainly will be writing regularly again during the colder months, but with our weather being so unusually good, feel I want to make the most of it while it's here.
Of course I gave the plants a good watering yesterday evening just in case it didn't rain, but perhaps as well I did for the containers are so full of flowers and some leaves that they cover the soil, so maybe not a lot of rain could fall through them.    LOADS of tomatoes ready to harvest, I keep eating them like sweets.

As many comments relate to welcoming me back, I'll just reply to a few that mention other things, but do thank all of you who have written and I think a welcome to Barbara (for I haven't any recall of that name appearing before).

Margie and Pam wrote in with answers to my query re the difference in the US/Canadian flours and our British flour.  Very recently heard either Barefoot Contessa and/or Anna Olsen suggest using cake and pastry flour for a recipe they were making, then add: "but if you haven't any, use all-purpose flour and add a bit of cornflour". Myself feel that our plain and self-raising flour are nearest to the US 'cake and pastry flour', and by adding a little strong flour to the plain would make it close to the all-purpose flour.  Mainly because I've often found strong flour works better in some recipes than our ordinary plain flour (for Yorkshire Puddings, choux pastry etc...).

As you say buttercup, the food budget works when a month's meals are planned ahead.  Am not sure exactly what the family in question cooked/ate (two parents, four children), but with two wages and all the child allowance, SURELY they had enough money for food.  What again was obvious - no food stored in their kitchen cupboards that could be used to 'stretch' the fresh foods.

Myself never plan what meals I am going to make each week, preferring to decided almost day by day, but then am able to do this because I have plenty of canned/packet foods in the larder, and a fridge full of fresh foods, and two freezers full of frozen food (mainly meat, fish, poultry, few vegetables, and some home-made ready meals in case I don't feel like cooking).  It's almost as though I have my own supermarket in my kitchen. 

There are times I feel ashamed of having so much food at any one time, but it's there, not because I've spent loadsa money stocking up, it's been built up slowly still keeping within my food budget, usually because just about all the food I buy these days are at a lower price than normal - 'on offer'. So each time I order on-line my choices will be according to the best buys for that week (I order once a month and sometimes an offer will last that long).  I don't allow myself to run out of coffee before ordering, and often order more when I have a couple of jars left, but always wait until the price has dropped, choose the jar size that works out the best by weight (sometimes it is the 200g, sometimes the 300g), then buy about four jars which last us months, certainly long enough to wait for the next offer.  I do the same with Fairy Liquid.  Once bought no need to buy again for six months (or a year!!).

At the moment my larder is slowing clearing itself as I work through what I have.  As time moves so fast these days (it goes faster the older we get), don't want to have a lot of foods on the shelves that have gone much over their b.b.date, even though - with canned foods - well over the date is not really a problem. 
We've now been living in Morecambe four years (moving here beginning of July), so as we brought very few foods with us, there is nothing in the larder that is older than four years, but I bet there are a few that I bought during our first year (still unopened) that are still there.  I really will have to check.

However, I need shelf space to store my ever-increasing collection of cake tins.  Why I need so many I don't know, but I do use them all (now and again) especially when 'catering' for B's sailing club meals.  At the moment they are stacked on various shelves in the kitchen (and even some in the small lobby/hall adjacent to the kitchen, but would be easier to find when kept together. I'm alway having to spend time to find the one I really want to use, then have to make do with another.

Must just thank Les for his comments.  I don't know if Steve cleaned out the flan etc, but doubt that he did.  No point in bothering with it now, the comp seems a little happier today, still very slow but my blog is not 'freezing' as it does normally (well, not so far).  With Steve bringing me a better comp (not new but faster) in August, then will ask him to give this one a dust, we will keep both so that B can use this one (sans broadband) to play computer games on - and maybe able to learn a bit more about what the computer can do, with no danger of messing it up for me (as has happened in the past).

With my thoughts returning to food, have to say that recently B has been cooking more Oriental Stir-Fries.  These are one of the best meals to use small amounts of fresh veggies.  It's surprising how a few strips of red bell pepper, carrots, celery, with mange-tout peas, tiny sweetcorn, sliced mushrooms, chopped spring onions, grated ginger and garlic - plus a sachet of chosen flavour stir-fry sauce together make a mound of a meal to be piled over Egg Fried Rice (admittedly from a microwave sachet - making it easy for B), or quick-cook noodles (ditto).  Myself would be happy with just the vegetable stir-fry (as above) but B like to cook a few strips of tender beef, chicken or pork before adding the veg (because he likes meat with everything).  Yesterday he added some cooked chicken at the end (just to heat through), because there was a little left over from the weekend.  There was so much that he even gave me some (albeit a teacupful.  It was good though.

After watching the previously mentioned programme about the three chefs cooking meals on a tight budget, have realised - more than ever - that just giving an economical recipe isn't much use unless a person has some knowledge of cooking.  I tend to forget that and blithely drop in 'saute the veg' and 'simmer the stock' without realising that there are many people who don't know what 'saute' means, or even 'simmer' and - for that matter "what is stock?"  The best way is to 'watch and learn', and.or hopefully find a cookbook that has plenty of instructions that go with the recipes. 

What we do need is a series of cookery progs that show how things are done, slowly and not at the speed used by most chefs who seem to be able to 'chiffonade' a pile of leaves in a split second.  My B is always trying to slice onions at the speed that most chefs use, myself have never even bothered to try, I just slice at my own pace, safer that way. The end result is almost the same.

One recipe today, this a favourite because it will keep for up to 2 weeks when stored in an airtight container.  Clementines are used in this version, but tangerines could be substituted.  Although no flour is used to make this, it is not gluten free as white breadcrumbs are an ingredient.  A perfect recipe to use for a buffet or dinner party (or even served al fresco at a barbie) as it serves 8 - 12, and although made in a round tin, could also be made in an oblong one (squares are often easier to serve outdoors).
Clementine Cake: serves 8 - 12
8 fl oz (175ml) sunflower oil
10 oz (275g) caster sugar
4 oz (100g) ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
2 oz (50g) fresh white breadcrumbs
4 eggs, beaten
grated zest of 5 clementines
juice of 3 clementines
Put 7 oz (200g) of the sugar in a bowl with the ground almonds, baking powder, and breadcrumbs, mixing well to combine.  In another bowl whisk together the oil, eggs, and citrus zest, the pour this over the dry mix and stir together, it needs to be thoroughly mixed.
Spoon the mixture into a greased and base-lined loose bottomed 8" (20cm) cake tin, and place on a baking sheet (to catch any leaks from the tin), then bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 40 - 45 minutes or until golden on top, springy in the centre and a skewer test comes out clean.  Check after 30 minutes and if browning too quickly, loosely cover the top with foil - shiny side up to reflect away the heat.
Meanwhile, remove the pith from the two unjuiced clementines, and slice across into rounds - about 5mm thick.  Put the remaining sugar into a pan with the citrus juice and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil - without stirring - and boil for 3 minutes or until slightly syrupy. Remove from heat and set aside.
When the cake is cooked, leave in the tin but place on a cake airer to cool for 15 minutes, then loosen round the edges with a knife and remove from the tin, placing the cake on a serving plate (removing base and any paper still attached to the cake).
Arrange the citrus slices over the cake, and gradually pour over the warm syrup, take time to do this to allow the syrup to soak into the cake rather than run over the sides.  Leave to get quite cold before serving (or storing).

Cannot leave you today without giving a truly economical version of sausage rolls (and one widely used during wartime).  With the addition of a little mustard or maybe a bit of pickle worked into the mixture, the flavour would be even better.  Otherwise serve these hot with a side serving of a well flavoured pickle such as Branston, or home-made piccalilli.
Once we can begin to look 'outside the box', and ignore the small amount of meat in this recipe, also not turn our noses up at using haricot beans, instead realising these are also a good source of (vegetable) protein, I bet your bottom dollar this 'sausage meat' has more flavour and nourishment than any that goes into those cheap 'bangers' on sale today.
In wartime, these 'sausage rolls' would be made using what cooked meat was available, it might be beef, pork, or lamb, almost certainly not poultry (not a lot of that on sale then).  We are now able to have a bit more choice as to the meat we use, and maybe use more of it.
Not quite Sausage Rolls: makes about 30
4 oz (100g) cooked haricot beans
2 oz (50g) cold, cooked meat
one rasher streaky bacon
five sage leaves, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 lb (450g) shortcrust pastry
milk or beaten egg
Put the beans, meat, and bacon in to a food processor and blitz until minced (but not pureed). Add the sage and plenty of seasoning.  Give a final blitz then remove mixture from bowl and shape into 3 long sausage shapes, each about 14" (35cm) long.
Divide the pastry into three and roll each out large enough to completely wrap around the strips of 'sausage', placing the 'sausage meat' on top of the pastry, folding the pastry over and sealing the edges with milk or egg. 
Place the strips on a baking sheet, fold side down, score the tops with a knife, brush with milk or egg and bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 15 - 20 minutes, then slice before serving.

  My heart sinks a bit with the thought of reading today's newspaper. It will be full of pages of the new Royal Arrival!!  Am pleased the baby has now arrived, we were getting fed up of waiting, but oh, so much fuss is made by the media these days.  I can't remember much being said about the birth of Prince Charles (though his mother wasn't then Queen), apart from it just being reported.  This baby is one step further down the line of succession, but of course much will be made of its arrival and probably the rest of its life.   Let us hope the media allow the family time to themselves and not cause as much damage and distress as has happened in the past.

If the weather is good tomorrow (it's now turning to rain again), then I'll probably be wanting to be out and about, if not in the garden, at least down to the shops or even the seafront.  School holidays have begun so there should be many more people wandering about (and getting in my way as I scoot along).  But it is good to see Morecambe awakening from its long winter sleep, it is like a ghost town when 'out of season'.

From now on I'll be taking it day by day, if I decide not to blog, then I won't, but be assured you will be 'hearing' from me several times a week, you can't get rid of me that easily.  Am thinking of taking weekends off anyway as most readers seem to have enough to occupy them then.  Who wants to sit at a comp when the sun is shining or a week ahead needs to be planned (and maybe shopped and cooked for)?

The library has got me the two books written by Betty MacDonald (I've already read The Egg and I, and the fourth - and last - book of her series), now I have to catch up with the middle two books, so that's something else for me to do.  I've just started reading her second book (when she went into a sanitarium because she got consumption), so have a feeling most of the afternoon will see me with my head stuck into her book.

This now leaves me with a new ending:  'See you when I see you".  Even I don't know (yet) which day this will be.  Have decided not to blog anyway on 'hair days' as I'm obviously tied up for a couple of hours anyway. Normally this would be tomorrow (Wednesday) but this week Norma will be here Thursday, so I will have time to perhaps pop in and do a small blog tomorrow, then return again on Friday.   Haven't yet decided so am going to play it by ear.  This 'freedom of choice' is something I'm going to have to get used to, but am already enjoying the future 'out there' that is beckoning me.  Of course I've always enjoyed having a regular chat with you each day, but I really do feel I need to 'get a life' (outside this room/house) while I still have time left to enjoy it.   And, of course, this would give me a lot more (hopefully) interesting things to chat about. 
Do hope that regular readers won't be too disappointed at missing a day or two, and I fervently hope, because I'm now taking the occasional day off, that none will move on to pastures new (other blogs that are more interesting).

That's it for today.  See you again soon. TTFN.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Will it Work?

Am back, but for how long?  Steve came up this weekend and spent hours sorting out the comp. bless him, but it now seems worse than ever! (the typing 'froze' at this point but now back again). It took me 40 minutes before I could get the comp to get to this page.

At least it does seem I can now get my blog published, and believe me - after all this time I really had decided to stop writing it altogether. It was amazing how 'free' I felt each morning, 'free' to do what I want, what was needed to be done, instead of sitting here writing my usual chat.  In a way it felt very much like I was on holiday, and with the weather being so gorgeous I was able to give all my container plants an early morning watering, then do a little culinary work in the kitchen before going back outdoors and sitting in the sun (not in the shade - I love the heat), getting browner and browner. 

Today I have come back down to earth and have a 'heavy heart' again now I see the comp is holding me back from spewing out my thoughts, and I don't like feeling like that.  However, there is hope on the horizon.  Steve says he has a spare comp that I can have (old but faster than this), and will bring it up here in a few weeks time, so I'll blog as long as I can on this one. 

However, due to continuing problem of the long wait each morning before the comp decided to allow me in, and the pleasure I felt not having to write each day, I will probably take a day off blogging now and again to allow me to take up other activities that have suddenly appeared on my doorstep over the past couple of weeks.

The barbecue went well, although the evening was a bit chilly due to a sea breeze, but it didn't seem to bother many, as most were neighbours they just went home and fetched a cardigan.   Eileen tried to help me sort out the comp and showed me how to sign out from this blog (something that the blog site had prevented me from doing in the ordinary way when it wouldn't accept my typing).

I'd also like to thank Eileen for posting up the occasional comment to let you know the situation at this end.  Thanks also to those who sent in comments, but as there were many and none seemed to need a reply, hope that for once I'll not mention each by name.  Believe there might have been one or two new names that I should welcome, but like this page, my email page also seems slow to come back to life and there are many comments there that I still have not read.

The barbecue held not only neighbours but also some of their friends they had invited, and I've now been given invitations to one or two coffee mornings.  I've also been out on Norris more than once, and there is a new 'wool and craft' shop about to open on our local shopping parade, so I'm beginning to feel 'born again'.  Out there is a life I'm hoping to find more about, and so - for once - if I get an invitation, or have a need for an early start to my day, then feel a selfish streak in me coming out. On days like that my blog will be the last thing on my mind.

The good weather is another reason to be outside as much as possible.  It really must have been scorching hot down south as even up here, with a gentle sea breeze it has been 88F in the shade and at least 130F in full sun.  Think that was the temp I took on a day that wasn't the hottest!

The nights have not been too bad, last night much cooler, but the previous two I had to put a fan on in the bedroom to allow me to get some sleep. Switched it off a few hours later when I woke - slightly chilly - but thankfully not too humid.   This may change as the forecast is for thunderstorms and heavy rain over the country from the middle of the week onwards, but said to be even hotter before then - expected to be 98F in the London area.   So now I know what it feels like to live in Texas Pam!  And envy you.  As I said, I just love this heat (as long as it is not humid with it).

Back to chatting about food.   Did any reader (in this country) watch the programme about cooking on a budget?  Three top chefs (James Martin, Angela Hartnett, and Richard Corrigan) each went and lived with a family to cook meals for them using the family food budget. 
Can't say I was over impressed by the programme, as it was obvious that the chefs were not used to shopping in supermarkets anyway and what they cooked was probably beyond the average normally-never-cook-anyway person.  They were able to prove (at the end of the prog when they cooked a 'frugal banquet' for many celebs) that a meal could be made for £1 a head.  But then readers of this blog could make a meal for even less!!

Two very important messages came across in this programme.  One said by James Martin (who was mentoring an older man who lived alone), that it helps to save money when we can build up a small store-cupboard so there is always something else we can add to the fresh food we buy (like rice, pasta etc), and 'the knowledge' that goes with cooking.   Richard Corrigan said that between them (the three cooks) they had sixty years of cooking experience - which I have to say is almost the same amount of cooking experience I've had all by myself.  And it's this knowledge that helps make the most of our money, and they are pushing for more education on budgeting and cooking.  How I agree, there are so many people out there who just have no idea how to cook.

Haven't myself done much cooking over the past few weeks, it's been too hot to eat (any easy way to lose weight).  Did manage to gather most of the redcurrants from the one bush that we have.  A huge crop that took me ages to sprig.  Discovered that if I held a sprig from the end that was attached to the branch, then pulled it through a fork, the currants would drop off 'clean', but not so easily.  Held by the bottome end of the sprig, then run through the fork the currants dropped off very easily, but left a tiny stalk at the end of each currant.  So some I did the slow and 'clean' way, the others the 'fast' way as these would be used to make recurrant jelly where it doesn't matter if the stalks (or even the sprigs) are left attached as only the juice runs through muslin.
Some of the most attractive sprigs were left with currants attached so they could be used to garnish desserts later.  All now frozen (and while I think of it, rubbing frozen currants with the hands will rub off any stalks anyway).

Have loads of medium sized tomatoes on my Tumbler, now placed in the greenhouse and gathering several each day.  They have very thin skins so delightful to eat and easy to slice. Still not the great flavour I remember from days long past, but does anything taste as good as it used to?

Made some Madelines a couple of weeks ago, using a special shell-shaped tin.  Had two different recipes (similar but not the same by ingredient weights or method of making ), so tried one.  Far too much mixture, so ended up making 12 Madelines, and the remainder of the batter I put into a Victoria Sandwich tin to bake as 'a cake'.  Worked well, but the Madelines slightly browner than I hoped for.  Very good light texture and flavour.
Last week I made another batch using the second recipe and this seemed to work out better. Still far too much batter for the tin, so again used half and left the rest in the basin until the first batch was cooked, then after removing the Madelines from the tin, spooned in the rest of the cake batter - just enough for another dozen - and baked.  No noticeable difference between the two batches, so was pleased that the mixture hadn't 'flopped' as it waited to be cooked.

Old cookbooks show Madelines as sand-castle shaped 'towers' of cake, that - when cooked - are coated with jam and rolled in dessicated coconut, with a halved glace cherry placed on top.  Today's 'Madelines' are alway the shell-shaped ones, and to my mind, much nicer.  They can be easten as-is or dusted with icing sugar, or (seen on the Anna Olsen show), the rounded ends dipped in chocolate or in chocolate and then coconut. 

Have I mentioned that we have three baby seagulls living on the roof of the house at the back?  Am sure I must have done.  Last year there was just one baby gull that had fallen from its nest having to brave the huge amount of rain we had during the summer last year, and it flew for the first time on the 20th July.  The three babies (now 'grown up') keep testing their wings, flying short distances along the roof, so should be leaving any day now.  We will miss them.   They may have already gone, the apple tree is preventing me seeing most of the roof from where I sit at the moment.

One good thing about this long hot summer (well 2 - 3 weeks is a long time in this country for any sort of continuing weather), is that all the rain we had last year has kept the reservoirs filled and so far no need for any hose-pipe ban.  Just as well as I'd got fed up of carrying very heavy watering cans around the garden, in fact I used to fill empty milk cartons with water (the ones that hold 4 pints) using these to water, but each container needed at least 2 pints, some took the whole 4 pints, so this meant many more trips to the water butt.  Beloved has now fitted the hosepipe to the outside tap, and this has helped me water the lot far more easily.  It has a strong jet and I can stand in one place and just guide the water up and into each container.  Suddenly realised yesterday we are on a water meter, so perhaps better I stick to using saved rain water in butts and buckets (we still have some of this water left), and not use 'tap water'.   Wish I could say all the exercise is doing me good (which I suppose it is), but carrying the heavy watering cans has certainly made my joints ache, especially my knees and back.  At least it gives me an excuse to sit down between trips.

What we need is a new computer.  It really is the only way to get rid of all the gremlins.  But am hoping that the one Steve can let us use will be at least faster than this will less problems.  I'd like to be able to afford a new comp. but the day of the barbecue, when hoovering the carpets, the Hoover gave up the ghost.  Well it was over 50 years old!  We had to resort to using the stiff yard broom to sweep the carpets.  And it worked well!

Also I gave Steve's partner my old sewing machine.  This also about 50 years old but an excellent Singer that did embroidery and had all sorts of different 'feet' to do ruffles, pleats, etc.  But far too large and heavy for me to even pick up and put onto a table.  I only need a bog standard machine that is light and easy to use, so want to get one of those, and so pleased I could get rid of my old one.  We tried it out and it still works so as long as someone can make use of it I'm happy getting rid of it.

B wants me to choose a vacuum cleaner that will also double up as a carpet cleaner (washer of carpets), as our cream carpets are in bad need of a deep clean in parts.  This will prove expensive (of course it will be me that pays for it), and what with the vacuum and the sewing machine, both of which are truly 'needed', I doubt that a new comp will ever take priority.  All I can say is that I'll try to keep blogging as long as this (or the one Steve provides) will allow me.

Steve has at least done something that will allow him to reach this computer from a distance, having now 'tied' ours up to the one he has at his own home, so should any major problems arise, he can - hopefully - sort it out without having to come here.   I'm not bothering him with the problems that this comp still has, as he has done all he can with it.   Am still not able to get pictures from my camera onto this comp any more.  Hopefully will be able to with the replacement comp. but at least can now put up photoes I already have.  At least it worked when I did a test.

All I'm hoping for is that today's blog does get published, then maybe I'll be able to get myself back on track and find more things to write about.  You don't know how close I was to stopping writing my blog altogether.  Felt I just didn't need this continuing 'hassle'. 

Although done very little over the past couple or so weeks since I last 'had a chat', at least nothing worth writing out other than already said (above), am looking forward to hearing news from regular (and not so regular) readers, as have missed you. 

One query that I keep forgetting to ask, is to American/Canadian readers.  Pam may have more understanding of the difference as she would have used both types of flour, being that she originally lived in England.
What I would like to know is the difference between the America 'all purpose' flour, and their 'cake and pastry' flour?  Is the latter the same as our plain flour?  They don't seem to use self-raising flour anyway.  I was once told that the US all-purpose flour was similar to a blend of our plain flour with strong (bread) flour. 

Watching Man v Food (accidentally) learned that in the US 'conch' shellfish are called 'conk' (we pronounce it as 'consh'). In England, a 'conk' is another name for 'nose', like "what a big conk he has".

Yesterday was mainly cloudy, the first day without any proper sun.  Today has dawned with blue skies again, but now slightly hazy, so still sunny but hopefully not so hot.  I intend spending as much of the day outdoors as possible, so will leave you now (the comp keeps 'freezing' again so glad to leave it as it is making me feel depressed again).  Do hope this does get published, and that you can bear with me for a few more weeks while I fight an almost losing battle to blog as often as possible.  Hope to be back each day, and if not every day (I might take a day off now and again if 'other things' tempt me away from the house), at least pretty regularly.   Should be back again tomorrow.  Finger crossed. TTFN.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Trying Again

Not sure if this will publish.  If it does, I hope to be blogging again once Steve has sorted out the comp for me I can only write three lines before it cuts out, so Monday will be my next blog.  Thanks for all your patience. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Hello All,

Sorry for the delay in updating you. I will be going to fix the PC this weekend so hopefully Shirley will be back next week.


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Computer Issues

Hello All,

Shirley is having computer issues at the moment and, as such, is unable to do her blog. I will update you as I learn more about the situation.


Monday, July 08, 2013

Busy Week Ahead

Good to be back with you again after a hectic weekend.  Having paced myself re the making and baking of food for the club 'Tea' yesterday, B coming back at mid-day to collect the freshly baked scones (and the rest of the food), all thrown into disarray as on Friday he had a phone call to say he was to drive the safety boat on the water, so had to leave here at 9.00 and wouldn't be finished in time to collect the food. 
This meant I needed to be up really early to make/bake the scones - had to bake 50 so they needed to be done in batches.  Decided to stay up all night and have a few hours sleep in my chair so that I could begin baking at 5.00am.  This I did, and have to say it worked well, the scones being my best ever, well risen and most of them flat on top.  Not sure why they worked so well this time, maybe it was because I blitzed the butter, flour and sugar in the food processor instead of rubbing the fat in with my fingers.

No way could I go to the 'Tea' as I wanted to watch Andy Murray's match, and so very glad I did for - as you will all know by now - HE WON!!!   Expect half the nation was very close to tears, because I certainly was.

Once B had left at 9.00am, I set to clearing the kitchen, re-arranging things to make a better work-surface over the kitchen units, and also spent several hours in the garden planting up more containers (I'd scooted down to the florists on Friday to order more plants, the previous delivery being such good quality, and he delivered them Friday evening). 

Also decided to pick the redcurrants on Friday, but there were so many - a massive crop this year, so spent the later hours of Friday evening sprigging most of them with a fork, saving a few pretty bunches to use as decoration, these then went into the freezer.  Gathered more (twice as many) yesterday, and still have those to sprig and freeze. 

With B not being around to 'help', had to move a few containers myself, and although not overly heavy, it wasn't easy, and I seem to have put my back out - quite painful when I got out of bed, but manage with a stick, and hopefully a couple of painkillers will put me back on track.   Still have the last of the pot plants to sort out today, then must start on pruning away the excess foliage and remove long grasses and weeds, for this coming Saturday we have decided to have friends and neighbours round for a barbecue.

B will be busy (he says), his time spent this week in mending the broken - and very large - sunshade (the heavy wooden pole has rotted), and he also has to go to the supermarket to buy some lager.  All I have to do is tidy the garden, put the container plants around to look pretty, water them twice a day, tidy the house, clean the conservatory windows, plan the menu, order some foods, cook what can be cooked in advance, do some laundry, and hopefully B will help me move the two garden tables where I want them to be, and he'll also want my kitchen table outdoors, so that means I'm going to have to use my ironing board as a 'table' as I'm preparing the last of the food.   I really don't think B realises how much has to be done and how long it takes.  When the job gets done, he presumably thinks it's so easy he doesn't need to be involved.

Well yes, perhaps I should get him to do a lot more, but quite honestly it is quicker when I do it because I'd have to stand over B to make sure he does things 'properly, and that takes away time when I could be doing something more useful (and far more rapidly).   Not that I mind.  I'm glad to still be able to do it.  In a way, perhaps it is keeping me young (says she ignoring all the aches and pains).

Anyway, this year I'm not going overboard with the barbie.  B can happily cook burgers and sausages over the coals, and I'll have Tandoori chicken drumsticks already oven-cooked that can be kept hot over the barbie, maybe also some lamb koftas.  The rest will be cold 'buffet', possibly 'Tapas' type.  Salads of course.   Final decisions will be made later.

Because I'd had to switch the comp off (as it needed to update), it took nearly 45 minutes for me to reach this page (first having to read emails).  Time I really can't spare.  Luckily got up early enough for me to at least manage a few words.

Thanks to Taaleedee for her comment.  Sounds as though the seagull had a nest close by, for we too are getting dive-bombed in the garden off and on, although I think the gull that has the three chicks (still visible on the roof and growing every day) is used to us and fairly sure we are not there to harm them.  It's perhaps wise at this time of year to wear a hat when in 'gull nesting areas'.

Isn't the weather wonderful at the moment, although perhaps a mite too hot in the London area and on the southcoast.  We have been told to expect the temperature (in those areas) to reach 30C!  Here it is cooler as we are close to the coast and on Friday, when scooting down to the local shops, there was a really cool breeze, had to button up my coat to keep away the chill.  And that with the sun blazing down from a clear blue sky.   In sheltered spots it really is warm, and I am trying to sit out as much as I can - between potting up plants.

All the fuss and kerfuffle about the woman in Sainsbury's at the checkout, using her mobile phone.  Have to agree with many people (on the radio) who says that Twitter, Facebook, and mobile phones seem to be taking over our lives.   There was a photo of Peaches Geldorf (think it was her), still with her phone clamped to her ear (held in place by her shoulder) talking into it while she scooped up her baby that had fallen out of its pushchair and was lying on the ground.

During one Wimbledon semi (mens) saw the girl friend of one of the contestants start to key in a text message on her mobile, and this during a tie-break, when her man was close to winning (or losing - only a point between them).  You would think she would be interesting in the game, but she wasn't even watching, well she was watching something - her mobile keyboard!

On Friday I was scooting along the pavement when a young girl (probably about 12) was talking on her mobile, but for some reason looking back so she was walking towards me, almost backwards, and I had to yell at her 'WATCH OUT" before she walked right into me.

Thankfully, I take my mobile out with me ONLY so that I can phone B if my scooter breaks down (or I need collecting if he's taken me somewhere).  If I get a call or text, then will only respond if I'm not with anyone or actually 'scooting' somewhere.  There is something called 'voicemail' that I can refer to when I have time to find out who rang/text me.

We seem to be losing the art of face-to-face communication, and at this very moment am feeling a bit of a hypocrite, for isn't that is what I'm doing now?  Talking to you via the computer, not in person. How I wish it could be different.

Much is said about how people now seem to want to let everyone know - via Twitter - every part of their lives, and it could be said 'who cares?'  But again, that's also what I'm doing, so can only hope that by including some recipes and cost-cutting tips that means my 'chat' is a bit more useful.

There is a new series on TV, I think starting this week, with three chefs showing how to cook with a very low budget.  Am not sure, but I think they go into people's houses, maybe those on benefits, and can only spend the money that the family uses for food.  It will be very interesting to watch and I believe plenty of hints and tips to help us save (although I bet we already know most of them).

Depending on how I get on this week, hope to be able to blog each day, although maybe will need to take Friday and Saturday off being 'a bit busy' those days.  Will let you know later.

Forgive me not giving recipe today, but the comp being stubborn has taken time I badly need, and if I don't make a start on what needs to be done it will never get done.  And I need to keep on top of things.  Is this the new Shirley rising from the ashes?  Me, working hard?  Whatever next!!

Hope you all had a pleasant weekend enjoying our spell of good weather, it's amazing how the sun coming out puts a smile on our faces.   The sky is overcast at the moment, but it may 'dry off' later, although think our neck of the woods is down to have clouds for the first part of the day, so what better time for me to go into the garden and get the last of those plants potted up before the sun begins to dry them out.   Hope you can join me for our virtual 'coffee break' again tomorrow, if so - see you then.

p.s. only one comment was shown in my mailbox, but that was also playing up, so will check later and if I've had others then apologise for not replying to them.  Hope to sort this out by tomorrow.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Taking Time (off?)

Thanks Les for the useful info re dried bread crumbs/Panko.  Myself dry (aka) stale bread crumbs at room temperature to enable them to soak up more moisture - as when making bread sauce for instance.  Do dry the bread in the oven when I want to blitz it down to use as coating when frying.

Today is a bit of a rush due to wanting to take time off to watch Andy Murray's match at Wimbledon this afternoon, most of the morning will be taken up by blind baking pastry cases for teh quiches (these will then be filled and baked tomorrow ready for Saturday ( they eat better if made a day earlier).  Also today want to make some madeleines and - if I have time - some macaroons/macarons.

Add to the above watering all the container plants in the garden, doing some weeding, cutting back some bushes, and also a load of laundry (although that washes it by itself once the machine is loaded, all I have to do then is hang it up to dry - but that still takes time), and some housework.

Today looks as thought it will be the start of a promised two week of settled and very hot weather.  We hope to have a barbecue, either the end of next week, or the following week.  This means getting the garden in order (a tidy house and a tidy garden to impress the guests), not to mention working out what food to serve (buy and prepare).  So I'm going to be busy. Not that I mind, but will have to make lists - AND STICK TO THEM - to make sure everything is done (and dusted). 

Am even hoping to manage to get a half-hour sit in the sun sometime this afternoon, or perhaps I'll have a five minute sit between collecting each wateringcanful of rain water from the tub. 
Hope also the big seagull nesting between the chimney pots of the house at the back will not dive-bomb me as I wander round - this year she has THREE chicks, and because they can't all fit in the nest, she seems to have pushed them out and they sit cuddled together on the roof, still babies and balls of 'fluff', but look very strong.  They run to her when she comes back with food to feed them.

A similar thing happened last year when there were two chicks, but only one was pushed onto the roof, the other stayed in the nest.  Even though the weather was so bad (gales, torrential rain and not much sun) this time last year, the chick survived and both it and its sibling fledged on the same day. Both B and I took photos of one chick that had its first flight and landed on our lawn - staying there all day - the other had flown to a flat roof next door.  Still have the photo on my camera, but it doesn't show a date.  Am hoping that B still has his and his does have a date, then we will see if they will fly on the same day this year.

Please excuse me for this very short blog today as am mega-busy (at least by my normal standards due to increasing age) and tomorrow there may be no blog as will have quite a bit of cooking to do - which I wish to do before the day gets too warm (and also want to watch tennis), but if I get a chance I'll just check my email/comments and at least send a reply.  There will be no blog on Sunday - that's definite - as I'll be baking a huge batch of scones and more cakes ready for B to take to the club late morning/early afternoon I'd like to be able to just sit down and relax.

Thankfully I managed to make a big batch of Lemon and Lime marmalade, ditto Orange and Ginger, and slightly smaller batch of Strawberry Conserve, all to sell at the 'Tea by the Sea'  and if the public don't buy, many members will (they been asking for them), and I've been very good and potted them all up in new jars using new lids. 
Am donating all my 'makes and bakes' this time as proceeds for the day are going to charity, but I'm going to ask members if they want more marmalade to return the jars and lids so they can be reused.  My way round this 'can't sell in recycled jars' law is for members to hand me 'their' jars and lids and request me to fill them up with my marmalade for them, then they only pay for the marmalade.  Otherwise it would cost at least 25p MORE just to cover the cost of a new 8oz jar and its lid - and that's on top of the cost of the marmalade.

May/may not be blogging tomorrow and - if not - my next blog will be published on Monday.  Do hope you all have a lovely weekend and enjoy the good weather that is forecast, even though - by the middle of next week - it will be a lot hotter than we are normally used to.  I must bring out our portable fans just in case we need them.  For once I'll probably be glad that our living room is always cool.  TTFN.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Changing Plans

Discovered yesterday evening that the 'Tea by the Sea' (sailing club) was on Sunday, NOT Saturday as I thought, so at least that gives me a day extra to work with.  This means I'm not sure if I'll be blogging on Saturday OR on Sunday, depends how I get on.  Maybe have to take both days off from writing, hopefully only one, will be able to let you know nearer the time.

Yesterday we began to watch Andy Murray's match, but as we had arranged to go out for a meal with our daughter (it was our 59th wedding anniversary - the biggie one next year!), we had to leave after the first two sets - which Andy had lost.  We had a good meal, and got back in time to see Andy had won the next two sets and it was 5 all in the final set.  So at least we managed to be home in time to see him win.   Let us hope he can stand the heat if he reaches the finals, the weather I mean as it is forecast to be 28C on Sunday! 

Today is is still overcast in Morecambe, extremely windy and we expect more rain.  Humid and warm tonight, then the high pressure kicks in and it will get warmer, and warmer, and warmer.  At least where we live it won't be as hot as London (thankfully). 
So am hoping we might be able to have a neighbourhood barbecue at the end of next week (inviting immediate neighbours and friends, not the whole street).

Watching 'Unique Sweets' (Food Network) this morning saw an 'amazing invention' of a sweet sold at one shop - this being nothing more than our 'cinder toffee', broken into chunks and coated with chocolate.  A feeling of deja vu re this as a similar confection, sold commercially, was also shown in 'Unwrapped' the other day. 
What's going on?  We've been making the same 'cinder toffee' for centuries, but the US seem to think it's something they invented, and pretty recently. 

Mentioning the 'Smarties' (yesterday) have remembered that the US 'Smarties' are the same as the sweet called 'Refreshers' over here.  Another bit of cross-purposes between our two countries.  Who 'invented' which, and who decides they should be sold under different names?

Looked up Brightlingsea on the map buttercup, and see it is almost an island.  What a lovely place to live, you are very lucky.  It did appear to be almost a village in the middle, certainly not a large place and you must have a very good community feeling there. 
What I did notice was there was a place called Alresford just above your 'island', and have heard of this place as being the 'watercress' area, but am sure that is in Hampshire although there was only one Alresford (yours) named in the index of our road map atlas. 
The one in Hampshire (sure it was called Alresford), was where one of the authors of a book about crop circles lived.  I was very 'into' crop circles at that time, and had contacted the man and we got quite a correspondence going (snail mail, I did not have a computer then).  Our son then lived in Winchester, so the man invited me to visit him at his home when we were in the area - which I did, and he took me and B to see a recently made crop circle.  In the centre of the main circle was a red poppy growing, everything round it flattened.  

It's now a decade (or two?) since all the fuss about crop circles, and although it has been poo-poohed as all the circles and shapes being man-made, one does wonder.  My Alresford 'friend' said he was certain his phone was bugged, and I've a feeling it well might have been for when he phoned me once and rang off, as I put down the phone I heard a voice and so put the ear-piece back to my ear and heard our conversation repeated as though it had been recorded.  Someone recorded it, and I don't think it was my friend.  Other things happened that led me to believe there was some interest by our government re the crop circles, who kept playing it down, but doing a lot under the surface we didn't know about. 

After a while, as there were more and more circles and some amazing shapes that kept appearing year after year, I lost interest.  Not even sure if they still appear.  But it was something to think about when at that time.

Think today is Independence Day in the US. So probably a holiday for everyone to celebrate. Hope you and family have a lovely time Pam, and the weather holds good for picnics and fireworks.

Not sure what recipes to suggest at the moment, my thoughts are on the coming couple of weeks when our weather is supposed to be set fair.  If very hot we won't really feel like eating much anyway. 

Here is one suggestion, and yes, it is a warm dish, but the sort that would go well at a buffet party, indoors or out (especially out as then any drips can fall on the grass!).  This is a recipe for an easy cheese fondue, and although usually Emmenthal and Gruyere cheeses are normally used in a fondue (because they melt easily), this one uses Cheddar and Gruyere (and you do need the latter if you want a really melting fondue).  Instead of wine, cider vinegar is used as the liquid ingredient, and this keep the cost down.

As a fondue is nothing more than a hot 'dip', although normally served with just chunks of bread for dipping, you could also serve 'crudites' (vegetable batons - cucumber, celery, carrot....) to dip into the cheese.   The cheese is first frozen as then it can be very finely grated - this helps it to melt more easily.
It's important to keep the fondue warm once its ready or the cheese mixture will thicken and congeal, so either stand the pan over a meths burner (usually supplied with a fondue set), or over a candle warmer (tea-lights etc).  If the pot is heavy enough, it could be kept hot at the side of a barbecue.
Easy Cheese Fondue: serves 8
2 tblsp cider vinegar
1 tsp cornflour
9 oz (250g) Cheddar cheese, frozen then grated
9 oz (250g) Gruyere cheese, frozen then grated
3 tblsp creme fraiche
a little freshly ground black pepper (opt)
Mix the vinegar with the cornflour and put into a heatproof bowl with the cheeses. Set the bowl over a pan of boiling water (the base of the bowl can touch the water), and slowly melt the cheese, stir often so the ingredients combine evenly.  When nearly melted, add the creme fraiche and pepper.
Lower the heat and keep warm (or remove bowl and stand over low heat as described above).
Serve with crudites and chunks of bread.  Forks to spear the bread for dipping.

Most of my friends are as interested in cooking as I am (well almost as interested), and one would never cook fish for her family - even though she said her husband loved eating fish - because she herself didn't like it.  Do many people tend to cook only what THEY like, even though the rest of the family wish they could eat something different?

At least with my Beloved this is never a problem as normally I cook a different meal for him than I eat myself (often because he likes things I don't - such as kidney, tongue, scallops....), but the one thing I can't face cooking is whole fish complete with its head.  So will buy these for B, but he then has to cook it himself.  Fish without heads (filleted but complete with skin) I CAN cope with.

One food that neither B nor I like is figs.  Not sure why as they do seem popular.  With me it is memories of Fig Rolls that my dad loved to eat (I hated them - all those seeds), and with B it is the 'syrup of figs' that he was given each week by his mum as a laxative.

For those who do enjoy figs (and I know they grow easily in this country), here is a recipe for fig jam.  I don't think this is meant to be stored for any length of time, but will keep in the fridge for at least a week.  The suggestion is to eat the jam with cheese and oatcakes - good either as a 'nibble' or serving at a buffet), so will give the recipe for the biscuits as well - these can also be made a week in advance, but store in an airtight container. If they soften, they can be crisped up again by popping into an oven for a few minutes, just before serving.

Fig Jam:
3 large fresh figs (9oz/250g), roughly chopped
2 tblsp caster sugar
1 tsp grated orange zest
2 tblsp orange juice
Put all ingredients into a small saucepan over low heat.  Simmer for about 10 minutes or until thickened. Cool then spoon into container (or sterilised jar) cover and keep chilled for up to a week.

Oatcakes: makes 80
4 oz (100g) porridge oats
4 oz (100g) butter, chilled and chopped
3 oz (75g) wholemeal plain flour
2 tblsp plain (white) flour
quarter tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 rounded tblsp brown sugar
1 tblsp milk
Put the porridge oats into a food processor and blitz until finely chopped (but not as fine as flour).
Add the butter with the sifted flours and bicarb, and the sugar, to the oats(still in the blender) and pulse until crumbly.  Add the milk and whizz until the lot comes together. Turn this dough out onto a floured board and knead gently until smooth.
Divide dough in half and roll each between sheets of baking parchment (or clingfilm) to 3mm thick. Cut into 3cm squares.  Using a spatula or fish slice, carefully place oat cakes on greased baking trays.
Bake for 10 minutes at 170C, 325F, gas 3 or until golden brown. Cool on trays for 5 minutes before removing to cake airers to cool completely.  Store in air-tight tins.
Serve oatcakes, topped with jam and a small triangle of cheese (you can either spread the jam on the oatcake and put the cheese on top, or put the cheese on the oatcake and the jam on top - the latter looks more attractive, but the former holds the cheese more securely).

Having started today's recipes with a cheese fondue, will close with another - this time one that can be eaten for dessert.  Again another good indoor/outdoor buffet dish.
Obviously the fruits given are not the cheapest, but we could use other firm fruits such as fresh peaches, apple, banana, even orange segments - in fact any fruit that will 'dip' successfully. Add marshmallows and chunks of plain cake to make the fruit go further, or omit the fruit and just dunk marshmallows! 
Chocolate Fondue with Fruits and Nuts: serves 4
7 oz (200g) dark plain chocolate
2 oz (50g) butter
2 tblsp Malibu or rum (pref white)
3 fl oz (75ml) water
half mango, peeled and cubed
half papaya, peeled and cubed
8 physalis (aka Cape gooseberries)
7 oz (200g) fresh pineapple chunks 
2 oz (50g) toasted hazelnuts, crushed
Break up the chocolate into chunks and put into a heatproof bowl with the butter, alcohol, and water. Place over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl is above the water.  Leave for 5 - 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until very smooth.
Meanwhile, arrange the fruit on a large platter, leaving room for a bowl of crushed nuts and also the chocolate 'fondue'. Provide forks or cocktails sticks for dipping.
When the chocolate is ready, place on the platter, then spear the fruit with the forks/sticks, dip first into the chocolate, then into the nuts, then straight into the mouth (your own or someone elses!).

It's blowing half a gale at the moment, so it's doubtful I'll be outside today, hopefully will be able to find time to sit in the sun over the next few days, but first have to make sure all my marmalade and baking is done when it should be done.   If I cook in the mornings, then that will leave the afternoon free for sun-bathing and/or Wimbledon watching.

Hope you have a good day.  Will be back 'chatting and rambling' again tomorrow.  Hope you'll be able to join me.  TTFN.