Friday, January 03, 2014

Every Cloud....

They say every cloud has a silver lining, and it seems our weather forecast is so bad over the next few days (even worse than before) that we need those linings.   Here, in the western side of the country, we expect to get the worst of the storm, and am hoping that B will drive me down to see the sea throwing itself onto the prom.  Normally, the tides ebb and flow into the Bay at quite a speed, but we rarely see a 'proper' wave further out.   It's mainly flat - like a lake, and once the water has left we seem to have hours of nothing to see but dangerous-to-walk-on sands.  If we could walk on them it would be more fun.  So  when the gales are in the right direction at the same time as the spring tides (as they are this weekend), then we can get a bit of spray.

Others are much more unfortunate, and people who live in coastal areas have been warned to be very careful when close to the sea, when travelling, and of course flooding of homes.  And with even higher winds later, we will probably have more power lines down.  This bad weather is the 'left-overs' of the recent snow storms they have had in America.  They had snow, but here it will mainly fall as rain (although high ground may have some snow).   We are all expecting this, and no real need for me to give it a mention, but thought readers from other countries might be interested in our plight.

My personal silver linings are - of course - to do with food-via-the-challenge.  I'm even dreaming about it most nights now.  On Wednesday night dreamed about showing a man how to make a spicy bread.  He got that right and then I changed to making a cheese-flavoured bread.  I remember - in the dream - I had a catering bag of 'cheese bread mix', so I got that out, and asked the man (who was a school teacher said not to suffer fools gladly), to measure out the amount he needed then make and bake.  He added spices to it, and I said it didn't need it "so start again without the spice".  This he did, but again added the spice.  Three times he made the same mistake, and I then wagged my finger at him and said "now perhaps you'll be a bit more patient with your pupils when they make a mistake".
Not sure what that dream meant, but perhaps it was my 'guide' telling me not to criticise my B so often.

Yesterday decided to use up the mushrooms that were beginning to look a bit sad, so decided to make a 'Strogonoff', adding the 'rooms to a tiny bit of frying beef I had in the freezer.  The beef had been cut from a larger piece and was the size of my thumb and not quite twice as thick - VERY small piece.
When cut into thin strips it looked a lot more (as everything does when cut up and/or grated).  I chopped up a small onion, fried that and then added the meat, fried that until it had changed colour, then removed from the pan and set it aside.  Put a little butter into the oil left in the pan and then began to fry the sliced mushrooms, finally adding a tablespoon of sherry (the dregs left in the bottle). The best bit came next.  Earlier I decided to make my own sour cream by adding the juice of half a lemon to the last of the double cream in that particular tub (about 4 fl. oz).  Gave it a stir and left it.
When the mushroom liquid had nearly evaporated, I put the meat and mushrooms back into the pan ready to stir in the sour cream.   

Could not believe it!  The cream had gone so thick that it was almost the same as 'spreadable' butter or marg.  I had a small taste and to me it wasn't sour at all.  Just a pleasant touch of sharpness.  To me it would make an excellent substitute for clotted cream. 
When spooning it out, a bit at a time, and adding it to the pan it did 'melt' back, but still thick enough to make a really good sauce, and when seasoned with plenty of pepper, the Strogonoff tasted really good.   Served this with some boiled rice.

Myself made up a supper dish for myself.  Had some mushrooms still to use up, so sliced those and fried them in a little butter, added the rice and a good dollop of extra-low fat mayo, and threw in a few sultanas.  THEN finely diced a bit of Double Gloucester Cheese, threw that in with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard..   Not quite sure what I was doing, but it actually tasted quite good, the cheese, mustard, and mayo together having made a 'sort-of' sauce.

My Beloved really loves those big fruity teacakes, so yesterday decided to try to make some for him.  the previous day I'd kneaded sugar and spice into left-over bread dough (no dried fruit) and when baked these seemed to be OK "but not spicy enough" said B.
Yesterday sifted together  one pack of  white bread mix with 1 tblsp icing sugar, 3 tsp mixed spice, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, and 1 good teaspoon ground ginger. "That should be spicy enough" I thought.  Also added a handful of dried fruit that I chopped up a bit, and an egg to the required amount of liquid (I use half milk, half water), adding the fruit halfway through the 'dough' setting in my bread machine. 

The dough made 9 good-sized fairly flat teacakes, and as B likes a soft crust, I put them in a pan and placed a cover over so they would steam/bake.  This worked well other than the underside of the buns ended up crusty - the tops were beautifully soft.    I tried one later and found the best way was to slice away the bottom crust very thinly, leaving plenty of top, so B could put them in the toaster and he wouldn't then have anything too dry to have to crunch through.  Today will remove all the bottom crusts, then break them up and soak them in egg and milk to later bake into a Bread and Butter Pudding.  Some of the (prepared) teacakes will be frozen, so they won't dry out.  Will also freeze some of the white rolls made the previous day (these are really soft both top and bottom, so perhaps it was the sugar, or egg that made the teacakes crisp up.  More experimenting needed).

Something I forgot to mention some weeks back (or maybe I did).  Have discovered that when I remove the stalks from smallish mushrooms (not the tiny ones), and then spoon a little garlic and herb flavoured cream cheese, or squeeze in a dollop of my favourite Heinz 'Fiery Chilli' Tomato Ketchup, they make really good 'nibbles'.  If I had bits of dip or hummous, they would also have been good to stuff the mushrooms. 

Another tip worth mentioning (again) is the way to prevent crispy foods going soft (such as biscuits, empty vol-au-vent cases etc).  Take an airtight tin (or container), and sprinkle salt inside, just to cover the base, then top this with kitchen paper.  Place the food that needs to be kept crisp on top of the paper, and you could layer between more kitchen paper.  Then place on the lid.  The salt will absorb any moisture in the tin.

Sometimes small sachets of silica gel come with packed non-foods (such as electrical items).  These also help to absorb moisture and I suppose they could be added to a container to serve the purpose of the salt.  However, if the sachet (usually paper) gets torn, I expect the silica gel could get onto the food and make it dangerous to eat.   But as long as we are careful....

A couple of comments have come in since Wednesday....Alison (Essex) and her fear of water (let us hope all this rain and flooding has not reached her area - at least not enough to cause distress).
A thank-you to Tess for writing in, and her mini-food challenge has prompted me to remind readers that I'm now trying to lose weight, and so my food will probably go a bit further than most.
Mindful of the small amount of food eaten in wartime - three small meals a day and NO snacks, it might not be a bad idea for all of us to serve slightly smaller portions (if using smaller plates it then looks more), this being another way to spread the ever-decreasing load (in store), and - if we keep it up - when we get back on track, we should then be able to reduce our food budget.

Having said that, in times like this (recession, extremely bad weather....) we should not deprive ourselves if food is the only comfort we have.  The good thing is that carbohydrates help to give us that 'comfort' feeling, and these are the cheaper ingredients.

Here is a recipe that has all the makings of a pizza, but baked in quite a different way.  Looks a bit like a savoury Chelsea bun (hence the name I've given it).  It can also use up bits and bobs from the fridge (incl. those red bell peppers from a jar, mentioned the other day).  The 'meaty' bits (in this instance salami) can be your choice, maybe chorizo, pepperoni,  or fried bacon; cooked English sausage, or left-over shreds of ham or chicken.
Mozzarella is usually the chosen cheese when making a pizza as this - when melted - forms 'strings' that are traditional to the dish.  We can use other cheeses if we wish.
'Chelsea' Pizza tear 'n share: makes 8
1 x 500g pack bread mix
4 tblsp tomato puree/paste
few fresh basil leaves, torn into shreds
1 roasted pepper (from a jar), cut into strips
3 oz (75g) chopped salami (see above)
4 oz (100g) mozzarella, torn into chunks
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) Cheddar cheese, grated
Make up the bread mix as per instructions, then turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out into an oblong 14" x 9" (35 x 23cm).  Spread the tomato puree over the dough, leaving a clear border around the edges, then scatter over the basil, pepper, salami, and mozzarella.   Add seasoning to taste.
Working with the longest side, roll up the dough firmly as if making a 'Swiss roll', then slice across in half, then each half again in half, and half again to make 8 even sized thick 'pinwheels'.   Arrange seven around the sides - and one in the centre -  in an oiled 10" spring-form cake tin (if you haven no springform, line tin with oiled foil to make the baking easy to remove).
Cover tin with clingfilm and leave in a warm place until well risen (this could take up to an hour - longer if the room is cold).   When ready, remove clingfilm, scatter the grated cheese on top and bake at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 12 - 15 minutes until golden.  Best eaten warm.

How many of us today eat the 'Full English' breakfast?  The only times we do is when we are in a B & B (to get our money's worth - and it fills us up enough so we don't need to eat much at lunch-time).
The 'makings' of this traditional 'fast-breaker' can work together to make a very good supper dish. Just leave out the baked beans and fried bread...
The advantage with this meal is that we can get away with using less of the more expensive ingredients, as any shortfall is made up with salad greens.  It also can use up those foodie items that some of us may have that really do need using up.  This time of year serve it with a winter salad, such as coleslaw, potato salad, etc..
'Full English' Salad: serves 4
4 tomatoes, halved
6 oz (175g) chestnut mushrooms, halved
4 - 8 rashers streaky bacon, halved
4 pork sausages
salt and pepper
2 tblsp olive oil
2 tsp sherry or white wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
4 eggs
4 thin slices baguette, toasted
salad (of your choice) for serving
In a roasting tin arrange (in lines) the tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, and sausages.  Season the toms and 'rooms, and drizzle with a little of the oil.  Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 30 minutes, turning the sausage and bacon halfway through the cooking time.   Remove from the oven when the sausages have cooked through and the bacon is crisp (if you wish you can remove the veggies earlier).
Meanwhile, make a salad dressing by blending 1 tblsp of the oil with the vinegaqr and mustard.
Fry the eggs in the remaining oil.
Assemble the (chosen) salad on a plate.  Slice the sausages and place these - together with the other roasteds - on top of the salad and drizzle over the dressing.  Place a fried egg on each piece of toasted baguette and place these on top, adding a little seasoning to taste.  Eat whilst still warm.

Next recipe makes use of surplus roasted peppers-in-a-jar.  If you haven't these, then use 'fresh' bell peppers.  Omit the red chilli if you don't care for spicy hot (alternatively add a dash of Tabasco).
This soup will freeze (but omit the yogurt adding this when serving).
Spicy Tomato and Pepper Soup:  serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
2 onions, finely sliced
1 carrot, grated
3 red bell peppers (see above) chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red chilli (see above) sliced
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
1.5pts (850ml) chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper
4 tblsp Greek yogurt
Put the oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, carrots and peppers.  Saute gently for 15 minutes and when softened, add the garlic and chilli.  Cook for a couple or so minutes more than add the tomatoes and most (but not all) of the stock.  Bring to the boil, and simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables are really tender.
Either blitz the soup in the pan using a stick blender, or whizz in a food processor/liquidiser, adding the saved stock if the soup is too thick.   Heat through in the pan, add seasoning to taste, then serve in individual bowls with a dollop of yogurt on top.

Final recipe today has been inspired by a recipe read yesterday.  The ingredients are open to alteration (use those roasted peppers-in-a-jar instead of the sundried tomatoes, add chunks of cooked carrot or butternut squash...) but I've made the list up from my personal choice (because that's what I have) this not being much different from the original.
Surprisingly, this recipes shows that - once made - it can be frozen.  Also mentions that, kept chilled, it can be made earlier and taken to work as a packed lunch, adding cubes of feta cheese for extra nourishment (or perhaps a hard-boiled egg, or cooked ham, chicken....?)
Grandma's Jewels with Couscous: serves 4
7 oz (200g) couscous
4 fl oz (125ml) boiling water
1 tblsp oil
zest and juice of 1 small lemon
salt and pepper to taste
9 oz (250g) no-soak apricots, chopped
half a cucumber, deseeded and chopped
half a yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 oz (75g) black olives, pitted and chopped
2 oz (50g) green olives, pitted and chopped
3 oz (75g) sundried tomatoes (see above)
handful fresh parsley, chopped
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
Place the couscous in a bowl and pour over the boiling water.  Give one stir then cover with cling-film (or a plate). Leave to stand for 10 minutes, by which time all the water should have been absorbed.   When ready, fluff up with a fork and stir in the oil, zest and juice of the lemon, and seasoning, then gently fold in the remaining ingredients.

Regular readers know by now that I'm very fond of eating tomatoes, fresh or canned.  I can eat cherry tomatoes like sweets.  As I've now eaten up all the fresh tomatoes, these will be replaced by chunks of red (or yellow/orange) bell peppers that are nearly as good in flavour.  Bell peppers are often expensive and as the bottled ready-roasted peppers work out cheaper (per pepper), then these work out to be cheaper.   As I rarely need to use a whole (fresh) pepper, usually removing one side, then replacing the rest in the fridge to use later, sometimes I find I haven't used it soon enough and it has begun to soften (but still usuable).  Have now changed to buying bags of sweet mini-peppers (a large assortment of reds, yellows and orange), and these are perfect for using in a recipe such as above, or other dishes.

Well, where's the storm we are supposed to be having.   It was certainly wet and windy during the night, but has perhaps passed over as all we seem to be having is a stiff breeze - at least at ground level for I see the clouds are fast moving.  It could be a lot worse, and if the forecast is correct, the worse has yet to come.    I will batten down the hatches and spend the weekend cooking.   However much as I moan about us not having windows in the main part of the kitchen (open to the conservatory at the long end of an 'L' shaped room, so I can only see outside if I walk down from the 'working end') when the weather is bad, it is quite nice not to be able to have it continually in view.

This week have been watching some of Anna Olsen's new cookery progs (Food Network), using fresh foods not as good (at least to me) as her baking series.  In the latter she 'teaches', in the new series there are more distractions.  Not that I always mind these, but when wishing to learn something new am not interested in anything else.   When watching Guy Fieri (?) working in his own kitchen, my attention is constantly being taken away by trying to see what is on the TV screen close to where he is working.  Nothing to do with cooking - its either white-water rafting, or motor racing or some sport. It does seem that in the US the TV screens seem permanently switched on whether anyone is watching or not.

Time for me to go, weekend starts tomorrow, and all being well, hope to be back blogging on the  Saturday but - as now usual - probably taking Sunday off, returning for another weeks taste of the Goode life on Monday.  Keep warm and well.  TTFN.