Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What's the Difference?

Had a very strange dream last night.  Briefly I was driving some people around in Yorkshire, and suggested they might like to look at some of the country.  Suggested a lovely little village on top of the moors, but couldn't remember how to get there.  Hadn't a map with me.   We stopped in a small town (the name I'd never heard of - and doubt there is such a town), to ask directions.  We were told the right road to take, but my passengers didn't seem that keen.  Eventually I suggested we parked the car and walked around the town, this was much to their taste.  We went into one little shop and a lady there showed me a book that had just been delivered "would make a perfect Christmas present for a child" she said.  It was a book full of illustrations (drawn quite simply) of American countryside, the pages were made of one long strip of card that was evenly creased to look like pages, but could be pulled out into one long strip.  It was when I was told the book cost £44 that I gasped.  How could anyone spend that much on a book for a child, especially if they had several children to buy presents for.

We eventually drove home, by request, as one of the passengers preferred to just return so she could do some crochet.  To me the dream gave me a message.  Not everyone wants to do the things that I enjoy, and especially that many people would never want to do the same things.  This is something I need always to remember.  MY ideas of a good recipe or how to spend/save money is not necessarily the way other people would wish.  So your input is always appreciated so that I can see everything from another viewpoint.

It was only last Friday, when my neighbour and I were drinking coffee in the conservatory that I suddenly noticed a lovely cobweb hanging outside one of the windows, and only then because a big fly had flown into it and got stuck.   A spider scuttled down from a corner and rapidly bound up the fluttering fly (probably had given it a bite to paralyse it as well), then returned to the corner leaving the fly dangling in the middle.  I was entranced, but my neighbour (who hates spiders) couldn't bear to look, and even when she did, she thought it was awful, especially when the spider ("huge it was" she said - and it wasn't), returned and carried the fly away up out of sight to presumably put it in its larder.  To me that was nature worth watching, appreciating, but my neighbour was not of the same opinion.  And why should she be?

As very little of what was planned to be done WAS done yesterday, during the evening I wrote down in a little notebook (sitting in my apron pocket that I'm wearing as I write) all the jobs that need to be done today.  And work through them I will.  So today's blog has been started early to give me time to finish and begin working before 9.00am (hopefully).

Thanks Maggie Mac for telling me about the way to find products(in this instance cheap bacon) on the Tesco site.  Had known most of this, but have never come across the 'sort by price - low to high' before.  This I must look out for as it is what would be very useful for me when ordering certain items.
Normally I just sign in then write up my shopping list on the little 'note-pad' they provide, then press 'Go' and when each item comes up can refine the search to certain items, but never delved further into other ways to find what I need.

Thanks also to Sairy for telling us about Sainsbury's cheaper bacon, and probably - whatever store we choose to buy from - we are more likely to find exactly what we want if we are able to choose by sight when we shop instore, not via a website.

Pleased that you found Donald Russell meat so good Joy, if have ordered from them previously, I expect they regularly send you details of their offers.  The one for their minced meat came yesterday with many other offers, and their offer of minced steak expires 3rd Nov. (in four days time), although some of the other offers may be around for longer.

I've been watching a programme about Iceland Foods, and was quite impressed by the company policies, especially with the staff.  The food sold sounded a lot better than I thought it was (cheap and inferior, but obviously not).  At one time they stopped delivering, but if they do may have another think and buy some frozen foods from them and then make my own judgement.

One item shown was a couple of cooks inventing new dishes - in this instance pizza.  Seems that Iceland pizzas are all the same price (£1).  I've seen frozen pizzas sold for much more, so was (slightly) impressed.  But then, after seeing a new variety they were working on - pizza base covered with tomato and grated cheese, then topped with baked beans and bits of cut up (cooked?) sausage, finally with a drizzle of barbeque sauce, it didn't take much for me to work out we could EASILY make that ourselves for half the price (in other words 50p - or less).

When we had a chest freezer I often made a batch of pizza 'bases' (the rolled out dough topped with tomato sauce) then froze these, placing a box of grated cheese in the freezer next to them so that when I felt like making a pizza, half the job was already done, all I had to do was put on any other toppings I wished (or even none at all), then just cover the pizza with the grated cheese, and bake.

Am not much of a fan of pizzas, but if assembled with thought, dare say we could form a 'balanced' meal out of  them.  We have the carbohydrate (pizza base), the vegetables (tomato sauce plus some sweetcorn perhaps), and the protein (cheese and maybe added bacon, chorizo etc ).

This week I've been able to buy Tesco bread mix at reduced price (via their offer of buy 3 get the cheapest free - and when buying three packs, there was no cheapest, so still got the third free).  Not so long ago their own-brand bread mixes were 66p, then they went up to (I think) 69p, now they are 75p each.  Still not a bad price as they make excellent bread and by extending the mix with half as much again of strong plain flour (costs only pennies to do this) and extra liquid, end up with one large and one small loaf for (now) under £1.
Had I bought the bread mix at the old price of 66p, the three packs would have cost me £1.98p, but with this 'get the third free' offer, even at the new price of 75p paid only £1.50 for the three packs, giving me a saving of 48p.   Needless to say I bought a goodly number of packs (they store well), so that I can keep B satisfied with home-made bread (which reminds me, we are running short so need to bake more loaves today - wait while I add these to my list.....)....done that!

So - it's a good idea to make our own pizzas using a bread mix, and although not always uses, I add a drizzle of olive oil when making the dough (it helps the dough to stretch more easily when rolling out).  One pack of bread mix should make at 5 - 6 large pizza bases, more if extending it by adding more flour/liquid, and even more if you like the bases to be thin (I like them thickish).  So working on a pizza base of around 15p each, the tomato (pizza) sauce topping would be only a few pence (you don't need a lot, just enough for a thin layer over the dough), and cheese - possibly 25p when grated, and almost free if you grate up those odds and ends of assorted cheese you find at the back of the fridge.  That would make a traditional pizza anyway but if you want more, other topping could be could be leftovers (a cold sausage, a few baked beans saved, a few bits of bacon from those cheap packs....).

Here are a few pizza recipes to use as a guide.  You could assemble them in advance to freeze, or work with a partly assembled frozen pizza (base, sauce...) and go on from there. 
Worth while mentioning for those who live alone or with just one partner (or flatmate), why not make individual pizzas.  Serve them with a crisp salad and you will get that 'balanced' meal.
Instead of passata, you could whizz a can of plum tomatoes in a food processor/blender to make a thick sauce (freeze any surplus in small containers to use on other pizzas), or use a tablespoon of tomato puree diluted with a little tomato ketchup (or water).

The pizza base in this recipe is one of those ready-prepared-for baking that are sold in supermarkets. When using a home-made dough base, allow extra time for cooking.  Several chefs spread the dough base with a little ketchup, then part cook for 5 or so minutes, then remove from oven, spread the rest of the tomato sauce over, then the chosen toppings and cheese, returning it to the oven to finish cooking (a further 10 minutes).  This makes sure the base is cooked through without over-cooking the toppings.

Sausage and Tomato Pizza: serves 2
1 tblsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 tblsp passata (see above)
pinch sugar
salt and pepper
1 pizza base (approx. 9"/23cm)
1 -2 cooked sausages, cut into thin slices
2 oz (50g) grated cheese (any kind)
Put the olive oil into a pan and fry the onion for about 5 minutes, adding the garlic a minute before the end. Season the passata with the sugar and seasoning to taste.
Place the pizza base onto a baking sheet and spread the passata over, leaving a border around the edge.  Top with onions, sausages, and finally the cheese.   Cook in a hot oven 220C, gas 7 for about 15 minutes or until the base is crisp.

Next recipe is my favourite as it uses a pack of bread mix, and - once assembled - the pizzas can be frozen and also baked from frozen.  By varying the toppings you can keep a selection of pizzas in your freezer to suit the mood of the day ("tonight I fancy spicy").
Bake from Frozen Pizzas: makes 6
1 x 500g pack bread mix
oil (for greasing bowl)
plain flour (for rolling)
6 tblsp tomato (pizza) sauce, or passata
few fresh basil leaves, torn into shreds
18 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 x 250g ball mozzarella cheese
1 oz (25g) grated Parmesan cheese
Make up the bread mix as per packet instructions, then place the dough in an oiled bowl, set in a warm place, to rise for 1 hour.  Knock back the dough by punching out all the air using your fist, then remove from bowl and roll into a sausage shape, cutting it into six equal portions (if you want to be exact, weigh each so they end up the same weight).
Working with one piece of dough at a time (cover the rest with a damp tea towel or oiled foil or film to prevent it drying out), shape it into a ball then roll it out on a floured board to about 8" (20cm) in diameter.
Put the pizza bases on large oiled baking sheets (you may need several according to the size of your freezer).  Spread 1 tblsp of the sauce over each base, stopping just before you reach the edge, then scatter the basil, tomatoes and mozzarella over, finishing with the Parmesan (or any other freezable toppings you may wish to use).  To freeze the pizzas wrap each in cling-film, then freeze before stacking together in freezer bags or containers. Or each can be separately frozen in a freezer bag after being tightly covered with cling-film.
To cook from frozen, remove all wrappings and place on a pre-heated baking sheet - oven temperature 200C, gas 7 and bake for 12 - 15 minutes until crisp and golden.
Tip: Brush the uncovered edge of the pizza base with oil before baking if you wish for a more tender but still crunchy crust.

With Halloween almost here, am finishing today with one more recipe that could make use of the surplus pumpkin flesh.  This time in chunks (so no need to puree).  Suppose not every one has caraway seeds in their larder, but I find these seeds add so much flavour particularly good with cabbage (and let's not forget Seed Cake - haven't seen a recipe for this in years). Instead of caraway use another flavouring of your choice, or just omit them).
You don't have to use pork sausages either - use those made with lamb, chicken, beef or even use the vegetarian options.  What's the difference you might say - well the difference is in the flavour, quality and price.  YOU choose whatever suits you best.
Incidentally, the chunks of pumpkin should be sausage sized (finger length pieces)

Sausage and Pumpkin Roast: serves 4
1 x 450g pack pork sausages (see above)
1lb 2 oz (700g) pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
2 red onions, cut into wedges
2 tblsp olive oil
2 tsp caraway seeds (opt)
1 x 300g tub of fresh beef gravy (or use home-made)
salt and pepper
Put the sausages, pumpkin, onions, oil and caraways seeds (if using) into a large roasting tin, tossing everything together to coat with the oil, then roast at 200C, gas 7 for 20 - 30 minutes until the sausages are browned and the pumpkin softened.
Add the gravy to the pan and - using a wooden spoon - stir this gently around the pumpkin and bangers, scraping up the sticky bits that have stuck to the base of the pan.  Return to the oven for 5 more minutes or until the gravy has begun to simmer (bubble).  Add seasoning to taste, and serve with a green vegetable (cabbage, beans etc...).

One minute past nine, so have just about finished on time.  Won't be blogging tomorrow, but should be back on Friday.  Do hope you'll be able to join me then.  TTFN.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Recipes to Please...

Thanks for comments.  Will be putting up some recipes today using bacon as an ingredient Maggie Mac.  Checked the Tesco site and couldn't find any mention of the cheaper packs of bacon, so probably only on sale to in-store customers.
Joy mentions the worthwhile purchase of turkey drumsticks/legs often sold cheaper at this time of year, worth getting  to eat now or to freeze. Sarina also mentions Tesco as a good place to buy turkey legs (£1).  Maybe other stores have equally (or even better) deals, if you know of any, please let us know.

Some many years ago now I was asked to write recipes for one of the smaller mags (it might have been Home and Freezer Digest, or one similar), explaining how to make the most of a chicken, and was able to prove that you could get four good meals from one bird (approx. 3lb in weight).  This didn't include making stock from the carcase.  All meals were to feed four with the exception of one (party terrine) that served up to 10!  The recipes have been given on this blog before but can be repeated if you wish.

Now, even the medical profession agree that there is something about home-made chicken soup (often called 'Jewish Penicillin') that has curative properties, especially good to eat when suffering from a heavy cold or flu. 
Yesterday discovered my recently made batch of chicken stock had gelled well, so didn't really need any further reducing down.  Ladled it out to fill 10 CLEAN cream cheese containers, with a little bit left over that I added more water to and a tomato cuppa soup.  Boy, did it taste good!
The stock is now in the freezer, so should last me a few weeks.

While on the subject of buying 'economically', was sent details of current offers from Donald Russell. There meat is SO good that I wish I could afford to buy it more often.  Far too expensive at full price (at least for my tight budget), but have to say their minced steak is really good value as it is made only from the bits of prime fillet, sirloin, rump, and ribeye beef (the bits that are too small to be sold as steaks.   So, once minced (and when on offer), we get the flavour of the best cuts with the economy of the cheaper.
D.R. are currently offering their minced steak (offer expires 3rd November), and although it says (on the leaflet) "6 packs minced steak (pack weight 440g)...12 servings.  To me that could be ignored.  I would normally never serve more than 4 oz/110g of minced beef per person.  Nutritionally that is adequate, and because minced beef is usually combined with other ingredients, this high quality beef has enough flavour to make you believe you are eating twice as much anyway.
The six packs cost £21 (normally $42), and as this would give 24 portions (cooked in the Goode kitchen) this is less than a £1 per serving, just over if you add the cost of any veggies used.  Not bad considering we would be eating some of the best quality meat on sale.   Even my butcher's mince (which is made from cheaper cuts) is the same price as the D.R. offer. (Details on the website or phone 01467 629666 (offer code: Minced Steak D1538)

Although I do store the D.R. mince in the freezer (where it has a long-shelf-life-date), normally I thaw out 3 packs and then cook the mince overnight in the slow cooker along with some sliced onion, just covering the mince with water (no more, no less).  Leaving it cooking overnight on Low, the mince has then become very tender and - when removed from its 'stock' - breaks up easily with a fork and then I just freeze this as-is to use later in many different dishes (spag. bol, lasagne, chilli con carne, Cottage Pie etc). The 'stock' has taken on a lovely meaty flavour, and this is frozen separately to add to the above dishes, to make gravy, soups etc. 
The raw minced, once thawed, with the addition of grated onion etc, makes beautiful meatballs, burgers or what you will.  The burgers need cooking as 'fresh', the meatballs can be frozen if first cooked through thoroughly.

Right, let's move from beef to bacon.  Have tried to find a few recipes that have bacon as an ingredient, and hope the following might be of interest.

Chunky Leek and Bacon Soup: serves 4
4 leeks, trimmed and thickly sliced
8 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped
1.5 ltrs hot chicken stock
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves only, chopped
salt and pepper
7 oz (200g) pasta shapes (any shape)
Put the bacon into a large saucepan and heat gently until the fat is flowing, then add the leeks and raise the heat to medium.  Cook for 5 minutes until the bacon is crisp and the leeks have begun to soften.  Add the stock and rosemary with seasoning to taste, then bring to the boil, reducing heat and simmer for 5 minutes.   Add the pasta and cook for a further 10 minutes until the pasta is al dente. Serve immediately with warm crusty bread (pref. ciabatta).

This next recipe has some similarity to Toad in the Hole, and not a million miles away from a soufflé.  You'll understand when you read the method.  No reason why you can't use 3 slices ham instead of bacon, but as it's bacon that has priority today, bacon is what is being used. Myself find that the dried out oddments of hard cheese (Cheddar, Red Leicester....) when very finely grated, make an excellent and well flavoured substitute for Parmesan (even though this dish does include a coarser grating of Cheddar, no reason why you can't use it twice).

Cheese, Bacon, and Onion Puff: serves 4
5 oz (150g) plain flour
4 large eggs
7 fl oz (200ml) milk
butter (for greasing)
2 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese (see above)
8 rashers cooked streaky bacon, chopped
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
5 oz (150g) Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
Put the flour into a bowl and beat in the eggs until smooth, then gradually beat in the milk, continuing to beat until lump-free (if you have a problem with lumps, drain the mixture through a sieve and work any lumps through using a wooden spoon, then give one final beating).
Using butter, grease a large round ceramic dish, not too tall, and about 9" (23cm) wide, the sprinkle this with the Parmesan.
Stir the bacon, onions, and Cheddar into the batter, folding together until completely combined, then pour this into the prepared dish so that it comes almost to the top.  Bake at 230C, gas 8 for approx. 30 minutes until puffed up and golden.   Take dish to table and serve immediately.

Next is a recipe for French peasant stew that is normally topped with fillets of white fish, duck, chicken... but reading the ingredients for the stew (the base of the dish), feel that this would eat well on its own as it has oodles of flavour and would make a good lunch or supper dish.  What do you think?

Cabbage, Bacon, and Bean Stew: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
5 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, sliced
2 carrots, diced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 Savoy cabbage, shredded
4 tblsp white wine
half pint (300ml) chicken stock
1 x 410g can flagelot beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the butter in a large frying pan, and - when starting to sizzle - add the bacon and fry this for a few minutes.  Add the onion, celery, and carrots and continue frying/cooking for 8 - 10 minutes until the softened but not browned.  Stir in the thyme and cabbage, and stir-fry for a few minutes to wilt the cabbage, then add the wine, simmering until this has evaporated (leaves the flavour behind), finally adding the stock, beans and seasoning.   Cover the pan, and continue to simmer gently (you may need to reduce the heat) for 10 minutes, by which time the cabbage should have softened but not over-cooked.
Serve into serving bowls and eat immediately.  If wishing to serve a topping of fish or chicken etc, then keep the stew warm in the pan until the chosen protein is cooked, then portion out placing the fish/chicken....on top.

That's it for today, at least when it comes to bacon recipes.  Have just one more - this for a cake using pumpkin puree because am sure many readers will have plenty of pumpkin to use up, Halloween being this Thursday.
The recipe I found in a recent TV supplement, and have adapted it slightly (which is allowed), especially the method (mine seems simpler), and would use a slightly diluted plain yogurt instead of buttermilk.  As pumpkin puree is very similar to pureed parsnips, beetroot, carrots, courgettes (all used when baking cakes) we could substitute pumpkin (using the complementary spices) in recipes using these veggies.  Could also be used to make American muffins.

The suggested icing for this cake is the juice and zest of one clementine mixed with a little grated ginger and 7oz (200g) sifted icing sugar, but you can leave the cake plain if you wish, or cover with melted chocolate or cream cheese.

Pumpkin Cake: serves 12
10 oz (300g) plain flour
2 tblsp cocoa powder
1 tblsp baking powder
half teaspoon bicarb. of soda
1 rounded teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 fl oz (100ml) buttermilk (see above)
6 oz (175g) pumpkin puree
5 oz (150g) milk (or dark) chocolate, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 oz (150g) butter (pref unsalted)
6 oz (175g) dark brown sugar
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
3 large eggs
Using a little of the butter grease and line a 12 x 25cm loaf tin.
Sift the flour, cocoa, raising agents and cinnamon together into a mixing bowl, then set aside.
Using another bowl (or jug) whisk together the pumpkin puree with the buttermilk, melted chocolate and vanilla.  Set this to one side.
In a larger bowl, cream the remaining butter with the two sugars until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in the eggs.  Still beating (lower speed) alternately fold in the flour mix and the buttermilk mix and repeat until everything is mixed together.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin and bake at 170C, gas 3 for one hour or until golden and a skewer (or cocktail stick) inserted into the centre comes out clean.   Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out and cool on a wire rack.

Atrocious weather yesterday over part of England.  We were lucky, and apart from occasional high winds (and not that high), the sun came out, the rain fell during the night, and today it is lovely and sunny.  Still a strong breeze, but nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year.  Am almost feeling guilty that we didn't suffer, and do hope that those readers who caught the worst of the storm are now getting back to normal.  Please let us know you are OK.

Time for me to love you and leave you as have quite a lot to do today (keep saying that and then never do what I should - but can always try).  Hope to be back with you tomorrow esp as I won't be blogging on Thursday (that morning taken up with Norma the Hair, then coffee morning, followed by baking for Halloween.  TTFN.


Monday, October 28, 2013

What's in it for Me?

Yesterday took a look at the ingredients listed on the back of the pack of one 'Breaded Scampi  'bites', flavoured with lemon). Showed it to B, pointing out that when something is being sold for such a good offer, there is more to it than meets the eye.  Home-made breaded scampi would be made from large jumbo prawns or lobster tails with just a coating of (perhaps flour, egg, breadcrumbs). 
For the 'buy one get two free' offer of the scampi bites we got a whole lot more than that.  Here is what was printed on the back of the pack:
Scampi core (that's the fish part of the bites, and the front of the pack said 'formed fish'): (scampi 16.5%, Mixed White Fish 16%, Water, Oat fibre, Salt, Stabilisers, Sodium Carbonate, Citric Acid, Cornflour).    And that's just the fish part, not even 100% of it fish - which we'd get if we made them ourselves.

The breaded coating is listed as: Coating (Wheat Flour, Water, Rice Flour, Maize Starch, Wheat Gluten, Modified Maize Starch, Salt, Wheat Starch, Dextrose, Lemon Powder, Sugar, Flavouring, Yeast, Vegetable Oil, Citric Acid, Potato Starch, Lemon Oil.  Colour: Curcumin, Raising Agents: Disodium Diphosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate, White Pepper), Vegetable Oil.  

We expect to get what we pay for, and perhaps no law was broken when the pack said 'Breaded' before Scampi as the coating was 66.5% of each piece (the main part or ingredient should always come first), but after reading the ingredients felt that what was bought was what not was intended.  B initially pointed out that each 'scampi' (at the offer price) worked out at less that 9p each "so surely they were worth it?" He changed his mind after he had eaten his 10 (nearly a £'s worth).   Funny how what seems so cheap, when added up suddenly becomes expensive, especially when you feel you've eaten rubbish.  Live and learn.  He won't do that again.  I hope.

Bought a chicken from Morrison's.  Didn't need a whole chicken as I have many chicken breasts in the freezer, but I DID need to make chicken stock and also freeze away thickly sliced chicken (in gravy) to make 'roast chicken' meals for B later.
Asked B to bring a large chicken, and it weighed 2.5kg (that's about 5lb).  The larger the bird the more flesh on the bones.  After roasting and giving B one leg (drumstick and thigh attached), cooled the rest and after chilling in the fridge, carved it up.  One side of the breast I sliced along the length, this worked fairly well but the sliced tended to break into half.  The other side I sliced across working from the narrow end (back end?) and this was MUCH more successful, lovely thick slices, none of them breaking, so perhaps - for years - I've been carving chickens incorrectly.  

The carcase - of course!!! - was put into a large pot with a couple of carrots (cut into large chunks), a rib of celery (ditto), and an onion (cut in half).  Added two bay leaves, topped with the (jellied) juices that I'd drained from the roasting pan, about three pints of water poured over (to just about cover the bones), then left to simmer for a couple of hours.  What a gorgeous smell kept wafting in from the kitchen when it had reached its peak.  After draining through a colander, the big bowl of stock was left to cool then put into the fridge to chill.  The chicken fat (I could see quite a bit on top - this came from the skins and internal fat) will be carefully removed and kept in the fridge to use for frying.  The remaining stock will be checked for 'jell' then re-boiled to reduce down (by half if not 'jelled' enough) to then put into small containers (I use empty cream cheese tubs with their lids), cool again then freeze.   I use LOADS of chicken stock,  adding it to soups, risottos, curries, chicken casseroles....
A tomato 'cuppa soup' tastes really good when made with boiling chicken stock and not water.  More nourishing too.

A thanks to Pam and Sarnia (who both commented on the cassoulet).  It's true that we don't eat enough pulses, these being some of the cheapest ingredients we can keep in our larders.  One tip though - despite dried beans having a '' (normally these dates mean foods are still OK to use months if not years after this date), the older a dried bean gets, the longer it takes to cook, and if too old will never soften at all, so best always to cook these within the date time, or shortly after to get the best results (extra cooking takes extra fuel so the less time taken also makes sense).

As meat becomes more (and more) expensive, we are now beginning to buy the cheaper cuts of beef, that have - in my opinion - an even better flavour than the expensive rump or fillet steaks. But even these are costing more.  
Was watching a repeat of (I think) Rick Stein who was cooking veal sweetbreads and saying how good they were, but although we can now buy veal produced in this country, the farmers throw the sweetbreads away and these have to be imported from Holland.  What's the sense in that?  Who makes the rules that says we can't sell our home-produced sweetbreads?

With even the cheaper cuts now costing as much as a roast joint some years back, we now have to either turn vegetarian to balance our food budget, or buy less meat and eat this less often.  Nothing wrong with that.  Certainly, in a casserole, just a little quality meat will flavour the whole dish.  Why use more?  Make up the shortfall by using more vegetables, and include pulses (because these also contain vegetable protein easily absorbed by the body when eaten with an animal protein).

Slow-cooking is the ultimate 'fast food' because you can't get a meal on the table faster than one that is ready and waiting to serve on your return from work.  So here is a recipe that I've given before (probably some years ago), but this time the potato topping, normally added half-way through the cooking, is added at the end.  We can only add things to a slow-cooker if we are at home.  Out all day and we have to plan the meal differently.
My suggestion this time round is that the potato slices are first cooked, then covered and left in the fridge. Shortly before serving, place the slices on top of the (now-cooked) casserole then pop the completed dish under a pre-heated medium grill for 4 - 5 minutes to brown and crisp the spuds (you can lay the table while this is happening).

Please don't dismiss this recipe because the list of ingredients seems endless.  Most of them are there to add flavour, and if there is something you don't have (sherry?) then just leave it out.  But always make sure the total liquid content remains the same.

Vary the proportions and types of beans according to what you have in your larder, kidney beans, red beans, borlotti beans, cannellini beans, all work well, and can be used instead of those listed, or mixed with them.  Instead of using green beans, sugar snap or mangetout peas make a good alternative.
We can - of course - use canned tomatoes (rubbed through a sieve) in place of the passata, and water instead of apple juice.  Knowing my readers I expect many of you will completely change the recipe and end up with one better (tasting) than the original.  Go for it!

Sweet and Sour Bean Hot-Pot: serves 6
1 lb (450g) unpeeled potatoes
1 tblsp olive oil
2 oz (50g) butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 oz (50g) plain flour
half pint (300ml) passata
4 fl oz (100ml) apple juice
4 tblsp soft,light brown sugar
4 tblsp tomato ketchup
4 tblsp dry sherry
4 tblsp cider vinegar
4 tblsp soy sauce
1 x 400g can butter beans
1 x 400g can flageolet beans
1 x 400g can chickpeas
6 oz (175g) green beans, cut into 1"/2.5cm lengths
8 oz (225g) mushrooms, sliced
1 tblsp each fresh chopped marjoram and thyme
salt and pepper
Firstly, thinly slice the potatoes and boil for 5 minutes until al dente.  Drain well and refresh in cold water to stop further cooking.  Drain well again and drizzle the oil over to coat, then place in a bowl and cover until ready to top the casserole.
Melt the butter in a pan and gently fry the shallots for about 5 minutes, then stir in the flour. Cook for one minute, stirring all the time, then gradually stir in the passata, followed by the apple juice, sugar, ketchup, sherry, vinegar, and soy sauce.   Bring to the boil, stirring all the time, until thickened, then remove from heat and set aside.
Rinse the beans and chickpeas and drain well before placing them in the ceramic pot of the slow-cooker.  Add the green beans and the mushrooms and pour over the (above made) sauce. Fold this in to coat everything, then cover with the lid and cook on High for five hours.
Remove the dish from its heating container and place the sliced potatoes on top, overlapping slightly so that the contents are completely covered, then place under a pre-heated medium grill and cook for 4 - 5 minutes until the spuds are browned and beginning to crisp at the edges.   Serve, garnished with the herbs.

However good a recipe may look/seem, we usually then first ask ourselves "what's in it for me" (or what I/we enjoy eating).  Having asked ourselves that and found it wanting,  we should still keep trying something new or we may be missing something really good.  However, when money is short and food prices high, we don't want to make a mistake (like the above 'scampi'). Perhaps better the devil we know rather than the devil we don't.  
There is a saying 'The devil is in the detail', so perhaps 'our' particular devilishly good meal (which might be nothing more than good plain traditional hot-pot) could be prettied up to make it look a lot more special.  It's details like that which can make all the difference.  I'll leave you with that thought.

Despite the horrendous weather forecast, it does seem that this time we have been lucky enough to get away with high winds.  These have now dropped and it is raining.  The really bad weather is expected to be further south under a diagonal line from the south-west to the north-east.  Apparently trains, planes have been cancelled ready for the onset of the bad weather (expected as I write), and hopefully it will be short-lived.  Sympathies go to any readers who live in the worst hit areas.

Yesterday watched the final episode of 'The Great British Year'.  This time it covered autumn, with a final few minutes showing snow and frost covering the countryside.  Again am amazed at how beautiful our small island is, and credit given to all the cameramen who managed to get some superb shots of good weather etc, as the series was shot during the worst year of (especially summer) weather we have had since records began.  If only our seasons could be always as depicted in the best weather shots. 
It was good to see how Nature manages her housekeeping, with the worms pulling the leaves into the soil to recycle them, and especially something called '....slime' (full name forgotten) that did a final tidying up.  Even things without brains seem to know exactly what to do to find food, and how to pro-create effectively, above all keep the natural world in balance.  There has be some intelligence behind all this.  Why are we here?  Wish I knew/we knew then maybe life could only get better.

Daughter has just arrived so must go and spend some time with her (she's not been well), and hopefully will be back with you again tomorrow.  Please join me.  TTFN.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fingers on the Pulse...

Believe a welcome due to Rae (don't think she has commented before). Usually older folk use companies like Wilkinson's Farm Foods, and normally eat smaller size portions.  My B is probably the exception, his portions are almost twice what they should be.

Practically all ready-meals, even those of quality, are small in portion size. I remember my friend Gill, when trying to lose weight, would buy and eat TWO weight-watchers meals together because the amount was so small (even so she still lost weight).
Almost certainly the meals I serve for B are far too large, but give him any less and within minutes he's up toasting himself some bread, then half an hour later fetching himself something else, and this repeats for most of the evening.  His weight stays fairly constant, at least during the summer months when he is more active with the sailing club (he doesn't sail any more but occasionally drives the safety boat and does quite a few repairs for them).

Yesterday B went to Morrison's to get the "buy one get two free" offer of prawns.  I was happy with prawns as can use them in many dishes (esp stir-fries, paellas, fish risotto and prawn cocktail...). But of course they were not prawns per se, turned out it was packs of breaded scampi (really no use to me).  B was delighted (he likes scampi), and said he was returning to the store today to get three more packs.  
He wanted some for his supper yesterday, the packs weren't large, so I said "let's share a pack", forgetting that B doesn't do equal, so not surprised when he said " OK, there are 16 in a pack, I'll have 10 and you can have 6".  I settled for that, but perhaps should have tried "You have 9 and I'll have 7".  Glad I didn't for the scampi had little flavour.  Not worth the money, even allowing for the freebies.  B can eat the lot over the next few months (they were frozen and with the use-by date summer of next year they have a long freezer-shelf life).  Am hoping to persuade B not to go back and buy more, doubt he will listen.

Thanks Margie for letting us know what 'perogies' are.  They sound rather nice.  Wonder if they are sold in the Polish-run shops (there is one in Morecambe).  I've tried a few Polish 'delicacies' that are sold at the supermarket (dry goods), but never found them quite to my taste. Perhaps I should persevere. 
Myself have loads of housework to do (its been waiting for months, a few more weeks won't matter?) and maybe, once the hour has gone back (tonight) with an extra hour to play with, I should use this to advantage.  It's surprising how much housework can be done in one hour when I put my mind to it (and role-play cleaning lady).

We expect heavy rain and gales this weekend, but any rain that fell last night seems to be drying off, and hardly a twig is moving in the garden.  Maybe we are in the eye of the storm (the bit that stays still when the rest of the weather is rushing round it).  Or maybe the strong winds have yet to come.  No plans to go outside, the usual Saturday-in-the-kitchen for me, so don't really care what the weather does.  Just hope it stays fair enough for those that have outdoor plans.

Today my recipes are based on pulses, these I class normally as beans, but include lentils, split peas etc.  As these are some of the cheapest ingredients they should be used more often, so today hope to put that right.

Usually I find a recipe with a long list of ingredients is off-putting, and rapidly turn the page to find a simpler one.  Generally - and certainly when the dish is 'pulse-based' - the extra ingredients are there only in very small amount and just to give plenty of flavour, so it's always worth reading down the list as often we can substitute different spices and/or herbs if we don't have those recommended, or we prefer something less spicy, more spicy, or not even spicy at all.

Most recipes don't pick out the ingredients that we could make ourselves (breadcrumbs), or veggies that we can use up (such as the stump of a head of celery instead of using a stalk/rib - I always save these 'stumps' as they are useful for grating or adding to the pan when making chicken stock), and the following recipes have such ingredients, so - if you have them - making the dish even cheaper.

This first dish is meant to serve two and can be made a day ahead (keeping the uncooked patties separate and covered in the fridge), but worth making in bulk as the uncooked patties can also be frozen for up to six months.  A variation could be made using yellow split peas instead of the red lentils.
Lentil Patties: serves 2
4 oz (100g) red lentils
2 oz (50g) celery stalk finely chopped (see above)
1 small carrot, finely chopped or grated
just under a pint (500ml) water
half tsp each ground coriander and cumin
5 oz (150g) stale breadcrumbs
1 tblsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tblsp plain flour
1 egg white, lightly beaten
3 tblsp olive oil
Put the lentils, celery, carrot, water, and spices into a pan and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the mixture thickens, then leave to cool.
Stir in half the breadcrumbs and the parsley,, then shape the mixture into four patties (like burgers or fish-cakes in shape). Toss the in the flour, then dip into the egg white, then into the remaining breadcrumbs (they can be chilled then frozen at this point).
Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the patties until well browned on both sides.  Drain on kitchen paper and serve with a yogurt sauce such as Raita, or (bottled) sauce tartare, or just mayo (or whatever sauce you fancy), plus a crisp green salad.

Next recipe uses canned and - like many varieties of beans - one type can be substituted for another (haricot, borlotti, butter beans, cannellini....) or use a mixture if using home-cooked beans from the freezer.
Canned tomatoes are cheap enough, so if you grow your own herbs, and have garlic in your onion basket, then add these to flavour the dish. Otherwise buy canned garlic and herb flavoured chopped tomatoes (but they usually cost more).  As I normally keep (or make) green pesto, I'd have to resort to using this, but the red pesto is better as this won't then change the colour of the dish (does anyone know how to make red pesto? Yes I could look it up on the Internet I suppose, but like to give readers a chance to share their own recipes.

Another cost-cutter is to use left-over cooked pasta (drizzle the cooked and drained pasta with a little oil to prevent it sticking together before saving).  Otherwise use ready-to-use pasta (again more expensive).  An alternative (and possibly cheaper but not necessarily) passata is to tip a can of plum tomatoes into a sieve (standing over a bowl of course), and rub through using a wooden spoon.  You end up with a fairly thick passata leaving seeds and some skin/membranes in the sieve - which you can discard.
Beans 'n Pasta: serves 4
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large apple, cored and chopped
1 x 410 can chopped tomatoes with garlic and herbsj
1 x 300m carton passata (see above)
1 x 290g can borlotti (or other) beans, rinsed
3 tblsp red pesto (see above)
11oz (300g) left-over cooked pasta (see above)
salt and pepper
Put the oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat and fry the onion for 3 - 5 minutes until softened. Stir in the  apple and cook for a further 2 - 3 minutes until softened, then stir in the tomatoes, passata and beans.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, then stir in the pesto and pasta with seasoning to taste.  When the pasta is heated through serve in individual bowls with crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

A favourite dish that I used to make many years ago was Cassoulet.  Perfect for serving to a family, especially on a cold winter's day.  Not at all expensive to make (if you follow my tips), and has the advantage of being able to be made a couple of days ahead (and kept chilled) before cooking, and can also be frozen (uncooked - just defrost prior to finishing the baking).
Traditionally the sausage to use is Toulouse, but I tended to use any well-flavoured sausages, and quite possibly you might find a pack of the Toulouse or Merguez (or similar) on offer or 'reduced' any time of the year, so buy and freeze ready for this dish.  Even though the recipe suggests using 12 sausages, no reason why you can't use 6 or even less.  Use what you have.  One sausage is better than none (you can always chop it up after cooking so everyone has a chunk).

White wine is not cheap, but - over the months - I've managed to collect quite a few cubes of frozen wine (final dregs from each bottle),but chefs sometimes cheat and use white wine vinegar that has had a couple or so teaspoons of sugar dissolved in it.  Not that I would go down that road, but feel free...  Omit the wine and use apple juice or chickens stock if you prefer.
Have to admit to sometimes using bog-standard baked beans instead of the canned haricot as these are the same variety of bean as given,  but packed in their own tomato sauce, so this means I can omit using the fresh tomatoes. Not the French way, but my way. An alternative is to use one can of baked beans and one can of haricot beans.  Or do it properly as per recipe.
Bouquet garni is sometimes sold in bags (like tea-bags), but to make from scratch just make a bundle up of fresh parsley (esp the stalks as these have lots of flavour) thyme and a bay leaf, all tied together with string.
French Cassoulet: serves 4 - 6
2 tblsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tomatoes, chopped (see above)
1 bouquet garni (see above)
salt and pepper
2 x 400g cans haricot beans (see above)
half pint (300ml) white wine (see above)
7 fl oz (200ml) water
12 Toulouse sausages (see above)
4 oz (100g) stale bread, crumbed
Heat 1 tblsp of the oil in a large pan and add the onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes (if using), and bouquet garni, seasoning to taste. Cook over a low heat for 5 minutes, then add the beans, wine, and water.  Bring to the boil and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the remaining oil in a frying pan and fry the sausages until browned all over (they will carry on cooking later.
Pour half the bean mixture into an oven-proof casserole and lay the sausage on top, covering these with the rest of the beans.  This can now be cooled and chilled for up to 2 days or frozen.
To cook:  Cover with foil and cook at 180C, gas 4 for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top.  Bake for a further 20 minutes until the crumbs are golden and crusty.  Serve hot.

The above dish is fairly basic (not quite the classic version) and but myself remember adding all sorts of things when making a Cassoulet and would included a few chicken wings, or a chunk of gammon, probably cooking the dish at a slightly lower temperature and for up to an hour and a half (any meat added must be cooked through).  The longer/slower a Cassoulet cooks, the better the flavour in my opinion.
Also remember after adding and crisping the breadcrumb topping, would break this up to stir this into the casserole and add more crumbs on top to make another crust.  This gave a lovely crunch to the dish.

If I remember correctly, in Larousse Gastronomic there was a mention that a pot of Cassoulet had been made in a rural inn in France, the inn-keepers wife just topping up the pot with more meat, beans and liquid to cook overnight over a log fire, and serving it to customers the next day, and the next.....believe she kept this meal going by just adding to it - for many, many, and MANY years!  Am not suggesting we go down this road, but can imagine how the flavour must have grown and grown and no doubt people would be queuing for a taste after all that time.

These days there is always a shorter method to make a classic dish, so end today by giving a variation on the above.  Not ending up quite as tasty, but well worth making when you wish to keep things simple.  Interestingly it uses my trick of one can unflavoured beans and one can baked beans.
Sausage and Bean Casserole: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
8 pork sausages
1 rib celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 tblsp tomato puree
1 x 400g can butter beans 
1 x 400g can baked beans in tomato sauce
1 tsp thyme leaves
salt and pepper
7 fl oz (200ml) hot chicken or vegetable stock
2 slices white bread, crumbed
Put the oil in a pan and fry the sausages until browned, then remove these from the oil and set aside.  Add the prepared vegetables to the oil in the pan and fry for 10 minutes, then stir in the tomato puree and cook for a further minute before spooning into an oven-proof casserole dish, adding the beans, sausages, thyme, and seasoning to taste. Pour in the stock, bring to the simmer, then remove from the heat.  If you wish the dish can now be cooled and kept chilled for up to 2 days, or frozen. If frozen, defrost completely before reheating.
To finish the dish, sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top and bake at 200C gas 6 for 25-30 minutes until the crumbs are golden and the stew is bubbling.

That's it for today.  No blog tomorrow even though I will have an extra hour to play with.  No - tomorrow will be 'housework day', and I'll need to keep myself blinkered and avoid any other distractions.   Back on Monday with more edible 'chat'.  Do hope you'll find time to join me.  If so - see you then.  Have a good weekend.



Friday, October 25, 2013

Sometimes I wish....

Thankfully am able to write my blog today.  Really was concerned as I seemed to have spent most of the night having terrible nightmares that the comp had been replaced by another that I could not work at all, and our previous comp had been given to someone else and dumped and I had no records of any of my previous blogs, recipes etc.   That was bad enough, but once I had returned to bed after my night trip to the bathroom (an elderly thing), once back to sleep the dream carried on.

At one point I began to cry, out loud so B gave me a big push (nearly fell out of bed), and THEN when back to sleep the nightmare still continued.  Eventually (after another trip to the bathroom), I eventually began dreaming about something else, but this too was nightmare level, but not quite as bad.  Must have been something I ate!

A good article in the Daily Mail yesterday (part of a two-pager about Ruby), that explained exactly how TV producers know exactly what we like to see and adding this to the two other articles on those pages, it seems that this programme is veering towards the dramatic rather than concentrating on what the contestants are there for in the first place.
There was a mention of how the cameras used often to zoom in on P.H fixing his blue eyes on Ruby, but as I recall, we could never see who he was actually looking at, so he could have been talking to and looking at someone else.  Because we next see Ruby looking (at Paul?) doesn't mean the two shots were taken at the same time.  Clever editing can make us believe anything.

Ruby in print is now showing her full colours, and admitted she played the 'self-deprecation' card (is that the word? - she uses a lot of big words, I still have to ask what misogyny means) because she didn't want to appear smug.  Glad she's admitted that she was only playing a part.

It crossed my mind that maybe, just maybe, because P's peccadillo happened at the beginning of the series, leaving a bit of a bitter taste in our mouths, the producers thought it a good idea to take viewers minds off P, and focus them on someone else, and we all know who that was.  With Ruby now appearing almost daily in more than one newspaper (and sometimes on more than one page), certainly she has turned out to be 'media fodder', and no doubt it will be some weeks before her 15 minutes of fame has faded away.  But all very enjoyable while it lasts.

Just two comments to reply to.  The first from Margie who seems (for the first time this year) to be having colder weather than us.  Despite the time of year, our temperatures are still in the high teens during the day, and not much lower at night.  This weekend the north is supposed to get colder, and we may get a taste of that, but the Midlands and further south should still stay unseasonably warm (as they put it).

Our baked beans have also risen in price, but as many brands are often on offer we don't always notice.  Have to say that I've now taken to buying a cheaper brand of baked beans and only the better quality if they are well-reduced in price (which is not as often as they used to be). 
We are becoming so used to rising prices that I don't think we appreciate how much they do rise.  A penny here or there can be almost ignored, but nowadays it does seem that prices rise by as much 10p in one go, and sometimes more.  When almost every item in a shopping trolley has gone up in price, these extra pennies can add up to several £££s.

You say you are stocking up with beans and 'perogies' Margie, and although I know what the beans are, have no idea what a perogie is.  It sounds like a sausage.  Am I right?

We give a welcome to Lizzie, another reader who lives in Australia, hopefully not in the area of those huge bush fires we hear about and see on our TV news.
At one time I did write up a complete index giving every recipe posted, but later blogger decided to remove many of the earlier blogs from each month - due I believe to shortage of space.  At one time all the blogs were published, but as these were lengthy, believe that blogger now have a limited space for each month, so only the last few ever got saved.   
A year or so back I went through every blog I'd written (all were kept on the editing page of blogger even if not shown), and removed all the chat, leaving only my best recipes and hints and tips. It took me a month, working every day, to sort it all out. Haven't done that for a couple of years, so will have to check and see what remains.
It might be possible to get another index, but am hoping to get my new website completed, this giving just my recipes with photos and other useful info.  Am waiting to get my camera mended as need to take the final photos.   This new site will - of course - be indexed so easy to find any recipe.  Details will be given when it is up and running.  Until then, anyone who wishes to be reminded of a previous recipe posted on this site, just ask and I'll can either refer you to the correct page (if blogger has still left it there), or can put up the recipe again.

Yesterday I had a real baking day (at least from 10am - 2pm).  B had run out of bread and as he was going to Morrison's anyway I asked him if he wanted to buy a loaf or should I make him one? He said he preferred home-made.  "Anything else you'd like me to make while the oven is on" I asked. "More cheese straws".  Said that was doubtful as the only pastry I had was in the freezer, and I only make cheese straws with the trimmings.  So he settled for a cake.

As I was making an extended loaf decided to make some Chelsea-type buns with the extra third of dough, baking these in a Victoria sponge tin (five round the sides and one in the middle).  While the dough was rising made a chocolate cake and baked this in the second V. sponge tin (more about this in a minute).  When the dough was ready, the cake had been cooked, so I upturned the second tin and placed it over the top of the buns in their tin so they would steam rather than bake (helps to keep the dough soft and not brown too rapidly).  Half-way through the baking I removed the top tin to let them brown, then when baked, brushed the tops with golden syrup and butter (melted together), sprinkling Demerara sugar over.  Worked really well.
There was enough plain dough left to make six mini-loaves, and the main loaf also rose beautifully.  As I make the dough in the bread-machine, instead of using cool liquid (as normal), have begun to use a tepid water (less than hand-hot but certainly the chill taken off), and am sure this helps the dough to rise better and slightly faster than usual.  The liquid used is now one third milk two thirds water and this too gives a better texture/flavour. l

The chocolate cake - mentioned above - was made using a Tesco Value sponge cake mix (think this is 15p).  I tipped some cocoa powder into a bowl (guestimated 2 tablespoonsful), added a teaspoon of baking powder, mixed in the cake mix, then added a large egg and the water.  I misread the amount of water needed, so added too much, so slung in a bit more self-raising flour and when I felt it was the right consistency (still a bit on the soft side) poured it into the greased and base-lined tin.  It baked perfectly, and when removed from the tin and cooled, I split it in half and spread Nutella over one half to make the filling, the clapped the top on.  Apart from the cake being very fragile (tending to break easily) it did make a very good cake, and anyway B's intention was to cut a large slice, warm it in the microwave, pour cream over and eat it with a spoon, so if it crumbled a bit, no problem.

Even before I got to making the cake, went to the freezer to get food for B's supper (he wanted a beef casserole), and saw half a pack of short pastry in there, so took that out to thaw, along with four sausages (B likes - as a snack - a cooked sausage tucked into one of the mini-loaves).   While the above bakes were cooking, I cooked some potatoes, carrots and parsnips until just tender, heated the pre-cooked stewing meat (with its gravy) in the microwave, fried an onion in a frying pan, adding the meat/gravy, with a little dry casserole 'mix' to thicken it, and also a little HP 'smokey barbecue' sauce (last bit in the bottle, water added, give a good shake and pour into the pan).  Finally added the cooked veggies.  Let them simmer for 5 minutes, then turned it out ready to reheat at supper time.

By the time the various breads and cakes were baked (I also cooked the sausages on the top shelf), then set too and grated some cheese, rolled out the pastry, covered it with first a shake of pepper and salt, then grated cheese, folded it into three, rolled it out thinly, repeated the act, and after the final rolling, cut the pastry into thin strips.  As it was half a pack of pastry used, it made a LOT of cheese straws. Cooked two baking sheets at a time, twice.

After all that was done, staggered into the living room where B had almost nodded off, and said there was enough there for his toast and pud and snacks to last him several days, just make sure none of the bread got stale before ate it.   B said "you didn't have to cook all that much" (which was true), but I repleied (also true) that it was better to cook it all while the oven was on as this saved fuel, otherwise I'd be oven-baking every day to keep up with what he likes to eat.  He understood.

Sometimes I wish I could allow myself to 'buy convenient'.  How much easier it would be for me to buy biscuits and cakes, bread and ready-meals.  On a bad day I've even thought about ordering meals from companies such as Wilkinson's Farm Foods et al.  It could be, that if anything happened to me, B would have to rely on these, so yesterday worked out how much these would cost him, and believe it or not one meal a day - over a month - would cost B as much (if not more) than my total food budget spent now covering meals for both myself and B, including B's snacks and treats, food for storage (freezer and larder) and bulk buying quality meat from D.R.

Still, having learned to cook stir-fries (and now able to poach eggs) am hoping B will extend his cookery horizons and - who knows - he may even be able to bake his own bread and make cheese straws.  At least making sure the the larder is full and the freezer has plenty of ready-to-heat meals means that B won't starve if I suddenly disappear to that great kitchen in the sky. 

My Beloved has just come in to tell me that he saw "by one get two free" at Morrison's yesterday. Apparently three large packs of prawns for the price of one (and that was £4!!). He desperately wants to go and buy them because they are such a good offer.  I asked him if they were fresh or frozen, he said (vaguely) he thought they were frozen as they were in the chilled compartment.  I said if chilled, that meant fresh.  We could never eat that many prawns in one go (or even several goes and they were obviously just about at their 'use-by/eat-by' date. 
But he wants them.  And if B wants....  Suggested he went and looked at the pack - if they said 'can be frozen on day of purchase' then OK, but if not DON'T BUY!  But I bet he will. 

"You must come with me to Morrison's" says B, "they have LOADS of things on offer, you'd love it!".  And that's why I won't go.  I may want but don't NEED, and ordering on-line is the best way for me to spend less.   Even yesterday B came in with two Pukka Pies (that are good and he does like them) that were reduced this week.  With loads of meat in the freezer (and pastry) we didn't need them, but at least I was able to freeze them.  B cannot resist anything 'reduced' (and not only food), he can waste loadsa money on things that really are not needed, and then moan that he never has enough money to buy what he really needs.

Anyway, time for me to leave (my coffee morning so things to be done prior to that), and apologies for not giving a recipe today.  Should be back tomorrow with suggestions for things to make.  Then will take Sunday off.  Hallow'een next week, then Bonfire night.  It's all go.   TTFN.  


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

With You In Mind...

Today am hoping to offer recipes to suit several requests that have arrived over the past few days/weeks.  Firstly though will get my replies to those that came in overnight.

Yes, Kathryn, it's all over, and - because of a 'hint' tweeted by a French chef (in Daily Mail yesterday) - who let on the winner of the GBBO was Ruby (although not actually gave her name but enough details to know exactly who he meant)  sat open-mouthed when the winner was announced, and very pleased I was too. Was that just another media gimmick to get us to watch the final prog of the series?  We will never know.

Previous to the final prog was a showing of snippets from last year's series where in my opinion (not that THAT counts for much) felt that the quality of baking then was much superior to the one in the current series.  The contestants too each had a lot of character, possibly why I managed to stay awake to watch, then only JUST managed to keep awake to watch the following final of this years.
Junior Bake-Off begins next week, I think on CBBC, and what's the betting they do as well as some of this years contestants and without shedding a tear on the way. 

We give a welcome to Maggie Mac.  Her comment about the amount of waste that Tesco dumps each day was enlightening.  It is good to hear from the 'inside' what happens.
An excellent idea to have a 'pensioners' shelf where these 'discards' can be displayed before the shop closes.  Trouble is, most of the large supermarkets are open 24 hours and the end of the day pensioners would probably be tucked up at home in chairs or in bed. 

Good to hear from you again jane.  Your mention of Netto also throwing away a lot of the fresh and out of use-by dated foods proves that most supermarkets do the same.  Not just Tesco.  Many now do give a lot of these 'throw-outs' to charity-run food-kitchens as they can use the food immediately in meals they make for the homeless.  So it's not all bad.   Even so, there is still far too much usable food discarded due entirely to being dated.  There are moves afoot to remove many of these dates and just rely on customers common sense.

When reading your comment Sairy, was reminded that I too do have to discard chicken bones after making stock, but don't really count them as 'food waste'.  If I had an open fire they would have been thrown on that and be burned.  Suppose they could be burned outdoors then crushed to turn into 'bone meal' which is beneficial for the soil.

Thanks for your pumpkin and lamb curry recipe Sairy. It is true that pumpkin flesh does not freeze too well (breaks down when thawed), but when first cubed and roasted, this removes a lot of the liquid and if stirred in at the end of cooking (a curry etc), when frozen it then tends to stay more compact.

How wonderful to have an extra long holiday break up to and after Christmas Sarina.  You could then fit in a Twelfth Night party before your return to work.  If you have your granddaughter with you during this time in the run-up to Christmas, you might together be able to make some decorations for the tree. Iced gingerbread biscuit shapes look good hanging from the branches (you can always cover then with cling-film to keep away the dust), and I particularly like the US way of making strings of popcorn with the occasional cranberry here and there to hang from the branches.  Popping corn is inexpensive (for what you get) as you only need a couple of tablespoons popped in a (big) lidded pan to make almost a bucketful of popcorn.

There recipes today have been choses because of the above comments sent in, but of course will be suitable for all readers.   Those who live alone or wish to make only small amounts will be able to make as per recipe, then divide the cooked dish into individual portions and freeze some.  Or - if freezing is not recommended, then certainly the food will keep in the fridge for 2 - 3 days so can be alternated with other meals.

First recipe is for Pumpkin Curry, and not just vegetarian, but vegan (possibly making it even more economical). As it is a Thai curry, it would not be unusual for the main ingredient (in this instance chickpeas) to be served in a thick curry sauce.  Unfrozen the sauce is thinner as the pumpkin stays cubed.  If frozen - and the pumpkin breaks up - then just mash the pumpkin into the sauce and leave the chickpeas as the solid part.  It doesn't really matter as - apart from appearance - once in the mouth, as B says "it all goes down the same way". 
Because the lemongrass, cardamom and mustard seeds are added whole, these can be left in the dish even when served (as they continue to add flavour) but can be removed and put on the side of the plate if you don't wish to eat them (but they are edible).
The useful thing about this dish is once cooked and cooled it can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days or can be frozen for up to 1 month (in individual portions if you wish). 

Pumpkin Curry with Chickpeas: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
3 tblsp vegetarian Thai green curry paste
2 onions, finely chopped
2 large lemongrass stalks, bashed flat
6 cardamom pods, cracked
1 tblsp mustard seeds
approx. 1 lb (450g) pumpkin flesh, cubed
9 fl oz (250ml) vegetable stock
1 x 400g can reduced fat coconut milk
1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 lime
handful fresh mint leaves (if available)
Put the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and stir in the curry paste, onions, lemongrass, cardamom, and mustard seeds.  Fry gently for 2 - 3 minutes then stir in the pumpkin, coating the flesh completely with the sauce, then add the stock and coconut milk.  Bring to the simmer then add the chickpeas.  Continue to simmer until the pumpkin is tender (takes about 10 minutes).  Either serve immediately or cool and store (covered) in the fridge for up to 2 days.  Or freeze for up to one month, defrosting completely before reheating. 
When serving, or after reheating, squeeze the juice of the lime into the curry, scattering over torn mint leaves (opt) as a garnish. 

Next recipe comes under the heading of 'posh nosh', but incredibly easy to make. It's the chestnuts that are the posh bit, and if you are able to collect free edible chestnuts (NOT the horse chestnuts, these are poisonous) and turn these into a puree (that can be frozen to use later in this dish), then this dish should  cost not much more than 'pauper's fare'.
As to whether the completed dessert will freeze, the recipe doesn't say, but as meringue based dishes normally do (as do the other ingredients), it would be worth trying a slice at least. 
As this dessert can be made in advance and kept chilled in the fridge, remove an end slice after rolling up, freeze this, then thaw it several hours later, and if it DOES work, you could then slice, interleave and freeze any left-overs. 

Chestnut and Pumpkin Roulade: serves 6 
3 eggs, separated
5 oz (150g) caster sugar
1 x 250g can unsweetened chestnut puree OR..
..13 oz (375g) peeled chestnuts, finely chopped
2 tblsp Amaretto liqueur (or almond flavouring)
half pint (300ml) double cream
2 tblsp icing sugar
Put the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl and whisk until very light and thick, then gently fold in the chestnut puree (or chopped chestnuts). Beat the egg whites until thick then fold this into the yolk and sugar mixture.
Pour into a greased and lined Swiss roll tin (20 x 30cm/ 8" x 12") and bake at 160C, gas 3  for 40 minutes.  Remove from oven and leave in the tin to cool for 5 minutes, then cover with a damp tea towel and leave for an hour.
Meanwhile, pour the cream into a basin and add the liqueur (or chosen flavouring), then beat until thick (not over-thick, it needs to still be spreadable). 
Take a sheet of greaseproof or parchment paper and sift the icing sugar over this, then turn out the 'roulade' onto the paper. Spread the cream over the surface, then - working from a short end - tightly roll up, using the paper to help hold it together.  Ignore any cracks that may appear - this is to be expected and adds charm to the finished dessert.
If not serving immediately, wrap the roll up in the paper and keep chilled in the fridge.

A couple of days ago B was scoffing about something he'd just read in the paper.  Seems that a well-known (US?) actress had said how she loved to cook, following this by saying she had her own chef.
Said to B that even having her own cook didn't mean she didn't like to make her own supper now and then - after all didn't he enjoy cooking his own stir-fry even though he did have his own chef (me!)?  Think he got the point.

So yesterday B decided he'd have another go at making his supper (twice in seven days, how good is that?), this time poached eggs on toast (something he's not had for years as I'm not very good at making neat poached eggs).  However, as I'd bought a pack of 'Poachets' from Lakeland (but still had not tried them out), suggested B cook his eggs in these (like empty teabags you put in a glass, fill with an egg, then pick up and pop into simmering water).  He said they worked very well indeed.  
The two eggs that B took from my egg rack both had double yolks (and I bet they were the only ones in the whole tray of eggs bought) and after poaching said he thought they needed a little less time than suggested (6 minutes I think it was) but that was possibly because the yolks were slightly smaller than normal.  Thought it worth a mention.

Another miserable day although the forecast is said to improve as the week goes on but with cooler weather coming down from the north.  The south should still stay fairly mild, and all in all we're having a pretty good autumn.  It has been worse, much worse.

A busy day for me tomorrow, and have plenty to do today so will say my farewells until Friday when I will return. Do hope you will be able to join me then, and keep those comments coming. All queries and requests will be given priority on my return.  TTFN.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Believe it or Not!

Was it Winston Churchill who coined the phrase: "lies, damned lies, and statistics"?  However, it does seem true that we can make almost everything believable if we show it as either an average or a statistic.  "The average family throws about a third of their food away each year" (or thereabouts) we read.  Yet I'm pretty certain you or I don't discard nearly as much as that (in my case throw virtually no food away at all - it's all used). This means - by the rule of averages - many families must throw away a great deal more than half of what they buy.

At one time, maybe still now, clothes were made to fit the average-sized woman, this means that any that were thinner, fatter, taller, shorter, could find no clothes that would fit them.  Add these people together and divide the number 'to find the average', and this only proves there could be a middle of the road sizing, not that this would be any use at all.

A great deal of research is done into what the 'average' family eats, and usually by asking 1,000 people what products they buy, what meals they eat, and when etc.   One thousand people out of the millions that live in this country I wouldn't say would be a good representation of the 'average', and I doubt there are any of us who would be classified as average.  Maybe, many years ago, when women tended to stay at home rearing children, the menfolk being the breadwinners, and especially the meals being pretty basic and traditional (this before supermarkets and convenience foods) maybe there were many more 'average' families, but even these depended upon the income and class system.  Nowadays things have changed, and I tend to ignore any statistics that pigeon-holes me/us into a particular life-style, perhaps because I prefer to be different.  Yet wish to feel much the same about many things (mainly at the domestic level) as you, my lovely readers, do.

Apparently, since 'The Great British Bake Off' series began, there has been a rise in the sales of flour, sugar, and other baking ingredients.  Plus the manufacturers grabbing the opportunity and providing us domestic 'bakers' with loads more accessories for cakes (icing, sprinkles, cake cases, etc, etc, etc...).  Who can blame them in this day and age?  We are not forced to buy any of these extras, that is one area we at least still have some control.       

It would be good if we had other cookery competitions between average people (as with '...Bake Off contestants).  Not wishing for the high standard of 'Masterchef', more at the grass roots level, and proper meals, not only cakes and other 'bakes'.   Yet, even making cakes can get people started on cooking.  This happened with me.  Lots of cakes, small and large to keep my children happy, and later (much later) was able to turn to the more useful and money-saving side of cooking, but at least by then was familiar with measuring out ingredients, familiar with oven temperatures, and other very basic necessities of cooking.  We all have to start somewhere, and where better than cakes?

At least the Hairy Bikers and Jamie Oliver do give us the down to earth approach of how to cook with the added attraction of finding out it doesn't matter if you use some convenience foods, or don't make a dish look particularly attractive.  What does matter is the flavour and the enjoyment we can gain by cooking, and the H.B's and Jamie are the ones to show us how.   Hugh F.W. is another who values the food rather than the presentation.  Some of his TV progs have had competitions between him and two other, but the others were professional cooks (which is why sometimes he lost).

Tonight it is the final of '...Bake Off', preceded by an hour of extracts from last years series and the follow-ups from competitors.  The odds are on for Ruby to win.  I wonder why.  Last week she made a complete mess of almost everything she did, yet she still got through to the final.  As one journalist wrote 'she makes good telly', and this is true.   We are now glued to her seats waiting for her (seemingly) lack of confidence to bring floods of tears (which apparently happened last week, but I saw very little of this).

Having some experience of being behind the camera, know that it would be very unlikely indeed for that series to have a cameraman each focussing only on one contestant, so how is it that they are in the right spot at the right time to pick up on disasters, failures and tears?  It is not improbable a contestant is asked to make the same mistake twice just so that it could be filmed.  Certainly there are hours of filming done that we never see, and clever editing shows us only the most interesting bits, and these are not always about what is being baked.  Maybe other contestants cried, or were more efficient with their cooking, but do these make 'good telly'? Not when Ruby does it better.

As Ruby apparently worked as a model before being a student, doubt very much she is as vulnerable as she looks, and wouldn't be a bit surprised if she could throw a strop or too if she felt inclined. She almost did when Paul H criticised her use of saffron.  Her expression when she was sitting on her stool waiting for his verdict on her cake, her sad expression and her bottom lip pushed out like a sulky babies was a delight to see. However much I go on about her, am very glad she is in this series for without her it would have been a lot less interesting (some of the time I feel sympathy for her but have to admit feeling at times she could do with a good slap).  Just hope that if she wins she wins on merit, not because she makes 'good telly' (this being of much more interest to producers, book publishers, agents etc who would use her for their own benefits, not hers).  Whether or not we see more of Ruby (and deep down I am hoping we don't, you can have too much of a good thing), I say 'if you've got it, flaunt it', and may good fortune go with her.

Am pleased you are now able to watch Coronation Street Pam, the storyline at present is particularly strong and well acted.  After a long gap, Liz MacDonald has returned to the Street, and am hoping very much that Roy's mother (played by Stephanie Cole) will also return as she is absolutely brilliant as that character (but she always is whatever part she plays).

Once upon a time we could rely on certain foods and other traditional accessories to appear in the shops at the correct time of year.  Now I see that crackers - normally only bought to pull on Christmas Day - are now being made to sell and pull at Hallow'een, and also for New Year's Day.  What's the betting next year they will make crackers to pull on Bonfire Night, Twelfth Night, and Easter?

Our Mothering Sunday -(traditionally the day when a serving girl was allowed to take that day off and visit her mother, often the only day in the year she saw her) now has the name changed to 'Mother's Day' (in the US a completely different day/date).  We also now have 'Father's Day', and 'Grandmother's Day' (perhaps also Grandfather's Day as well?).  Certainly a good thing to acknowledge and give respect to our parents and grandparents, but isn't this just another way to get people to part with their money buying cards, gifts, flower, chocolates - and booze for Gramps?  Why does everything that could be good have to be so commercialised? 

The good thing is that in today's world the older generation appreciate far more a hand-made gift and maybe a family gathering at home with none of the expense that any other acknowledgement would incur.  There is nothing nicer knowing that the time spent making something (be it a gift or food) shows how much we love and care for someone.  Sadly, not everyone realises that.  Which is why the salesmen keep rubbing their hands with glee (the more it costs the more she will know how much you love her - sort of thing).

Returning to the topic of waste, am wondering if - when Hallow'een is over - once the flesh has been carefully removed from a pumpkin - leaving only a thin layer close to the skin - whether the carved shell itself could be dried, and then used again (and again) in following years?  Only a thought, and not really necessary as we can always cook the flesh from a fresh pumpkin each year.  But even throwing the pumpkin skin/shell away seems a pity.  That's the problem with me, whatever bits are left I always try to find a use for them.  Cauliflower leaves and core/stalks get shredded and cooked in milk (then blitzed) to make cauliflower soup.  Herb stems get added to stocks and casseroles to give flavour.  Apple peel and cores cooked to make pectin.  When making redcurrant jelly, the pulp left in the jelly-bag is added to other soft fruits when making jam (if not used immediately it will be frozen).  Eggshells are crushed and spread on the soil to deter slugs,, also used to clear stock, and mixed into soil as 'grit' when planting bulbs. 
Even our large 4pt plastic milk containers are saved (not all, but several - the rest go to the tip), these I fill with water (often using the cooled water in the hot water bottle), left scattered around the conservatory (and the greenhouse) to come to room temperature so more than enough ready to water the many plants that have been potted up to live the winter through.  I can empty at least two containers at any one time, so like to have back-up at the right temperature ready for next time. Then refill the empties to give them a chance to warm up.   Very shortly all the windowsills in the conservatory will be full of growing things, plus the wider shelves that B has also fitted (these hold three depths of pots).  It can take me ages to water the lot, and some need doing several times a week.

Have been re-reading my first cookbook (More For Your Money) and as I sometimes get requests to give recipes to serve one (or two), this is a good one from this book.  It's a cross between a stir-fry and egg fried rice.  Easy to make, and useful in that you can adapt it to use other vegetables that you may wish to use up.  As ever, I suggest using the scraps of chicken pulled from the carcase after making stock.

This dish is so called because the omelette sits on top of the piled up stir-fried veggies and so takes the appearance of a mandarins hat.   Once the stir-fry has been completed, we could - instead - just stir the beaten eggs into the hot veggies/rice until it scrambles.  As ever, up to you to choose.
Mandarin Hat: serves 1 (even 2)
2 oz (50g) butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 oz (50g) mushrooms, sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
4 oz (100g) cooked long-grain rice
2 tblsp frozen peas, thawed
chicken scraps (see above)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tomato, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1 tblsp water
soy sauce
Heat half the butter in a frying pan and fry the onion, mushrooms and celery for 3 minutes, then stir in the rice and peas.   Add the chicken and stir-fry for 6 - 8 minutes then stir in the tomato.  Remove from pan onto a ready-heated plate and keep warm.
Beat the water into the eggs adding seasoning to taste.  Put the remaining butter into the now empty frying pan and when melted but not burning, pour in the eggs.  As it cooks, pull the sides to the centre and tip the pan so the uncooked egg runs to the sides.  When set but still moist, flip out onto the cooked vegetable/rice/meat mixture and serve immediately, drizzling soy sauce over.

Another recipe taken from the above book is one where the ingredients sound strange, but it does work.  Intended to be made from the scraps of a chicken taken from the carcase after it has been roasted and when served with the traditional accompaniments (stuffing, bread sauce etc). Once the scraps of meat have been removed, the carcase (with any other discarded skin and bones left on the plates) can go into a pan with carrot, onion and celery to make chicken stock.
Savoury Chicken Spread:
4 tblsp bread sauce
2 tblsp tomato puree
1 level tsp Marmite
half tsp curry powder
1 tsp tomato ketchup
salt and pepper to taste
6 oz (175g) cooked chicken scraps
little cream or softened butter to mix
Put all the ingredients into a blender/food processor and whizz until it turns into a fine paste.  Scrape this out into small jars or air-tight tubs and store in the fridge.  Use within a week.   This will also freeze if you wish to keep it longer.

Will end today with a tip about making bread sauce/stuffing.  Prepare the breadcrumbs a day in advance and spread out onto a baking tray to allow them to lose some of their moisture.  They will then soak up more of the added liquid.  
After infusing an onion in milk prior to making bread sauce, remove the onion (and any cloves that have been used), then chop the onion finely and add it to the stuffing being made (if using a bought stuffing mix, just add the onion to that).

Hope to be with you tomorrow as on Thursday my hair appointment followed by a coffee morning prevents me from blogging that day. 
We still have unseasonably high temperatures, so thankfully most of us won't be needing to heat our rooms and may not need to until November arrives (in just over a week).  Once we have got past Bonfire Night, we'll all be focussing on Christmas and I'm going to make sure I have room in the freezer so that I can make and store plenty to save time (mince pies, stuffing balls, and anything else I can think of).
Looking forward to meeting up with you again tomorrow.  Until then, have an enjoyable day.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Another Week Begins...

Yesterday spent some TV time watching repeats.  The Great British Year is a delight to watch, and am hoping that readers in other countries will get a chance to see the British flora and fauna and see the countryside as it really is.  We are such a small country but - when the weather is good - it has immense beauty.

After watching the end of Tenko on Friday it brought to mind how - since the end of World War II, there seem to be always wars somewhere, the Korean, the Vietnam, the fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, not to mention all the other, more internal skirmishes such as those in Libya, Syria and many parts of Africa.  These put our life in Britain into perspective.  We moan about our weather, the continuous rise in food and fuel prices, the way our government runs our country, yet we have so much more than many nations. Even at the lowest level we still have food (even if foodbanks or soup kitchens), clean (tap) water, and free medical health and (usually) a roof over our heads. No wonder that people crave to come and live here.  Made me realise that I should be grateful for what we have, not what we don't have - and stop my moaning about things that really don't matter.

Watched the repeat of '...Bake Off' (am biting my tongue!).  Just waiting to see what happens in the final, and before I forget, another tip picked up from the Food Network.  If you want to paint an iced cake with colour (or use a spray-mister), use alcohol (vodka) instead of water to dilute food colouring pastes as this dries rapidly and the colour shouldn't then seep/spread across the icing beneath.

Something 'new' in the fashion world seem to be the all in one adult-sized 'baby-grows' that are now called 'onesies'.  Not THAT new, Winston Churchill was probably the first adult to wear one, and my mum bought me one to wear in the shelter during air raids.  These were then called 'siren suits'.  Normally dark blue or grey in scratchy but warm material, not the 'pretties' I've seen recently on TV.

Trying to get interested in Gordon Ramsay's (family) cooking, was at least interested in his version of a 21st century 'Ploughman's Lunch' because he showed a new way to make pickled onions. Not the bottled variety but the 'instant'.  He thinly sliced a red onion, sprinkled it with sugar and salt, poured over some white wine vinegar, then put a weight on it and left it for a while.  When ready to eat, he picked up the onions with (clean) hands and squeezed out all the liquid, then served it with the meal. 
As I love pickled onions, but nowadays my digestion seems to get upset when I eat them, I tried the above, and the onions were wonderful eaten with a salad.  They would also be good eaten in sarnies with cheese..  As I write I have another bowl in the fridge (under weights) waiting to be added to my supper tonight.

Another thing I've noticed (courtesy of TV ads) is that Asda is now tempting us with their 100's of products all priced the same: £1!.   But not only Asda, almost every supermarket is now packaging many of their fresh products at the magic price.  Asda has gone one step further and pricing some of their packaged and canned/bottled products at £1.  
Am pretty sure that none of these are lower cost than they used to be.  They may seem to be but it is easy enough to reduce the weights by a few ounces/grams to make it seem as though we get more, not less.  How many of us find time to compare- every time we shop - the weights of loose fruit and veg, and similar canned products to those of the pre-packed 'poundsworth'? 

There are many times I've checked the price (per 100g) of things I buy regularly such as baked beans, tuna, canned tomatoes and found that the single cans work out cheaper than a four or six-pack of the same (and of the same weight).  There was a time when - if we bought in bulk, such as in packs of four or more - the price WAS always cheaper, now it may not be, but the stores bank on us still believing it is so, then use it to their advantage.

Shopping today has become far more difficult than it ever was.  This weekend I've been re-reading 'Blood of a Britishman', and it's very interesting how people from some regions prefer to eat certain foods, and even a lot more food due to their origins (Vikings, Jutes, Romans, Germans, French, et al invaded our country and many settled here).  As the book was written in 1970 it is a bit dated compared to today's eating habits, but even then there was horror shown about how we are losing our traditional foods and soon it will be that fish fingers and TV dinners and will become the norm. The author didn't know the half of it, convenience foods not being very thick on the ground at that time.

There was also a mention of how food prices were kept deliberately low after the war, and - as I said in a previous posting - products were sold for the same price in each store. The government paid subsidies to farmers to produce more food, and some imported food (sugar etc) was also subsidised. At that time there were mainly small family grocers, and larger stores (International Stores and the Co-op) in towns, but nothing on the scale of the supermarkets of today. Once convenience food began to fill the shelves, then the stores grew larger (and larger, and larger...), pricing could be changed to the whim of the store, and the rot set in.

Once upon a time there seemed to be a shop that sold only certain things.  They didn't tread on any other toes.  The newsagent sold the newspapers, stationery and some sweets.  The ironmonger sold all D.I.Y stuff (nails, screws etc, sold loose, not in packets).  The haberdasher sold everything for those who knitted, or sewed etc. There used to be greengrocers, fresh fish shops, local butchers (and we still do have them, but not nearly as many as there used to be), we even had milk delivered to our door.
When the supermarkets began to sell the above, the smaller shops lost many of their customers, and most of them went out of business.  It is rare to see a wool shop these days (we have one just opened in our 'village', but for how long?), we can buy newspapers, flowers, cosmetics, batteries, books,clothes, shoes, anything you can possibly think of - all from one of the many large superstores we choose to go to.  And how many doorstep deliveries of milk are there these days?

Today this 'all in one' approach to shopping can be truly convenient, and have to say I find it so, but with memories of calling in at the much smaller local shops have to say I do miss these, especially chatting to the owners/assistants who used to know all their customers by name, and would order or save certain items for them if they knew they were wanted.  But that was then and this is now, and maybe no-one is very interested these days in anyone other than themselves and their own needs, just get out and buy what is wanted in the fastest time possible, and hopefully for the lowest possible price.  Then back to the constant texting and tweeting and choosing which foreign holiday to go on next.

Was astounded to read that Paul Hollywood and ex-wife have been tweeting each other over the past few weeks.  Possibly they may get back together again, but that's not my gripe.  Feeling the need to tweet their personal 'chat' to each other for the whole world to read seems a bit beyond belief. Isn't anything private anymore? 

There is one absolutely wonderful thing about being old.  I've had the chance of being able to live a completely different life from the way it is today, and even though the war was part of it, am very thankful that I've been able to experience so much of what the youth of today don't have and probably will never have.  In fact the war showed how our nation can pull together instead of trying to continually pull itself apart. We had dignity then, good manners, respect for each other and authority.  We also knew we had to work for what we wanted, not expect the state to provide.

The other day was having my moan about fuel prices and how prices rose when all the nationalised companies were privatised.   So - of course - they have now sold the Royal Mail, and for those wealthy enough to buy shares, in a very few days since trading started,  the shares have risen enough for money to already line a few pockets. Not only that, we hear that the price of postage will increase (again), and there will probably be a postal strike shortly before Xmas. 
So what has privatisation of the mail done for us cash-strapped folk?  ****all!

Millions and possibly trillions of ££££s will be spent on the 'much-needed' faster trains it is said, and despite complaints it seems its going ahead.  Why on earth should such vast amounts of money be spent just to save 20 minutes travelling time. Apparently faster trains are supposed to make for more employment in various areas, but I can't see how.   Also fast trains have to run on special lines, not stopping at normal stations, so many people would have to drive - possibly taking longer than 20 minutes - to get a faster train that wouldn't then even save them that time.   With all the mobiles, tablets, lap-tops these days, am sure a lot of work could be done on a train in 20 minutes, so why not spend that time using the train as an office, and make life a little easier at work and at home?
Use the money set aside for the above trains, and put it to better use, like hospitals, subsidising fuel prices etc.

When I began today's blog said I wasn't going to keep moaning about things that don't matter, and then I carry on having a bleat about this, that and the other, but if we just sit back and let the powers that be do what they will, then things can only get worse.  We need to stand up and be counted when it comes to our views (and am not saying I'm right in any of what I say but am not one to sit meekly by and just inwardly seethe).   We are able to vote for whom we choose, usually the party that says they will give us what is needed (but how often that then doesn't happen?), yet so many people don't even bother to vote.  Maybe if everyone did, or were able to have more say, then things might end up a bit differently, and for the better.

To your comments....
Have myself tried Delia's scone recipe Granny G, and although it works well enough, my 'tweaking' seems to have improved it.  Or perhaps it is more that every cook, using the same recipe, will always end up with something slightly different.   A different brand of flour can alter things, even the temperature of the ingredients (or size of egg used).  This is what makes cooking so interesting, we can keep experimenting until we get 'our' version just right, and hopefully continue to improve our other 'not yet quite as we hoped'.

Lovely to hear Kathryn that your dad has taken up cooking, and despite the fact that convenience foods take a part, believe it is far better for novice cooks to use these, than be put off cooking by the 'making everything from scratch' approach.  Why not use a crumble mix, pastry mix, even cake mix if it makes cooking easier? We have to start somewhere, and it's the making a start that's important. Slow and steady wins the race.

A welcome to Anna (lives in Franc - and I'd love to know the region).  She sent details to Christopher of how to dry and roast pumpkin seeds. Thanks also to Les for links to pumpkin recipes.

Have recently posted up some pumpkin recipes, but in case you have missed them Christopher, am repeating a couple or so that might be of use to you.

If you prefer a savoury snack rather than just drying and roasting pumpkin seeds, then try this recipe. You could use different spices, flavoured salts etc according to your taste.
Savoury Pumpkin Seeds:
Collect about 4oz (100g) flesh-free pumpkin seeds, wash and pat dry with a tea-towel then place on a baking sheet to dry.  Leave for 24 hours then toss the seeds in a mixture of 1 tsp celery salt, half tsp paprika, 1 tblsp olive oil and a little black pepper.  When thoroughly coated, spread out on the baking tray and roast at 180C, gas 4 for 10 minutes, turning halfway through.  Store in an airtight container and they will keep for several weeks.

Nest recipe makes a quick supper dish, everything cooked in one pan.  Once the ingredients are prepared (in advance if you like), it should take no more than 15 minutes from start to plate.
Fried Pumpkin and Bacon: serves 2
12 oz (350g) chopped pumpkin flesh
1 tblsp olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
4 rashers smoked streaky bacon, diced
half oz (15g) butter
juice of half small lemon
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Put the oil and pumpkin into a frying pan and sauté over medium heat until the pumpkin in nearly tender (al dente) and turning golden.
Push the pumpkin to the sides of the pan and put the shallots and bacon in the centre.  Cook for a further five minutes until the shallots are tender and the bacon beginning to crisp. 
Stir in the butter, lemon juice, parsley and seasoning, mixing everything together.  Fry for a further minute then serve.

The larger the pumpkin (or any squash) the more their water content, so  use minimal water when cooking (or no water at all) as they can lose most of their flavour and texture when boiled.  So here is a recipe for pumpkin soup that has added flavourings. 
Cream of Pumpkin Soup: serves 4 - 6
2.2lb (1kg) orange-fleshed pumpkin
2 tblsp sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped
1 1/4 pints (750ml) vegetable stock
14 fl oz (400ml) milk
half teaspoon grated nutmeg
salt, pepper to taste
4 fl oz (100ml) cream
4 tblsp grated Cheddar cheese
Peel the pumpkin and cut the flesh into chunks. Put into a pan with the oil and sauté over medium heat until beginning to soften and change colour.
Reduce heat to low and stir in the onion, and sweat this off until softened, then add the stock, milk, nutmeg and seasoning.  Bring to the simmer then cover the pan and cook for 20 minutes.   Cool slightly then blend in a liquidiser/food processor (or use a stick blender in the pan) and whizz until smooth, adding water if too thick.
Reheat, stir in the cream, add more seasoning if required, then serve in individual bowls, sprinkling the cheese on top.

It's worth steaming surplus pumpkin flesh over boiling water for 6-10 minutes until tender, then eith puree in a blender or mash thoroughly using a potato masher, adding butter or olive oil if you wish.  This can then be frozen and used later in - perhaps - a pumpkin pie.
If you wish to free pumpkin flesh cubed, then steam/blanch for just one minute, bag up the cubes and freeze.

Here is a recipe for pumpkin pie, using the pumpkin puree (see above).  If the puree (esp frozen and thawed) seems watery, then drain overnight in a sieve/colander placed over a bowl, and discard any water that collects.
Pumpkin Pie: serves 4 - 6
1 lb (450g) pumpkin puree
12 oz (350g) shortcrust pastry
3 eggs, well beaten
1 x 400g can evaporated milk
4 oz (100g) soft light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
half tsp ground ginger
quarter tsp each ground cloves and nutmeg
half tsp salt
Drain the puree if necessary. Line a 9" (23cm) tart tin with the rolled out pastry and bake blind.
Mix together the beaten eggs with the remaining ingredients and pour into the baked pastry case - still in its tin and standing on a baking tray.  Bake at 180C, gas 4 for 35 - 45 minutes or until the filling is set but with a slight wobble in the centre.  Remove from oven but leave to stand on the hot baking tin for a few minutes (it will carry on cooking during that time).  Serve warm or cold.

That's it for today. Hope the above recipes will be useful.  Only a couple of weeks now to Hallow'een.  Shortly after will be Guy Fawkes (Bonfire) night, then countdown to Christmas.  Doesn't time fly? 

One good thing, the weather is still warm enough for us not to put the central heating on, so it might be that we are in for a mild winter.  Let us hope so.  But please, none of the flooding we had last year. I'd rather it snow. 

Sorry about rambling on, I can't get out of the habit.  Point me in a direction you wish me to go, and I do mean sensible suggestions!!  Hope you can join me again tomorrow.  If so, see you then.