Wednesday, January 01, 2014

New Year's Day 2014

A very Happy New Year to you all of you who are girding your loins and ready to tackle this new year's challenge (although most of us may already have begun).  As ever, thanks to those who have sent their good wishes to myself and my Beloved.

Was watching the traditional Christmas spent in medieval times (TV last night).  I do so fancy Peter Ginn.  In those days the church had people fast from Advent until Christmas, mainly to make sure there was enough food to feast on over the Twelve days (which began on Christmas Day and ended on January 5th (12th night).  As ever, these occasional series of farm life over the centuries has been comfortable viewing.  Not sure if I'd enjoy being a woman cooking many centuries ago, but wouldn't mind the Victorian and Edwardian.  Cooking during the war years (done by my mother) must often been as hard as many centuries before - for the working classes, not the wealthy, for in those days it was only the labourers and the land owners they worked for (often paid in kind rather than cash).  It was the Industrial revolution that the 'nouveau riche' appeared (mill owners, store-keepers etc) who made a lot of money, could employ servants, but who were still looked down on by the elite.  I suppose.   It is all so different now.

Know what you mean Anna (France), when you say 'when we have all we need and most of what we want, can't ask for more'.  This fits my life now, thanks to the state pension that is not a lot but much more reliable than a paid job, at least we can 'cut our coat according to the cloth' (budget for all our bills etc - and there is sometimes a bit left over each month).
The same 'when we have all we need etc..' could be said of a millionaire's life. They usually have everything, but many want more, and as we read in the papers, having money never seems to bring true happiness.     Only those who have little money, often struggling to survive, can find more true happiness in the most simple things.   I found the greatest pleasure this Christmas when given a (free) catalogue from the GoodFood Show in London (all those recipes and foodie articles and ads - absolute bliss to read), must be a very sad lady to get to that stage. Or not!

Do you really hate the sight of water Alison (Essex)? If so I bet you've got a dish washer.  I don't mind looking at it (such as the sea), but hate getting my head wet (in the rain, or having my hair washed), yet enjoy having my hands in water (washing up the pots), and much prefer a bath to a shower. 
As the bottled (peeled) bell peppers are soft and 'juicy' they might not freeze too well, the only thing I can suggest it cut one in half (that you have in the fridge), then wrap it tightly in cling-film or foil, then freeze it for a day.  Then thaw and see how it turns out.  All foods can be frozen, it's what they are like when thawed that shows us whether it's worth doing or not.  Anything that holds a lot of water (lettuce, cucumber, strawberries....) thaws out to mush and not useable in the way intended.
However - if frozen and then 'mushy - the bell peppers could be made into a red pepper sauce or dip.

Have had little experience using fresh chestnuts Granny G. but do remember my mother roasting them on a shovel over the living room fire.  Myself - probably autumn of last year - did buy a 'net' of sweet chestnuts (much reduced in price) and was able to remove the skins by first simmering them in boiling water until the skins had softened enough for me to peel them.  Possibly more info could be found via the Internet.  Once cooked they could possibly be frozen, either whole or as a puree.
It always annoys me that although our road is lined with Horse Chestnut trees and the one outside our front wall sheds its 'conkers' all over our lawn, these are inedible (poisonous I believe), such as waste, yet have read that cooked well and long enough they can be used as part of a chicken's diet.

Still making the most of what we have, yesterday B had two fillets of smoked mackerel from a pack of four, leaving two for me.  These were put in the fridge (well wrapped to keep in the smell), and today I'll be making smoked mackerel pate with them, it should make at least two pots, one for me, and one to freeze.   If I blend yogurt into one pot of the pate I can turn it into a dip.  I just love eating dips (of all flavours).  So another way to use up tiny amounts of veggies (as crudités).  A wee carrot, cut into strips, mushroom cut into quarters, a few raw tiny cauliflower florets, a quarter of a bell pepper (cut into strips), stick of celery cut into strips, a few sugarsnap or mangetout peas....together these fill a plate (surrounding a pot of dip).  Might even make some nachos for dipping.

This brings an interesting point.  I do have a big (unopened) bag of Doritos tortilla chips.  Once opened I keep the remainder in an airtight tin (or jar) so they remain crisp.  However, it dawned on me that once I've used up things like that, and lots of other things as well, I'd then have to begin making them myself.  Not a problem because I know how to, but it all takes time.  A lot of time if a lot of things continually have to be made.
So it makes sense to now - occasionally - make what we already have.  This could be pasta (for lasagne or ravioli), tortilla chips (aka nachos- for eating with dips and chilli con carne), breadsticks (using a bit of leftover dough)...  All the above use flour (most cooks have stocked up with this), and if we make some of these now, then our stocks will last even longer.

This 'making now' doesn't have to be what we already have, at least not in the same form.  If we have chicken livers in the freezer we can use some to make pate (that freezes well), and use up the rest in the meal of the day.
Myself have begun to thaw out pastry (I buy it ready-made as my own turns out like breezeblocks), and roll it out to cut circles (using a teaplate to cut round) that will fit the tops of the empty Fray Bentos tins that I've saved over the years (I've got about six).  These are then interleaved with baking parchment (reusable), then wrapped tightly in foil and frozen, to remove one at a time when needed. Then, when I've some cooked meat and veg left over from a casserole I can fill the tins, top with the ready-made circle of pastry (thawed) and then freeze the pie it, ready to thaw and cook in the oven (thawed pastry can be refrozen)..
Pastry trimmings are re-rolled and often enough to cut out another circle, or - preferably - rolled and sprinkled with plenty of pepper, maybe a bit of dry mustard powder, and lots of grated cheese.  Folded and re-rolled several times, the final roll being as thin as possible, then cut into fingers to bake into 'cheese straws' (store well in an airtight tin one cooled and crisp).

I'm talking myself into 'using a block of pastry' today (I have several in the freezer and one in the fridge - this the first to be used).   B has gone out to the sailing club where they are having a New Year's Day 'silly swim'.  Not sure that anyone WILL swim, but fancy dress has been asked for (B is intending to wear the Father Christmas outfit he wore for the children's party before Christmas - that he hasn't yet returned).
As 'eats' are provided at the club (believe bacon butties, mince pies....) he said he will make his own supper, probably poached egg on toast.  However, it could be he might end up hungry, so will be making a big pot of soup, made with veggies (potato, carrot, onion, and parsnip) cooked in chicken stock.  Perhaps adding pearl barley as an extra (makes it more substantial, which is the same as 'filling').  If he doesn't want any soup, I will happily end up eating the lot over today and tomorrow.
Soup is something I rarely make to freeze, mainly because I don't have enough room in the freezer, and anyway I enjoy making soup and then sitting down to eat it.   Having to thaw out ready-made soup and then reheat it to me feels the same as missing a TV prog I wanted to see and then having to watch it on iPlayer.  It's just not the same, so I rarely do this.  But that's just me, don't let it stop you making a big batch of soup (using up veggies that need it), and then freezing the surplus.  THAT makes sense.  Perhaps a case of 'don't do as I do, do as I say'?

Most of us have some left-over chocolates - from an assortment - that are not our favourites (myself don't care for soft centres filled with strawberry or orange cream (although I love the coffee flavoured ones). But have found that if I put the 'not-like's into a bowl over simmering water, they melt into a lovely flavoured chocolate sauce that is great when poured over scoops of ice-cream. Why I like the flavour when melted and not when kept whole beats me, but I do.  Suppose this 'sauce' could have more chocolate added, and when melted other things stirred in (chopped no-soak apricots, mixed dried fruits, nuts, marshmallows, crushed biscuits.... to make 'Rocky Road'.  Or perhaps add a little more chocolate and pour it over freshly popped sweetcorn.

Here is a recipe for a biscuit dough that freezes well, so perfect when you have the oven on cooking something else, and a spare shelf to cook a few biscuits at the same time. Left-over soft-centred chocolates could be used instead of the chocolate chips.  Otherwise just chop/grate a block of chocolate.
Many times - to avoid using expensive butter - I use a soft marg.  This does alter the flavour of course, but not enough to make a difference.  However, if giving as a gift, or making as a treat and you do have enough butter, then use it.  
Double Choc Cookies: makes about a dozen
6 oz (175g) butter, softened (see above)
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
7 oz (200g) plain flour
2 tblsp cocoa powder
4 oz (100g) chocolate chips (see above)
Cream the butter and sugar together using a wooden spoon.  Sift together the flour and the cocoa and stir this into the creamed mixture. By this time the mixture may be thick, so when adding the chocolate chips, you may need to mix them in with your hands.
Halve the dough and place each on a sheet of cling-film and roll into a log about 2" (5cm) thick. Wrap up with the film and chill for one hour (or keep in the fridge for several days if you wish to bake more biscuits the same week - otherwise freeze for up to 6 weeks, then slice and leave to thaw for a few minutes before baking - or cook from frozen and add an extra minute or two cooking time).
When ready to bake, slice the log into 1cm thick rounds (about the thickness of a £1 coin) and place on a parchment lined baking tray.   Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 10 -12 minutes, then leave to cool on the tray (where they will continue cooking for a few minutes).

Although many of us have freezers still with little room to spare, once we have space and used up most of our frozen chicken, then consider buying whole chickens in future (often cheaper in supermarkets when we buy three at a time).  Jointing the birds ourselves gives us 8 cuts: 2 breasts,2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 wings.  These joints always work out cheaper(by weight) than if bought ready-jointed, in pack, and we have the added bonus of a lovely carcase that we use to make lots of lovely chicken stock for almost free, and because we are not trained butchers, we usually find we have left bits of flesh stuck to the bones, and - when cooked - one carcase then will usually provide us with at least 8 oz of cooked chicken flesh we can pick off the bones and use to bake a pie, or freeze to add later add to another dish.

If roasting a chicken and then using the carcase for stock, always ask the diners to save the bones from any joints served (and skin), as these are necessary to make a good stock.  Makes even better flavoured stock when the bones are broken to expose any marrow etc (do the same when using a raw carcase). 
As there is often not much meat on chicken wings (it depends on how they are jointed) I save these, bagging them up together, adding more when I get them, as these alone make excellent chicken stock, also providing plenty of cooked meat once the stock has been made.
Myself include all chicken skin to the pan as once the stock has been strained and chilled, the fat from the skin sets on top and I use this for frying and for those who make their own pastry, it can be used instead of another fat when making pastry for (say) a chicken pie.

But whether we buy packs of joints or joint a bird ourselves, remember never to freeze the pack as-is, as once thawed we have to cook the lot.  Whether meat, poultry, or sausages, I always open the packs and wrap what I can singly (usually joints) and sausages usually in pairs (the amount I might wish to cook at any one time), THEN freeze.  That way I never have more than I need at any one time.

It's always worth paying extra for the larger birds as they have more flesh on them in relation to bone weight.  If the breasts are large one can often be enough to serve two, especially if chopped and other veggies added (as with a casserole or curry etc). 

Enough for today.  Time for me to have a play in the kitchen and see what else I can make to store, and also check the veggies in the fridge to find out what needs using up.  Certainly mushrooms, so I might make some 'duxelles' (which can then be frozen).  Or I could dry some and store them in a jar ready to add to a casserole this time next year.   I shouldn't need to buy mushrooms for quite a while as I have a new crop almost ready to appear in my home-growing kit.

Won't be blogging tomorrow as it is Norma the Hair day, and maybe also having coffee with my neighbour later.  However, if I do find time after Norma has left and my neighbour changes the day (she sometimes does), then I just might find time to blog.  But don't hold your breath.  Will be back on Friday.  Hope to see you then.   Meanwhile, keep those comments coming. TTFN.