Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve 2013

The plumber arrived eventually, about a couple of hours late, but as I said to B - he was probably delayed by an earlier job.  The fact he turned up at all was a miracle, AND on the same day we phoned. 
Took him quite a time to sort out the cistern, in fact it ended up with us having to have a complete new loo that - for some reason - is not quite in the same position (middle) as it was before, it is now closer to one wall, but not that it matters.  At least the new one is a ceramic one that matches the shape (Edwardian) of the basin in the bathroom, not the cheap and nasty one that B had bought to put in its place. 
We were not charged too much (B asked me to pay half as I own half the house - that I suppose is fair, and as I had it in cash, gave it to him saying "you can have it as a Christmas present as 'd already promised to buy the cistern for you instead of the wine I promised - which he had agreed to). As B was happy with that, in a way I got the better deal. We still have the plastic cistern in its wrapping that I'm hoping Wickes will give a refund to. 
As the plumber was a close friend of the builder (who I recently supplied lunch to every day for a week), he was instantly on first name terms with B, who gave him the first bit of repair kit he had bought (not used), and as he did 'pensioners rates' as well, certainly it didn't work out more than twice what B had already paid out.

I checked that cheese/potato recipe Taaleedee, and you are quite right - no potatoes.  I copied down the recipe as given, and noticed that it did include potatoes in the method - adding them with all the other ingredients.  So am supposing it should include mashed potato.  So sorry about that.  Best to ignore the recipe and I'll delete it from yesterday's blog.

Had a think about cranberries Granny G. and am pretty sure that the idea of mixing them with a table jelly would work just as well if you used either a strawberry or raspberry one, as well as orange.  Myself tend to keep a supply of as many flavours as I can (orange, lemon, lime, and strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant - I do have a tangerine and some years back was able to buy pineapple flavoured as well, but the first six seem to be the only ones on sale now).

Oh Anna (in France), how annoying it must be to know someone who weighs only 6 stone and can eat like a horse.  To be able to do that would be my idea of heaven.   Have to say I'd be pretty annoyed if I cooked for them and they then said they were eating out.   The only thing to do is ask them to let you know if they wanted a meal cooking for them that day, if they were uncertain, then tell them you'd make a meal for them that could be reheated and they could eat the following day.  If they do decide to go out, next day make an even better meal for yourself and while they eat their reheated meal, they can watch you enjoy yours and wish they had been a bit more considerate - as then they could have had it too.  A few meals like that and am sure the penny will drop.

As to what name to give your (close) friend.  Maybe the answer to that came to me in a dream I had last night. Suffice to say - in the dream - I had found a new admirer, and of course in the dream I was thinner, able to move around easily etc, but still the age I am now (but didn't look it).  To cut a long story short and he was getting to want to be a bit more than a friend I had eventually to tell him my age as he was obviously much younger than (he said he was 40), and instead of blurting out I was 80 said "If I was your age and had a new-born baby, then you would be my age when it is as old as you".  Took him a while to sort that out, but he didn't seem at all bothered. As we hadn't got much further than having a loving kiss or too, perhaps just as well it was then I woke up (in a way sorry that I had thought).  I have never liked the term 'toy boy', so would always consider him to be my 'joy boy' because he had brought joy into my life.

Am like you Margie (Toronto), just love shopping (esp for food), and think most cooks also are the same.  It is our hunter/gatherer instinct working that hasn't yet realised we've moved on from living in caves. I have several jars of new-to-me products that I've either bought or been given and many have not yet been tried. 
The good thing about on-line shopping and home delivery is that I can scroll down through as many pages of products as I wish, loading my virtual shopping trolley with a lot of new things, and the next day - once the temptation has left me - can delete them from my list.  It really is as though I'd had the fun of buying them without having to end up paying for goods I didn't really want.

However, there is a way we can go into a supermarket and not get carried away.  This is by taking up another challenge, and a fun one to do.  Take just £5 in cash to spend (dollars in your instance) and see just how much you can buy of fresh vegetables, probably also fruit (do this when you need them). It's surprising how much you can get. 
OR - take £10 and see again how much you can buy for this amount - of any foods.  I remember doing this once (my friend Gill was with me at the time and she was the one who discovered the 10p packets of Chinese noodles - I was THRILLED).  Even managed to include a pack of chicken joints (reduced) for £2.  There is often very-much-reduced-in-price bargains at supermarkets (special shelves for these), and again it is really good fun hunting them all out.
At least these 'challenges' keep the spending within bounds.  In a couple or so months from now I'll probably do this again because it is far more enjoyable than just 'shopping'.

The mention of kitchen paper has reminded me that B is a great user of this.  He mops up every spill on the counter with one or two sheets (then leaves them screwed up and lying around).  Myself mop up wet spills with either the sponge I use for washing up, or a tea-towel destined for the washing machine.  I do use kitchen paper when wishing to drain/soak the fat from fried foods, but one sheet of kitchen paper on top of a fold of newspaper does a better job of soaking, than several sheets of the more expensive paper.   Instead of buying paper hankies, I buy the boxes of much cheaper tissues (probably meant for wiping off make-up), and these are soft enough for blowing noses. 

How lovely to be holidaying in Florida Barbara.  Stay as long as you can for our weather forecast is bad for the whole of January I believe.  Maybe ending with snow.  We will just have to wait and see and grin and bear what nature throws at us.
Have to say when we went to America, I found the cheeses on sale in the supermarket were dreadful (compared to the English). Only tried a few of course, but my cousin (who lived there) said they were not what we call 'cheese'.  Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) always recommends using 'English cheese' (usually Cheddar or Stilton), and of course the real Italian Parmesan (all presumably imported so must end up more expensive than here).

It amuses me how often the American cooks prepare an 'English dish' and it's nothing like the real thing. Anna Olsen (Canada) - who I love to watch - often demonstrates how to bake an 'English' cake or bun, and she also gets it wrong.   But then I suppose all the ethnic dishes we make - believing them to be as authentic as possible - are nothing like the real thing.  Does it really matter?  Just as long as we enjoy what we eat, that's what counts.

More cheese recipes coming up.  Hope I'm not giving too many, but cheese is one of those things that - when we have a surplus - can be grated and frozen, and is a useful substitute for meat in many dishes.
Many of the ingredients in this first recipe are ones that we might wish to use up.  Odds and ends of chutney, salad leaves, bell peppers....  However, it is a recipe where we could use alternatives, and am pretty sure cranberry sauce could be used instead of the chutney (well, why not?), especially if wishing to include some scraps of cooked chicken/turkey as well as (or instead of) the cheese. Of course any hard cheese (or mixture) instead of Cheddar.  Plan to make these when cooking potatoes and carrots for another dish (just cook more) then it will save time having to cook them (as given in the recipe).
Even if you don't wish to make to eat these now, they can still be made and frozen (uncooked) to bake later, so a good way to use up what we can while it is still fit to use.  Unfortunately we can't freeze salad leaves, but we could start sowing mixed salad leaves in boxes (I use the cartons mushrooms are sold in) and in about six weeks on a windowsill (pref. double glazed and sunny when the sun comes out) we should be able to eat these freshly baked pasties with freshly grown salad.

Potato, Onion and Cheese Pasties: makes 8
I large potato cut into small dice (1cm)
2 carrots, cut into same size dice
300g jar onion chutney (or similar)
1 good pinch dried thyme leaves
1 tblsp Dijon mustard
5 oz (150g) grated Cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
1 x 500g block shortcrust pastry
beaten egg
poppy or sesame seeds
Boil the potatoes and carrots for 5 minutes or until tender.  Drain and tip into a bowl.  Add the chutney, thyme, mustard, cheese and seasoning to taste, then gently fold together to combine.
Roll out the pastry to the thickness of a £1 coin, and cut into 8 equal squares (13cm each, is that about 6" square?).  Divide the filling between each, placing in the centre.  Brush the edges with beaten egg, then lift up each corner to meet in the middle, pressing the sides/edges together to seal.  If you find it easier, then just place the filling over to one side, and fold the pastry over to meet the other side and you end up with an oblong.
Brush the top with more egg and sprinkle over a few black poppy seeds or sesame seeds (both opt). Place on a baking tray and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for half an hour or until the pastry is golden. Serve alone or with a salad.  Whichever you prefer.

Nest recipe is for a savoury biscuit.  Not the crispy type, more like a 'cookie'.  Again we could use a variety of cheeses as long as they are the same type/texture to those given in the list of ingredients.
Cheese Biscuits: makes about 30
4 oz (100g) olive oil spread (or soft marg)
2 oz (50g) Emmenthal or Cheddar cheese
3 oz (75g) Mozzarella cheese, grated
8 oz (225g) malted grain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp English mustard powder (opt)
pinch of salt
1 tblsp  mixed seeds
Put the spread bowl.  Grate the cheeses (incl the Mozz), add to the spread and mix together.  Stir in t the flour, baking powder, and mustard (if using). Then add the salt and mixed seeds.  Mix to combine then gather in the hands and squeeze together to make a dough.  Break off pieces about the size of cherry tomatoes and roll into balls.  Place on two parchment-lined baking sheets, allowing plenty of space between, then flatten each ball with the palm of your hand. or with a fork. Or roll out the dough on a lightly floured board and use a scone or cookie cutter to shape biscuits.
Prick top all over with a fork, and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for about 15 minutes until golden. Leave to cool on baking tins, then store in airtight containers where they will keep for up to a week.

This next is almost a breakfast in itself (especially if you eat two), and can be eaten whilst still warm, or leave to get cold (best eaten day of making or the next day).  The secret to American muffins is to stop mixing before you think you should.  Just make sure there is no dry flour visible, and then bake.
Cheese and Bacon Buns: makes 6 large ones
1 tsp sunflower oil
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped small
2 oz (50g) cheddar cheese (or other hard cheese)
6 oz (175g) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
half tsp each salt and pepper
1 tsp English mustard
2 eggs
3 oz (75g) butter, melted
7 fl oz (200ml) milk
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley (opt)
Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the bacon and fry until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and leave to cool. Chop two-thirds of the cheese into tiny pieces and grate the rest.
Put the flour in a bowl with the baking powder, salt and pepper.  Put the mustard, eggs, butter and milk in a jug and whisk together, then pour this into the dry mix and fold together a very few times until just combined, then stir in the cheese pieces and the parsley (if using) - taking care not to overwork the mixture.
Spoon into six greased/oiled muffin tins (they should be quite full), and sprinkle the grated cheese on top.   Bake at 180C, 350F. gas 4 for 25 minutes or until golden, risen, and firm to the touch.

Yesterday's meal (B) was Chinese Stir-fry (used odd and ends of veggies with a few frozen prawns), myself had hard-boiled eggs with salad.  Between us we are demolishing the heavily fruited Christmas cake with cheese.  Found a piece of frozen Blackberry and Apple crumble, so thawed that out for B to heat 'n eat - with cream.  No problems so far about making meals, still a lot of 'need-to-use up' fresh foods.  However, am planning to make up puddings that will freeze, home-cooked 'ready-meals' that will freeze, and also anything else that will freeze.  This will help to use up many 'fresh' foods that will happily freeze once cooked (like in a casserole), and also able me to use up the eggs (still have 2 dozen). Think I mentioned making pancakes, and probably will make another batch today as they freeze so well.

Tomorrow is New Year's Day, although not planning anything special, so you may well find I am back blogging again.  Or I might take the day off.  I won't know and you won't know until it happens.
Might even go to bed before midnight tonight, but no doubt woken by all the fireworks (if the rain has stopped by then).  Can't believe tomorrow is the 14th year into the 21st century.  It seems only like yesterday when B and I were hoping we'd live long enough to see in the millennium (and when it happened B was stuck in Ireland with (he said) the flu, and I was stuck in Leeds with the same bug.  B 'managed' to feel better enough to crawl to a neighbour's party where he felt a lot better (all that Irish whiskey no doubt!) and said he had enjoyed himself immensely.  I just lay on the sofa in Leeds, feeling utterly miserable.  But at least 14 years later we are both still alive, and that must count for something.

A very Happy New Year to you all, and let us hope this next will be a good one.  It doesn't matter if we are still in a recession, as long as we know how to cook, and become canny shoppers, we are the lucky ones.  There is nothing like a good meal to make us feel a lot better.   Seems it is the wealthy ones that seem to end up with the worst problems.  Whatever Nigella has done, I really feel sorry for her.  I wouldn't swap my B for a millionaire's life any day.

Will continue searching for more ideas/recipes to use up when we have, so keep watching this space. TTFN.


Monday, December 30, 2013

An Ill Wind....

Nearly didn't blog at all today.  B's attempt at repairing the toilet cistern went horribly wrong (but I'm used to that happening so was not fussed).  He wanted to do it himself to save paying for a plumber.  It SHOULD have worked, but a screw/nut had rusted in an awkward place and he couldn't turn it despite trying for several hours.  He had bought a new piece to fit, but then he cracked the (ceramic) cistern, and so had to go and buy a whole new (plastic) one  - that included the bit he'd already bought - intending to smash the old one to smithereens so he could fit it, then found he'd bought the wrong one (pipe fittings in the wrong place).  He has now asked a plumber to sort it out - he is coming at 11.00am this morning.  So goodness knows how much it will have cost when all added up.

During the night Ihad stomach pains (probably ate too much cauliflower cheese), very similar to labour pains, lasted all night so kept me awake,  these have abated but now have a very sore throat, hard to swallow.  Probably picked up a bug when we went out last week.

Lovely comment from Sarina who proved that a laden table of festive fare doesn't have to cost a lot. It's all in the planning, and how food is displayed - spread around it can look a lot more than it really is.

Thanks also to Joy for her comment.  As she mentions - just topping up the fresh and some cleaning products, and our weekly expenditure can be kept really low once we have a larder of 'goodies' to use up.
Cleaning products has reminded me - I'd asked B to bring in a big terracotta flower pot from outdoors so that I could plant some late bulbs in it.  Asked him to stand it on a stack of newspaper (which was there on the table ready and waiting ), but discovered he had put it straight onto the cream carpet in the conservatory, and when lifted I saw a lot of dirty water and soil had soaked through from underneath and no amount of brushing would clear it up.
I remembered that bicarbonate of soda is a good cleaning product, and as I'd bought a large tub some years back (still not used) sprinkled some over the dirty patch, rubbing it in gently, then added a bit more and left it.   It obviously had soaked up the muck as when I brushed it off the next day, the carpet was almost as good as new.

Regarding uses for left-over Cranberry Sauce Granny G.  You could put it into small containers a container and freeze it, perhaps to serve with chicken.   If you are up to making a chicken and ham pie ( similar to pork pi. eaten cold), you could include cranberry sauce.  I've seen some pies sold with cranberries forming the 'lid' of the pie.

If you are making a fruit cake (or similar) you could include the cranberry sauce as part of the 'dried fruit', allowing a little extra flour (if necessary) if the sauce is more 'runny' rather than chunky.
Cranberries and oranges go very well together, so you could mix the sauce into an orange jelly to make a dessert.  The sauce is also good spooned over ice-cream.  Left-over mincemeat is also good heated and poured over ice-cream.  Put mince-meat and cranberry sauce together and you have made an alternative filling for mince-pies.

For a buffet dish (or supper dish) you could cook some chipolata (or small sausages) in the oven for 15 minutes, then mix 2 tblsp cranberry sauce with half a teaspoon of ground ginger and 1 tblsp water. Pour this over the sausages and return to oven for another 5 or so minutes until cooked and golden.

If making meatballs from chicken/turkey/pork mince, why not add cranberry sauce along with the other ingredients?  Or fry the meat balls in the normal way and serve them with cranberry sauce to which you've added some red wine.  

Here is a recipe for a chicken and cranberry pie (this to be eaten hot).  The original recipe used red bell peppers, but I've substituted cranberries.  If you wish to use bell peppers (you would need one red bell pepper, seeded and sliced), then omit the cranberries and fry the pepper with the chicken.  My feeling is if you add the cranberry sauce too early on it will colour everything and although taste OK, the appearance would not be as good. If using whole cranberries (not as a sauce) you could cook them with the chicken.

We can alter this recipe to suit our tastes (and what we wish to use up).  Use cooked chicken or turkey, peas instead of broccoli, buy a block of puff pastry and roll it ourselves, and make a cheese and chive dip from cream cheese (slackened with a little milk) or crème fraiche. If you have no chives and do have some spring onions, finely chop (or whizz) a few of their green leaves and then end up looking and tasting like chives (you can do the same with sprouting onions).
Remember to adjust the timing for the pan cooking.  If you use already cooked chicken/turkey, and have broccoli left over from the day before, then they just need stirring in to the already fried onion as they continue to cook when in the oven).

Chicken and Cranberry Pie:  serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 - 3 boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
6 oz (175g) broccoli florets, chopped
salt and pepper
1 x 425g pack ready-rolled puff pastry
3 tblsp (more or less) cranberry sauce.
150g carton cheese and chive dip
milk for glazing
Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion for about 3 minutes - until starting to brown.  Add the chicken and cook/stir for five minutes.  Add the broccoli and fry for a further 8 - 10 minutes or until everything is just cooked.  Add seasoning to taste and cool slightly.
Put a rolled sheet of pastry on a dampened baking sheet, then spoon over the chicken mixture leaving a border of about 1" (2.5cm).  Dot spoonfuls of  cranberry sauce and dip over the top.  Brush the pastry borders with water and top with the second pastry sheet pressing the edges together to seal.   Make a few slashes on the surface, and brush with milk.  
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is risen and golden.  Serve hot.

Yesterday made a dozen large pancakes (to be frozen), B was eager to have some, so I put three in a flat foil parcel and reheated them in the oven.  With some lemon juice (squeezed for him) and caster sugar he happily munched his way through them. "Lovely and thin" he said they were.  They did turn out well, even the first one didn't stick, probably because I'd beaten a little melted butter in the batter and also wiped the non-stick pan with a thin smear of oil before frying each pancake.  Being non-stick it wasn't really a 'smear', just a few tiny globs of oil here and there, but it worked anyway.

Quesadillas (Mexican fried/toasted sandwiches) is a good way to use up both cooked chicken/turkey and cheese.  Don't overfill or they'll be difficult to turn.  It doesn't matter if you use flour or corn tortillas (myself prefer the flour ones - and often make them myself).
Chicken, Cheese and Corn quesadillas: serves 2
4 flour or corn tortillas
2 good handfuls grated cheese
2 large handfuls of cooked chicken, shredded
3 tblsp sweetcorn (pref canned and drained)
2 tblsp sweet dipping sauce
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Heat a dry frying pan over medium heat.  Put one tortilla in the pan and sprinkle over half the cheese, chicken, corn, and dipping sauce.
.  Cover with the second tortilla and cook for 2 - 3 minutes, then turn over the whole quesadilla. and cook for a further 2 - 3 minutes - by which time the base should be golden and the cheese melting.
Remove from the pan and keep warm whilst you cook the second quesadilla.  Then place both on a board and cut each into quarters, serve with salad leaves such as rocket or watercress.

Final recipe today is for a cheese snack. Looks a bit like a savoury Chelsea bun - and a different way to assemble cheese scones.   These will freeze, and when cooked will keep up to 3 days in an airtight container.  Of course you can use different cheeses, and perhaps add a pinch of dried herbs or celery salt instead of the paprika. Another chance to have a play.
Rolled-up Cheese Bites: makes 12
7 oz (200g) self-raising flour
2 oz (50g) butter, softened
1 tsp paprika
4 fl oz (100ml) milk
2 - 3 oz (50 -75g) Cheddar cheese, grated
Rub the flour and butter together and stir in the paprika.  Add the milk, mixing in with a fork to make a soft dough (if too dry add a little more milk , if too soft add a little more flour).
Roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 0.5cm thick, keeping it as rectangular as you can. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top and roll up like a sausage from the long side.  Cut into 12 even slices/rings using a knife, and place each, cut side down, onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment.  Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25 - 30 minutes or until golden and you can see the cheese has melted.   Remove from oven and leave to cool on the tray for a few minutes, then finish cooling on a cake airer.
Note:  If you want to make 6 large ones, place two of the rings side by side, with their ends of the touching each other (one may need to be inverted to do this), and they will then cling together as they cook and end up looking like a big 'S' with a spiral effect.

Have to say that writing my blog has cheered me up no end, my sore throat is also much better.  Still waiting for the plumber - he is late, but then they are never on time - much depends on the previous job I suppose.  Just as long as he comes. 

The weather has turned wet and windy again.  We are due for quite a lot of bad weather over the next few days, but with many people taking the long holiday (not working until after New Year) let us hope travel arrangements will be improved when they return home/go back to work.

All being well will be blogging tomorrow, but a lot depends on our domestic difficulties and how I feel in myself.  If I don't return until Jan.1st, then a Very Happy New Year to you all.  TTFN

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Day Three...

Thankfully the storms have now blown over, but much flooding and more power lines down, travelling (by any form) very difficult.  Gusts measured at 117mph in Cumbria.  Think here - in the north west - we got some of the worst of it.  But it's over now.  Until next time.  I can wait.

Had an email from our daughter in Ireland who had read my blog, and told me that there it is traditional to always cook the potatoes in their skins, serve them that way, then each person is given a small plate for them to put the skins on as they peel each spud.  Can't see that happening over here.
Myself normally cook potatoes in their skins, peeling them only when wishing to roast, never serving them skinless and 'plain boiled', although I do peel them for mashing.   Sometimes I leave the skins on the small new potatoes and just 'crush them' (the cheffy way that I'm sure was invented because they didn't have time to peel and mash them properly).

Thanks to jane et al for mentioning potato ricers.  I do have one and certainly they make good 'mash' (as do large potatoes that have been microwaved in their skins - their flesh never seems to have lumps).  It's just that B has decided he doesn't like mashed potatoes (in any form) so that's that.

Yesterday my plans for meals went a bit awry, but that's normal anyway.  I gave B a choice of cauliflower cheese or bangers and mash, and that alone was something new.  He has always been asked what he would like (chicken, beef, lamb, pork, fish....then when he picks one of those I then roll out a list of different dishes that can be made from each, the final choice is then up to him).  So thumbs down for the two suggestions above.  He decided he'd make his own meal (probably bacon again, maybe with eggs... don't know, don't care I(he was going to the social later and never eats a lot - at home - before he leaves.

I made myself some Smashed potatoes, and into these mixed a small can of mushy peas (that B had bought for himself and then didn't like - and am not surprised).  Still not much flavour in the spud mixture so worked in some Dijon mustard and plenty of pepper, also a few dried onions that I had in the larder.  Somewhat better.  Served these with Merguez sausages that I'd bought some months back (to try).  A bit disappointed with those as well as had hoped they would be mega-spicy.   Anyway a good dollop of Heinz 'Fiery Chilli' Tomato Ketchup livened up the plate, so ended up comfortably full.

But being 'full' is something I must try to avoid.  I've put back quite a bit of the weight lost, and am planning to lose AT LEAST 1lb a week for the next six months, hopefully 2lbs, then I'll be less than I was before I gained (if you know what I mean) when I next go and have my six-monthly check.  This is another (this time personal challenge) to be added to the others I'm doing.  Maybe, if each week I can tell you how much weight I've lost, then that will help me keep on track.

jane also gave a mention of her monthly food budget, it sounds very reasonable, but am a bit puzzled as to whether her suggestion of allowing £10 a week to 'top up the fresh', comes on top of that, or she - like many readers - will be using up her stores, and spending no more than £10 a week when she does so (preferably later than sooner).  With a good stock of cheese, jane also requests suggestions for use - some will be given today.

Was delighted Sarina, to read that you 'had managed to budget for all the (Christmas) food despite your financial low'.  Almost certainly this would be because you had given it more thought this year, maybe shopped around for the lowest prices. But whatever, certainly not 'shopped 'til you dropped' as so many people still seem to do.

Sorry to hear about your power cuts (and wind damage) Alison (Essex). Especially for your parents. The new-style camping gas stoves work well (they look like a small one-ring portable hob, powered by a gas cylinder that slots in).  I've often thought of getting one to use in our kitchen as 'back-up', and am sure they could also be used in a dining room, to cook actually at the table.  Not just 'flambing' a dessert (Crepe Suzettes etc), but cooking Japanese style.

Thanks also to Eileen for sending us an old poem that mentions bread and milk (but given the trad. name).

Never got around to making the fruit loaf yesterday.  We now have a problem with our plumbing (bathroom), and B and I spent my 'cooking time', in there trying to sort it out.  All we need is a plumber, but that would cost money, so B is going to dismantle the cistern and try and repair it himself.  Normally, when he tries to repair things, they get worse, so watch this space.

Got up late this morning (it is now 10.00am) due to me returning to bed for 15 minutes, then spending a happy three hours in dreamland where B has managed to make a hot air balloon (using one huge but strong plastic bag (that had once contained fertiliser I think), and when ready to launch, we had taken it to a high flat area where it was very windy.  Pointed the open end of the sack into the wind and it immediately filled up full, but of course wouldn't take off, the basket underneath being too heavy.  All I was concerned was getting the basket back (it was/is my best one). 
I was reminded - in the dream - of an earlier hot-air balloon trip that I thought was the most wonderful experience ever.  I just love to see the land from above.  Maybe in a previous life I was a bird.  I can remember this trip so clearly, and described it to B in the dream.  But even this memory was just in my mind, another dream I had in the past.  I have never yet been up in a hot-air balloon, and probably never likely to.

Anyway, enough rambling, must get on to recipes, and here is my first suggestion for using up surplus cheese.  Not a recipe as such, but worth doing.   Grate up hard cheeses (a mixture if you wish) and store them in the freezer ready to add to all sorts of things (I find shredded iceberg lettuce, given a French dressing, then scattered with grated cheese works well - the gratings sticking to each bit of lettuce - adding flavour to every mouthful.  A useful tip when there is not much left to make a salad except lettuce.   Some grated cheese I also keep in the fridge, but usually not for longer than a month.

This first recipe comes from the Have a Good Year book. This cheese spread is traditionally eaten with country-style wholewheat cobs (crusty rolls).  The cobs are torn in half, some of the crumb taken out (this can be frozen to crumb and use in a later dish), and each half filled with the spread, then reassembled.  But it also works well just spread on - pref. brown - bread to make sarnies.
If, like me, you find that 'mature' Cheddar really isn't very strongly flavoured at all, then use a mixture of cheeses (Double Gloucester, Cheddar, Red Leicester, Cheshire really work together well).

Although the weights vary slightly, see no reason why you can't use the same for each ingredient - this then makes the recipe easier to remember.
Incidentally, it has now been proved that eating walnuts (or using walnut oil) regularly really helps to lower cholesterol, so as the recipe below has both cholesterol high cheese and butter, the walnuts then balance this out.
Cheese Spread for Country Cobs:
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, grated (see above)
3 oz (75g) walnuts, finely chopped
3 oz (75g) butter, softened
salt and pepper to taste
Work the cheese and walnuts into the butter, add seasoning to taste, then use it as a 'cob' or sandwich filling.  Keep any surplus in small pots (covered and chilled) and this will keep well for at least a week (if not longer) in the fridge.  Best spread at room temperature.

The good thing about an 'open sandwich' is that is uses only half the bread of a standard sarnie (so that's a saving in itself).  The following recipe is called 'open sandwich' but when reading it, it is more like 'something on toast' (but still uses only one slice of bread).  Goat's is the cheese suggested for this, but there are plenty of cheeses with similar textures (soft and crumbly) so we should not find it difficult to find something similar in our end-of-festive-season cheese collection.
Instead of grilling a pepper to blacken the skin prior to peeling, myself would use the ready-prepared peppers sold in jars (and these are not expensive).   Also - if you have no smoked mackerel - then just omit this (and the horseradish) and just use cheese as the main ingredient.
A griddle pan (the one with ridges) is used for 'toasting' the bread, but if you prefer just crisp it up in an ordinary frying pan, or under an ordinary grill, or even use a toaster.

Open sandwich of Cheese, pesto....
1 sourdough round - or other bread
olive oil
1 - 2 tblsp pesto (to taste)
4 tblsp mayonnaise
half a cucumber, peeled into ribbons
1 red bell pepper, charred, peeled and sliced
5 oz (150g) soft goat's cheese, crumbled
1 - 2 fillets smoked mackerel, skinned 
1 teaspoon horseradish sauce (opt)
Cut 2 slices of the sourdough bread (or other bread of you choice), drizzling both with a little oil, then cook on a griddle until you get griddle marks on the bread (or see above for alternative methods of 'toasting'). Meanwhile, mix together the pesto and mayo, and then spread a layer of this on each slice of 'toasted' bread.  Sprinkle the cheese on top, followed by the cucumber ribbons, the mackerel fillets (these could be flaked), and finish with a smear of horseradish (if using) and finally the pepper strips on top.

Next recipe uses mozzarella cheese, but again no reason why we shouldn't use another of similar texture (if there is one - and later I'll be having a go at making my own). With no mozzarella I'd use feta cheese, or maybe a soft and cream goat's cheese (if I had any - which I don't), even dollops of Philly cream cheese flavoured with garlic and herbs (this I do have).
Vacuum packed beetroot (with a long shelf-life and NOT in vinegar) is something I always keep in the fridge, and reading through the rest of the ingredients very shortly hope to be harvesting some mixed salad leaves (winter variety grown on the windowsill), the other ingredients I already have.  'Experimental' cooks usually do stock a few more ingredients than most, so if you have none, then just use something else that is similar.  Or leave it out.   Myself prefer to use almost all recipes (at least savoury ones) as just a guide, then end up doing my own thing with it.
Beetroot (esp its juice) is another 'healthy' food as it's been proved that it helps lower blood pressure.  I always drink a sherry glass of the juice before I have my check-up and it's amazing how much lower my b.p. is when taken shortly afterwards (compared to what it used to be and probably normally is).

Beetroot and Mozzarella Salad: serves 4
2 packs cooked beetroot
salt and pepper
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tblsp finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tblsp finely chopped fresh chives 
3 tblsp balsamic vinegar
4 tblsp extra V. olive oil
6 small mozzarella balls
mixed salad leaves or watercress
Put the contents of one pack of beetroot into a food processor and give a quick whizz to turn it into a smooth paste.  Add seasoning to taste, then set aside.
Cut the contents of the second pack of beetroot into quarters and place into a bowl, adding the shallot, parsley, chives, balsamic vinegar, and oil.  Add seasoning to taste, then set aside to 'marinate' for 15 minutes.
Take four individual plates and spread the beetroot puree over each, scattering the marinated wedges on top.  Tear the mozzarella into small pieces and dot these on top of the beetroot, topping with salad leaves or cress.  Sprinkle the left-over marinade juices over the top as a dressing.  Then ready to serve.

Next recipe is for a cheese soufflé, but this time with a twist.  It's cooked in a (combination)microwave.
Whether cooked in a conventional oven or any other way, soufflés are not as difficult to make as they seem to be.  Basically all they consist of is a batch of white sauce, lightened with beaten egg white, and then the chosen flavouring (cheese, vegetables etc) folded carefully in, then baked in a Bain Marie (roasting tin half full of hot water).   The only problem with soufflés is that they rise so much that they quite rapidly drop before reaching the table, but only then if the container is knocked (which tends to release much of the trapped air.
Any finely grated cheese can be used to make this soufflé, or a mixture. If you haven't dry mustard, then blend a teaspoon of made mustard into the milk.
If you prefer to cook the soufflé in a conventional oven, make up the white sauce in a saucepan, thenr remove from heat, cool slightly before beating in the eggs and cheese etc, fold in beaten whites and place in a soufflé dish, standing this in a Bain Marie, and bake at 200C, gas 6 for 25 minutes or until well risen.  Carefully remove from oven without banging the dish, and take to the table immediately ready to serve from there.

Microwaved Cheese Souffle: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
2 oz (50g) plain flour
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
half tsp dry mustard powder (see above)
salt and pepper
3 oz (75g) Stilton cheese (or other) finely grated
3 eggs, separated
Melt the butter in a microproof bowl on High for 1 minute.  Beat in the flour, then gradually whisk in the milk.  Heat on High for 2 - 3 minutes, stirring once during that time.
Stir in mustard, seasoning, cheese and egg yolks.  Whisk whites until stiff, then carefully fold these into the cheese mixture, using a metal spoon.
Spoon into a buttered/greased 6" (15cm) soufflé dish, levelling the surface with a palette knife, sealing the edges to allow even rising.   
Stand on the low rack and cook on Combination 3 for 25 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Goes without saying that one of the best ways to use up odds and ends of cheese is to use grated in a quiche.  When I use five different flavours of hard cheese (Cheddar, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester, and Cheshire - plus Parmesan to sprinkle on top before baking) the end result is really yummy.  Working with one egg for each quarter pint of cream makes for a good set.
Sometimes I use crème fraiche instead of cream and can then get away with using one egg less.

Before I leave, a recent comment from 'anonymous' did say something we should all give thought to.  Basically it was we should be glad of what we have, as we still have an abundance of food to choose from, so need never feel deprived.

My current 'read' at the moment is a book called 'Fifties Britain' (ISBN 0-7537-1403-5 if you want to get it from the library).  Lots of photos of that time, and the foodie bits were very interesting, but what was said in the first chapter really does show how things have improved for us - even for those now relying on benefits (and Foodbanks).  I quote:
Before World War 11 life was certainly uncomfortable for the majority.... Even those who had relatively secure well-paid jobs had little job security and could lose everything almost overnight.
Without the protection of a welfare state, the unemployed became trapped in a grim cycle of poverty and depression.  Their diet consisted mainly of tea, bread, margarine, potatoes, stew, and an occasional piece of bacon.  By 1939 only 10% of houses in Middlesborough contained a bath, and 35% had no electricity."
Then came the war and rationing helped to provide everyone (whatever class they were) with just enough of the right foods to stay alive - and reasonably healthy as well (just shows how little we need to keep well), everyone could afford to buy the food as there was virtually no unemployment any more because all the young men (and some women) were conscripted to the army, navy, and air-force, some lads went down the mines, girls joined the Land Army, or were nurses.

What made interesting reading was about the advent of supermarkets.  Until then people used to shop locally, and this was more than just to buy goods.  Shops were meeting places where women could have a good gossip (in those days still usual for men to work, women to stay at home raising the children). Suppose today we still 'gossip', but this time by Twitter.  But it's not the same as chatting to 'real people' like in the flesh.  Is it?

Anyway, nearly noon, so have to make my departure into the kitchen and 'get on'.  Probably won't be blogging tomorrow being Sunday (I've now begun to take this day off) however, once Gill has phoned, I MIGHT feel like having a wee blog.  But don't bank on it.  Will however be back with you again on Monday.  Now the weather is back to gentle, hope you all have a pleasant weekend. TTFN. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Now for Plan B!!

Got up early as the hurricane force winds during the night kept me awake, yet yesterday (and the day before ) the weather was calm, sunny and dry.  What a difference now!    More floods are expected today over the UK adding to those that have not yet drained away, and almost certainly a lot more power lines down.   An hoping our power stays on (and the tiles on the roof - both apartments, our and upstairs share roof responsibility).

Anyway, am now sitting comfortably, trying to avoid looking through the window in front of me, as I don't wish to see the bushes in the garden almost blown flat, but the sound of the wind is not so bad due to the double glazing.  Good to be able to sit and have a chat, so will start by again sending a blanket 'thank you' to everyone who sent Season's Greetings, and today a few replies to those who added a bit more.  Also a big welcome to new readers (or it might be welcome back, my memory is not as good as it was), although a few came in as 'anonymous', and 'unknown'. But you will know who you are and hope you know how I appreciate hearing from you. In fact we all do.  It's not just me and everyone else.  We are all in this together.  The 'munch-crunch-bunch' as I used to call us.
A definite newcomer is Treaders (lives in the French Alps).  She left the UK to get away from our weather, and after these last few days I bet there will be a lot of other citizens also wishing they could emigrate. 

It is lovely to hear from readers who have moved to pastures now.  We now are fortunate to get comments from Australia, New Zealand, several different states in America, also Canada, Germany,  Malaysia, and I'm also including Ireland, Scotland and Wales (just because I'm English doesn't mean we are in the same melting pot and accepted as being the same, because we're not.  In fact the Irish, Welsh, Scots - and the Cornish (I believe) - are  the original 'true Brits' (Celts), the rest of us are a bastard race with Roman, Viking, Jute, Spanish, German, and French blood in our veins (and probably a lot of other nations too).  Have great respect for the different 'countries' of the UK, and there truly is a difference in the traditions and cultures of each - and before anyone points a finger at me, I'm NOT being racist).  Perhaps we have readers in other countries much further afield (like Lapland?)  If so, please let us know as there are often queries I'd like to ask re their respective traditional foods/dishes.   

Thanks to Emma for sending in her menu for over Christmas.  Made my mouth water.   Also to Margie (two comments) who gave me a guide to some prices in Canada.  With the rate of exchange, and allowing that it was the better quality foods mentioned, the prices are not much higher in Canada than here.  Which is something I suppose.
The description of the ice-storm in Toronto (causing electricity cuts) sounded amazing.  Don't think we have ice-storms here.  We have ice on the paths, icicles that hang from the gutters, hoar frost on leave. If freezing when it rains, it is only 'sleet', nothing worse. Colder weather brings snow, but then our temperatures don't fall as low as those in Canada.

A further comment from Cheesepare I have kept until last as it leads me on to my topic for today:  the current challenge.  A query as to whether the foods I have in stock are the same as those in the early (2006/7) challenge brings the response that they are probably similar as I tend to cook much the same meals now as then.
However, this year there will be other foods in the larder that I can draw on (not mentioned in the earlier lists), and of course I will be giving details of the meals made, and recipes where applicable.

We come now to the costing.  Yesterday there I was pen and pad in my apron pocket, pulling them out and writing down everything I made and the cost of ingredients.  By the evening I had decided this was going to give me endless work that I really did not wish to do - and was it even necessary?  Certainly I wouldn't wish this task taken on by readers.
In any case, I'd already BOUGHT  the ingredients, so why bother to 'buy' them from myself again?  
So I decided on Plan B, which is (of course) just use up the foods that I have in store and see how long I can last without having to buy anything else.  There is still a way to find out how much money we will have saved (or not spent).

The original challenge of mine (in 2006/7, mentioned by Cheesepare) began with spending a set amount (£250) on food, and after ten weeks - when most of it had run out - this worked out at £12.50 per head per week (and at that time there was food still left unused).  That covered all drinks (tea, coffee..even some spirits, although these were a gift), three good meals a day plus snacks and treats - AND entertaining the occasional guest).   Working with figures can sometimes be misleading.  Myself believe that allowing £1.75 a day per person is bordering luxury living, yet Jamie O would spend that on just one 'low-cost' main meal (for one).

How much the ingredients cost during the current challenge would take time to work out.  A far simpler way of approaching this is to work with the normal food budget that we would spend over a  month (calendar or lunar depending on when you shop).  Everyone has a different budget according to how many to feed, and for that matter whether we live on a pension, on benefits, or lucky to bring home a reasonably good wage.
Although £250 lasted me a good 10 weeks (early months of 2007). now, seven years later - with food prices having risen a lot since then - I'd guess I'd have to pay at least £50 more to buy exactly the same things.

Even then it's not as bad as it sounds.  Think about it.  Still keeping within our budget, if we stock up or larders, buying a few extras each time we do our 'big shop', over time these surplus foods soon add up, and stay ready and waiting to be used in a challenge such as this one.  Already paid for, so forget the cost and just use them!

As I need to set a budget to prove this point, my choice would be £150 a month (and of course be different for each reader),  but this wouldn't be the full amount spent each month over the year, for when we do 'the challenge', this means (hopefully) that we can get through the first two months of the year without buying any more food.  So that's £300 we haven't needed to spend for a start.  I like to do a shorter challenge - just for one month - during the summer (when we eat less anyway, and hopefully grow a few salads on the windowsill), so that would be another £150 saved (total £450).   The actual expenditure (food budget) over the year then averages out at £112.50 a month. Looking good.

With depleted stocks we would then need to start using just some money from our normal food budget again. We could go back to spending all of it - but at the same time adding those few extras ready for the next 'use-up-what-we've-got' challenge.  We could fill several trolley-loads of food if we used that £450 (saved) to play with, but of course we would never need to spend it all, and so save a lot of it.  Have to say I do spend around £50 of 'challeng money saved' after the first couple of months buying quality meat from DR - on offer of course.  This is a way to be able to eat 'quality' and still keep within a tight budget.  Having 'deliberately' saved the money (by not shopping) I like to think the meat was as good as 'free'. 
Well, even though the meat it isn't really 'free', if I'd not taken advantage of supermarket offers, and been canny enough (no pun intended) to stock up canned foods and dry goods in the larder, I'd still be spending all my food budget every month for a whole year, AND have to pay extra for the meat.  Much prefer the 'use-it-up' approach.

So Plan B is not to cost out the ingredients used, but to work out how much money we save by just not going shopping at all - for weeks (and weeks, and weeks...).  After the first month (maybe two), we will probably need to replace a few fresh foods (milk, eggs, fruit, veg) and this brings in my challenge within the challenge.  Replace by all means, but spend no more than £10 a week doing so (that's £40 a month).  Believe it or not £10 will go a long way when we don't have to consider buying anything other than 'the fresh'.  It should be quite possible to carry on this way for several more months (depending on our larder stores), so we should then be able to save even MORE of our monthly budget.  Probably reducing the suggested £150 down to averaging well below £100. Oh heck, why don't we make it a yearly challenge and aim to bring it down to £50?  It could be done, I may well have a go, but this is only the second day of this challenge and we'll just have to wait and see how I get on.  At least it's good to HAVE a challenge.  Life would be very boring without one.

Still, we mustn't run before we can walk.  Let's start the easy way - using up Christmas left-overs.  In the Goode kitchen we have very few, so yesterday - after porridge for breakfast (B), toast and Marmite (me), I had home-made soup for lunch and, B had toast and marmalade.  Supper used up the left-over spuds from Christmas Day. B had his potatoes diced and added to the pan of lamb's liver gougons, bacon, and steamed shredded white cabbage (all tossed together in the bacon fat).  He finished with the last of the Christmas Pudding - with some cream. 
My meal was a salad made by shredding the last bit of iceberg lettuce (I do have another), and the remainder of the left-over spuds, diced and mixed with a finely chopped shallot, blended with low-fat salad cream and plenty of seasoning (as potato salad).  Also fried extra bacon to crumble and add to this.  Shirley's  'after's' was Christmas Cake with Wensleydale cheese.   We also nibbled several chocolates while we watched TV during the evening.

Today am not yet sure what I'll make.  Toying with 'sausage and mash' served with onion gravy, but B is not fond of mashed potatoes.  He doesn't like lumpy spuds. Yet he doesn't like Smash "because it doesn't have any lumps so is not like the real thing".  That man is never satisfied.

Might make a cauliflower cheese as I have half a cauli that could do with being usedup (but still has some life left in it, and I do have another, fresher one).  If I cook some macaroni and add to the cauli and cheese sauce it will then be a mixture of macaroni cheese and cauliflower cheese.  Served with plenty of grated cheese bubbling on top, and strips of crispy bacon, am sure this will please B.  Maybe I'll do bangers and mash just for me.
Any cauliflower trimmings (stalks, core and leaves) will be kept and blitzed with milk and some Stilton cheese rind, then cooked to make cauliflower soup.  However strange it sounds, it really is lovely, and tastes just like the real thing.

Might make a fresh fruit salad for 'afters'.  We have plenty of double cream to serve with it.  The fruit bowl has both red and green eating apples, clementines and kiwi fruit.  In the fridge we have some green grapes.  In the larder I have a couple or so tins of pineapple rings so could open one of these, use some of the canned juice to add to the fruit salad, cut up and add a pineapple ring, then freeze the remaining rings, and the juice also separately (to later add to other fruit salads, or to Chinese stir-fries etc).

Although not cooking the following recipe yet, it will certainly be included during the challenge as I have all the ingredients (chicken portions in the freezer, and fresh parsley growing on the windowsill).  My Beloved is very fond of ginger, so I also keep a large coffee jar full of chunks of preserved ginger (the crystallised sort).  If you have none, and do have some root ginger, then grate a little of that to add to the dish, alternatively mix some ground ginger in with the salt and pepper and rub this over the chicken.
Chicken 'quarters' are used, these being both drumstick and thigh still attached.  However - for economy - I'd suggest serving four to eight chicken portions (separated drumsticks and thighs) as these are usually cheaper in price than quarters.  If they are large, then just serve one each.  Adults could have two each, children just one. 

Gingered Chicken: serves 4
4 chicken quarters (see above)
half tsp each salt and pepper
4 oz (100g) butter
1 clove garlic, crushed or finely chopped
half pint (10fl oz/300ml) chicken stock
2 pieces preserved (candied ginger) chopped
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tblsp cornflour
2 tblsp cold water
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
cooked rice and green veg for serving
Rub the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.  Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Fry the chicken for 5 - 7 minutes on each side until golden, then reduce heat to low.  Stir in the garlic, fry for a further minute, then add the stock. Cover and cook the chicken for half an hour (slightly less if using smaller joint) or as long as it takes to fully cook the chicken through.
Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a warmed serving dish, cover and keep warm.
Stir the ginger and lemon juice into the pan juices and simmer for a couple of minutes.
Meanwhile, slake the cornflour with the water, then add this paste to the pan, stirring until it dissolves and thickens into a sauce.  Add the parsley and return the chicken to the pan, cooking for a further 5 minutes.  Place chicken in a warmed serving dish and pour the sauce over.  Serve immediately with cooked rice and your choice of a green vegetable.

As I didn't cook turkey this year we haven't the left-overs, but am sure many readers will have cold turkey they wish to serve in different ways.  So here is a lovely recipe that again uses ingredients that we probably already have (if not use a substitute if you can - just don't be tempted to go out and BUY!).  If you have a carton of orange juice in the fridge, use this for the 'juice' rather than squeexing more oranges, but if you do use fresh orange juice, then don't discard the peel as this can be made into candied peel, or dried to add to casseroles, and there are countless other ways to use peel.  As the large orange season has just begun (we prefer the navel oranges as they have no pips), I'll be giving recipes later using these.

Turkey with Orange Sauce:  serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large oranges, segmented and pith removed
juice of 2 oranges
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
half pint (10fl oz/300ml) chicken stock
2 tblsp orange liqueur (if you have it)
3 tsp light brown sugar
8 thick slices cooked turkey
1 tsp cornflour
1 tblsp cold water or orange juice
Melt the butter in a large flameproof casserole or deep frying pan, sitting over medium heat. Add the onion and fry for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent - but not changing colour.
Stir in the orange segments and the parsley, stir-frying for a couple of minutes, then add the orange juice, chicken stock, and the liqueur.   Stir in the sugar, and continuing to stir, bring to the boil.  Reduce heat to low, then add the sliced turkey.  Cover and simmer for 15 or so minutes until the turkey is heated through.   Using tongs, removed the meat to a warmed serving dish, then - using a slotted spoon - remove the orange segments and place these over the turkey.  Cover and keep warm.
Slake the cornflour with the water (or o.j.) and stir this into the liquid left in the pan.  Raise the heat to medium and - continuing to stir - bring to the boil, then reduce heat back to low, continuing to stir for 3 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly.   Pour this over the turkey and orange and serve immediately.  
Good served with sautéed (left-over?) potatoes and a green veg. or salad.

Now that we are blessed with a much greater variety of ingredients than (say) fifty years ago, this means we can turn what was once a pauper's meal into something that a top chef would cook.  Myself remember my mother always giving me bread-and-milk to eat when I was poorly, perhaps with a bit of sugar added, and very soothing and pleasant it was at that time.
Here is a recipe for a soup made with stale bread, the addition of garlic and chilli powder lifting it to another level.   However strange it may be to be served soup made with bread, this is made and served during Lent in several European (and other) countries.   We don't have to wait until Lent to make this as it fits in well with our 'challenge', especially towards the end when we run out of the more usual 'soup-making' ingredients.

Bread Soup: serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 - 4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb (450g) stale bread, crumbed
half teaspoon chilli powder
1.5 ltrs chicken stock
salt and pepper, to taste
vinegar, to taste
sugar, to taste
Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then fry the onions over medium heat for about 5 minutes until softened but not coloured.  Stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute, then add the breadcrumbs, the chilli powder and the stock.  Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes.
Remove from heat and add seasoning to taste, then pour into a liquidiser/blender and whizz until smooth and creamy.   Return soup to the pan, and heat through, adding a little vinegar and sugar to taste before serving.

Final recipe today is one I might make instead of the cauliflower/macaroni cheese.  It is similar - but different.  If not today, will be sure to make it another day.  Of course we could use a different pasta shape, and cauli instead of broccoli.  Also a different hard cheese.  Myself would use 'cream cheese with chives (or garlic and herbs) instead of cream cheese - just because that's what I have.
Tuna and Double Cheese Pasta: serves 4
10 oz (300g) pasta penne
12 oz (350g) broccoli florets
1 x 250g carton cottage cheese with chives
4 oz (100g) mature Cheddar, grated
1 x 200g can tuna, drained and flaked
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions (usually 10 - 12 minutes to al dente) adding the broccoli florets to the pan for the final 3 - 4 minutes of cooking.  Drain well and return to the hot pan, then gently stir in both cheeses until they melt together into the pasta and broccoli.
Carefully fold in the flaked tuna, trying not to break them up (it doesn't matter if you do, but the appearance looks better if you can see chunks of the fish).  Add seasoning to taste, then serve.

That's it for today.  As well as planning/preparing the main meals and making that fresh fruit salad,  I'll be taking 'basics' from the larder to make B either a fruit loaf or some 'tea-cakes' (which he loves as long as they are well spiced), and if I extend the 'basic' bread mix, can probably make both.
Am tempted to go 'all posh' and make some Chicken Liver Parfait, but why not keep some of the best until last (chicken livers are in the freezer)?  Keep it simple at the start, and keep improving the meals as the stock dwindles.  It's more fun doing it that way.

Just about noon already, must have been typing for a good 4 hours, yet not a lot to see for it.  Hope at least some of the recipes are useful.  If you have a surplus of left-overs to use up, the let me know what they are and I'll hopefully be able to give you recipes for them the very next day.  TTFN.



Thursday, December 26, 2013

Let Us Begin...

Firstly, let me say a heartfelt THANK YOU to all who sent comments, greetings etc, over the last few days.  Have these to read through (there are a lot), and will send replies tomorrow.  Today's blog is just having a bit of 'me-time' and getting back into the swing of things, mainly starting our new 'challenge'.

It's been a funny sort of Christmas.  Didn't start too well as on the Monday, when we had arranged to collect our daughter and then go off to meet our son at a restaurant some miles away, we left early to allow for traffic, but not early enough.  Normally it takes less than 15 minutes from our house in Morecambe to our daughter's in Lancaster, but on Monday - due to nose-to-tail traffic almost all the way, and in pouring rain - it took one hour 15 minutes!!  We phoned the restaurant to tell them we'd be late, and fortunately as we could then drive down country lanes to reach it, we were not hampered by traffic, but the weather was atrocious, high winds and lots of rain, some of the roads nearly covered by water.

Three of us chose the Turkey Dinner 'with all the trimmings', and when I received my plateful (it wasn't help yourself), saw there were no Brussels sprouts.  Whimpered to the waitress that there HAD to be sprouts with a Christmas dinner, and she said the chef had forgotten to put them on the plate.  We did have a few green peas, and one broccoli floret.  Anyway we had nearly finished our meal before the sprouts arrived (I don't think he had intended to include them, so had to cook them).  The 'bread sauce' turned out to be mashed potato, and suppose - in a way - I was disappointed with the meal, although everyone else said they enjoyed it.  It was me (just being a cook) that found fault - knowing home-cooked would have tasted MUCH better.  The nice thing was that it was cooked FOR me, not by me, which was a treat in itself.

When we left the restaurant - the rain still pouring down - we drove over to wait by our son's car to exchange pressies .  Mad emptying of the back of his car - it turned out they had forgotten to pack the box that contained our gifts.  It was still in Essex!   They will be returning to Lancashire for Burns night, so we will meet them again and hope he remembers them this time.  It was almost worth this happening as seeing the look on his face, and his "Sorry, Mum" reminded me so much of his 18th birthday when he had celebrated with friends by going to a pub and having a drink, and had a bit too much.  He looked and said exactly the same then.  How it took me back.

We had Christmas lunch here on the 25th, but a simple one as we'd already had the proper one on Monday.  Cooked a rack of lamb (DR's that had been frozen for months but still in date and was SUPERB).  Daughter and B had these (3 small chops each), with new potatoes, roasted vegetables, and peas.  I made myself some lamb meatballs in a creamy sauce.  They had Christmas Pud for afters, I chose cheese and biscuits.   Different but good and a pleasant meal all told.

Incidentally, although I normally cook and serve the small potatoes in their skins, this time I boiled them - still with the skins on - and after straining, cool enough to handle, was able to very easily peel off the skins.  A lot easier than all that scraping of skins beforehand, and this way helped to keep all the vitamins in the veg.  Several minutes before serving, placed them in a steamer to heat through and then tossed them in butter and sprinkled them with a little bit of coarse (Welsh) salt.

The rack of lamb I cooked the D.R. method, and it works so well.  First sear the lamb rack in a little oil for a total of 6 minutes (on all sides - this difficult because the bones hold the meat away from the pan on one side, so put the rack skin side down in the pan and kept spooning the hot fat over the rest as it cooked).  The oven was preheated to 80C (yes, as low as that), the roasting tin also heating up, then the rack of lamb put into the hot tin, and placed in the oven to cook for 60 -75 minutes.  By then it is perfectly cooked with the flesh light pink in the centre.  If cooking for a dinner party, and the meal served slightly later than intended, after cooking (as above) the heat can be reduced to 60C and the lamb will hold in perfect condition for a good 30 minutes longer.  Once cooked, it is then carved into single chops and served immediately.

 My own meal was meatballs in a creamy sauce, and the recipe used cashew nuts, soaked in boiling water for a few minutes, then strained and blitzed with cream before stirring into the stock (already in a pan with the meatballs).  I did not wish to use the few cashew nuts I have left, so thought that  peanut butter might be a good substitute, but then this would have turned the sauce into something like a 'satay'.  In the end, added ground almonds to the cream and these were perfect, thickening the sauce in the same way as the cashew nuts would have done.  I'll do that again.

Apart from my 'proper' Christmas gift, my daughter gave me a couple of free brochures (more like books as they were big ones) and have to say I liked these best of all the gifts that I'd been given - why?  Because one was a big Booth's catalogue, full of foodie pictures, prices of the festive food they were selling, even some recipes. The other was the 'Showguide & Recipe collection" from the London GoodFood Show.  Lots more lovely recipes, and with Booth's able to know how much each food item sold would cost to buy.  Every time I see a price on something my mind then falls into gear and I begin working out how much it would cost ME to make the same.   An instance,  Booth's Treacle Tart (in their Divine Desserts section) to feed 12 = £20!  Oh, how I enjoyed the moment, knowing I could cook the same for probably less than £2. 

Watched a recent Jamie O (repeat) of his money-saving meals.  Well, he may think that £1.75 is not a lot to pay for one portion, but me - being me - immediately starts trying to come up with 'just as good' meals that cost £1.50, £.1.25, £1, or even less.  That's what (my) cost-cutting is all about, going one (two or three) steps further.  It can be done.

This year I used four insulated serving dishes that I'd bought to use at the social club.  Normal size for family use, and different sizes.   First they need to be filled with very hot water, then lid left on for them to heat up.  Pour the water away and then fill with the chosen foods - lid back on and the food stays hot for at least 4 hours.  So in the smallest one went the peas, the next one up went my rice, the third had the meatballs and sauce, the fourth had the spuds.  The roasted veg had to be served in an other bowl, and the lamb chops separately on a hot plate.  Replacing the lids after serving certainly kept the food piping hot, and I'm so glad I bought them (and remembered to use them).

As always, B does the washing up after the Christmas meal, and it was his intention to do it, but he felt very tired after his meal and so went to bed until early evening.  He is - at the moment - doing the washing up, but there isn't that much as I cleared up as I went along, just the food containers and our three sets of plates/glasses etc.  B seems a bit out of sorts recently, forgetting things, seems to be a bit 'not-with-it' more than normal, and always wanting to sleep.  He is having a check up in January, so hope the doc can find out the problem.

Odd really, but all through Christmas I couldn't wait until Boxing Day - the start of this new 'challenge'.  Not really 'new', it is one I do every year at this time....just using up what food we have, either left-overs or in store.  But each year it is approached in a slightly different way, although aiming to achieve the same results (and perhaps better than each of the previous years).

Forgot to mention that I'd ordered a Walker's Pork Pie from Tesco.  When we lived in Leicester we always had a Walker's pie at Christmas.  My mother loved them and when we moved to Leeds we would always request that Gill (who visited us often) and my sister-in-law (who always came for Christmas) would bring us a Walker's pie.  We think they are the best pork pies made. 
So - although not certain these were the same Walker's pies - I sampled the one delivered, and it was the proper Walker's.  Was so thrilled.  Needless to say it was eaten within a very few days (I managed to save a quarter of it for myself).  Do hope they continue to sell them.   But during the challenge I will - of course - have to make my own.

What's even better is that I've got a refund from Tesco because a few of the items ordered I could have bought cheaply elsewhere, so what with all their vouchers and offers, I've again managed to save quite a lot of money, and not exceeded my normal monthly expenditure.

There was one query from Cheesepare that is best replied to today as he is asking if I'm doing the same challenge as at the start of this blog (when I made all the food purchases late 2006, with the challenge carrying on during the first couple or so months of 2007 - some details can be see via Archives).   At that time I worked on a budget of £250, buying all the food in advance (except from the milkman who delivered daily, but what was bought from him was paid out of the budget).  Enough food to last 10 weeks without doing any more shopping-in-store  (and even some left but then I had to go to hospital for nearly 3 weeks, so was not able to finish the challenge properly, but near enough). 

This time I already have many foods in store that have been purchased over the year.  The most recent have been stocking up with a few canned products (tuna, sardines, chopped tomatoes, baked beans), some dried foods (flour, bread mixes, Beanfeasts, pasta....), UHT milk and cream, cheeses in the fridge, and carrots, small (and large) potatoes, parsnips, cauliflower, onions, celery, peppers. and salad veg: iceberg lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, and some sugarsnap peas and spring onions for B's stir-fries. 

Being a 'cook' I do have a good selection of bottled sauces, and other 'tracklements', as well as 'back-up' of things like English Mustard, Branston Pickle, capers, and a few jars of other things that are on a higher shelf that I've not got around to using yet (and forgotten what there is there).  No doubt they will all be very useful in the weeks to come.

What I'm hoping to do is work out the cost of each meal made, starting with 'buying' the ingredients from myself as though I was going shopping each day (as we all used to do in the past).  That way I'll be able to find out just how much money we really need to feed ourselves well.  At least well enough not to feel deprived.

Am feeling quite guilty even thinking about cooking a proper meal considering the terrible weather conditions we've had over the UK.  Many homes flooded and others without electricity over Christmas.   Yesterday and today the weather is very calm, but another low-pressure area due to arrive tomorrow, again bringing more of the bad weather.  Parts of America (and Canada) are having very low temperatures, snow and ice, and possibly we may have the same in a few weeks, so worth making sure we have all the necessary foods (that will store) to keep us warm and comfortable should the big freeze happen here.

Thankfully, one of the most warming meals, and the very best start to the day, is a bowl of hot porridge.  Porridge oats are very cheap (a little goes a long way when cooked) and I've got a couple of kg bags ready and waiting in the larder (plus one on the go).  So that's how the challenge has begun, porridge for breakfast, soup (for me) for lunch (B will probably have toast and marmalade - his choice), and supper yet to be decided.  I'll work out the cost of it all, and keep a daily record.

It's not as though I'll need to stretch my mind this early on as much of the time we'll be finishing off the left-overs, eating Christmas cake with cheese etc.  Normally it would be at least a month before my stocks dwindle down to needing (at least some fresh) to be replaced.  However, being cautious from the start, working out if (at least) some ingredients could be stretched to make two meals, not just one, means that food in store will last longer.   So I'll be leaving out quite a lot of the hard cheese to get even harder, this will then grate up finer, can be used instead of (or with) Parmesan, and I'll always have grated cheese (fine and not so finely grated) to add that 'little extra something' to meals.

Things that need to be done within the next couple or so days are:  make another batch of marmalade (we are down to the last jar), cook a big pan of vegetable soup - enough to reheat.  Make Sticky Toffee Pudding (it freezes well), maybe even a Treacle Tart (and some cheese straws using up the pastry trimmings!).  As ever, I can't decide until I get into the kitchen (my cookery mind doesn't begin working properly until I'm in there), so you'll have to wait until my next blog to find out.

Do hope you all had a lovely Christmas and none of you had any problems due to the weather.  We have been lucky in that respect (other than on Monday when driving conditions were dreadful).  I'll be re-reading the comments sent and will give replies (where applicable) tomorrow.  Hope to 'meet' up with you then.  TTFN.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Onwards and Upwards...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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