Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Taste the Waste

Like many (who are interested in food) I watched the new series: "Taste" last night.  If you did see it I'd be interested in your thoughts.  To me it was a complete waste of time.  As an aspiring cook, I do like to see how food is prepared and plated up (gives me inspiration), but yesterday we were told it was not the appearance of the food that counted, it was all to do with the 'taste'.  Of course food should taste good, but as all we saw was a spoonful of food, mixed up together, e - as viewers - had to make do with that.  Maybe one day we would be able to have 'smellyvision', but not yet.
A thought has just struck me - do know that sometimes we are able to scratch a square (usually in a magazine) that will then give off an aroma (usually perfume), why can't we be provided with a booket of 'scratchpads' that match up with meals being shown on TV, then if we can't taste, at least we can smell what is being shown.

Seems that now that the 12 best flavours have been chosen, and each judge having four cooks in their own (studio) kitchens, it could be we see more action. So perhaps worth watching again, but if we seen nothing much more than spoonfuls being offered (again)  ' to taste', then I'll give the series a miss. 

What I did find amusing was how the French chef was getting desperate as the contestants - who were deemed worthy - chose either Nigella or the American chef as their mentor.  Towards the end he seemed to settle for anyone the other two judges had dismissed. Had it been me I'd have avoided the US chef and gone for the French.   In the old days (understandable then but not now) the French thought the Brits were dreadful cooks.  Myself feel the same about the US - all they seem to manage to cook well are meat, cookies and cakes (all OTT by our standards but worth looking at).  No doubt the US feel the same about us and why they have sent over their burger bars, Starbucks, Subs (and the rest) so that we have something to enjoy.  Yes, I know, I'm being picky, but 'Taste' was so obviously a State-side type of programme that really doesn't seem to sit comfortably in this country.  Even Nigella didn't seem her usual self (and almost certainly this prog was filmed before her recent domestic difficulties).

Have to admit to being too old-fashioned when it comes to life these days (Big Brother, X factor, Britain needs Talent.  Dancing on Ice.... not my kind of viewing - although I do like 'Strictly....').
During the ads yesterday (the ads are on for a lot longer these days, am able to make myself a hot drink, and could even cook a microwave ready-made meal in the time it takes for the ads.), but as I was saying... during the ads I mentioned to B how so much of life is now taken for granted.  In the old days people had to light candles if they wanted to see in the dark, later there were oil lamps (that always needed cleaning and the wicks trimming), followed by gas lamps.  Now, all we have to do is press a switch. 
No longer do we need to light a fire to warm a room or cook with, we have central heating that will turn itself on and off (and can also be turned on and off by remote control from a distance using a mobile phone or something).  We have washing machines and tumble dryers to do the laundry, dish-washers to wash dishes, even cordless robotic vacuum cleaners that do the job all by themselves while we sit with our feet up.
No longer do we have to man-handle a pump to draw up cold water, all we have to do is turn a tap and the water flows, and HOT water as well.  Now we can have taps that supply boiling water, so electric kettles could soon be obsolete.  Maybe in the future taps that will provide milk/lager/OJ?

We don't have to get up to change channels on the TV (now we use the remote), and barely have to walk more than a yard or two outdoors to get from A to B (just use the car).   Said to B "in 500 years everyone will have lost the use of their legs".

Yet, to the younger folk (who know no other way of life), this is all taken for granted. One of the advantages of being a great age (such as myself) is that to me all this still seems like living in luxury, so I both appreciate it and revel in it. There are a few things I miss, the main one being a fire burning in a grate.  How I used to love sitting by the fire, watching a burning log collapse and send sparks up the chimney.  During frosty weather the flames would take on a green tinge.

We would sit by the fire using a toasting fork to toast our bread, this then spread with cinnamon butter that my mother had prepared (softened butter mixed with a little sugar and cinnamon), often enough light from the fire that we didn't need room lights (or maybe just one small lamp), and sit cosy and warm listening to the radio (anyone remember Dick Barton, Special Agent?).  Many houses these days are built without a fireplace.  How sad is that?
Knitting and crochet was a common skill in those days, and this could also be done in dim light, sitting by the fire, preferably in a rocking chair (we do have a rocking chair, needs reupholstering but cost me only £5).

We have gained many labour-saving devices, and a lot of luxury in our lives, but we should never take these for granted, for if - for some reason - we have to do without, then many folk could feel very deprived.  Me - being old - would not feel any real deprivation (other than the inconvenience), I'd just feel as though I'd gone back to life as how it used to be, and return to living as before.  Not so easy the older we get I grant you, but possible.

Maybe a lot of misery these days can be caused by the way we approach what life throws at us.  For some, doing without will be thought of as poverty, living on the bread-line etc, for others it is just another challenge, and as (hopefully all) readers know, a challenge can turn out to be great fun .  It's what we do with what we've got, and catching up with 'a girl called Jack' website I see she has turned her sheer poverty round to something quite amazing.  She is now in Tanzania representing an organization that deals with poverty over there.   What she has achieved in a short time proves that  we can turn bad times round and make them work for us - not against us.

Had an interesting day in the kitchen yesterday, made an 'extended ' batch of bread dough (one packet of bread mix, adding half as much again of strong bread flour and extra liquid).  This made one large loaf and eight baps (bread rolls).  Then decided to make a spiced fruit loaf.  The teacakes I'd made at the weekend were not to B's approval. "Not spicy enough" he said (he said that with a previous bathc and this time I'd put in more heaped teaspoons of three different spices but still not enough), and "make them using white flour, not brown".  Told B I had used white flour and it was the spices that turned the bread brown, but "Tesco's teacakes are white, and spicier than yours..." he whimpered. 

So, instead of making teacakes, decided to make a loaf that B could slice and toast.  Cut down on the spices so the loaf looked whiter (did a bit, but not much), added grated orange zest and orange juice to give a bit more flavour.   Added icing sugar and fruit.  Baked two small loaves, one to use, one to freeze, and B said "it was a bit better".  Quite honestly I can do without his extreme criticism, and will probably go back to buying the teacakes again, but only when I go back to ordering (like one pack of four, once a month), so he'll have to wait weeks before each delivery instead of having them 'on tap' so to speak.   If he wants to buy them from Morrison's (not quite as good as Tesco, but seemingly better than mine), he'll have to pay for them himself. 

Suppose that B has a point. I mean, if I really enjoy eating something and B then took over the cooking and it wasn't up to par, then I'd have a moan.  Even though I moan a lot about B, need to be fair.

Even I - who have strong views about not buying what we don't need - can empathise with you Tess.  I too can easily spend a lot of money buying what I fancied, and also fill my basket with other things I hadn't intended to buy, and the main reason why I shop on-line.  Let's face it, shopping gives us pleasure, and those who cannot afford to shop till they drop buying handbags and shoes etc, then rely on buying food to give us the same buzz.  At least food is more use to us than another pair of boots. Even so, do we really need all that we buy?  Of course not.  It's just the way we are.  Another form of luxury that we have now taken for granted.

Interesting to know that eating swedes helps to give relief to gout sufferers Alison.  Not sure if you know but black cherries also work.  So plant a cherry tree (cover with netting as the fruit ripens or the birds will strip the lot).  Believe that black cherries grow quite well in shady parts of the garden, other cherries like lots of sun, but this is a fact worth checking.  I could be wrong.
If no fresh cherries available, then dried (or canned) black cherries are almost as good as the fresh.

A welcome to Karen who - sorry to hear - is disabled and living on a very low income.  Left with £40 (once the mortgage has been paid), to cover the rest of the household bills must be a massive challenge.  Let us hope we don't get the severe cold that is covering the US at the moment, for then the fuel bills could take most of the money, leaving very little for food.

Food that gives internal warmth is what we need during the cold winter months.  It's almost as good as cuddling a hot water bottle.  Hot chunky soups are ideal, and a jacket potato - eaten with the skin - will also warms us from our insides to our outers. 

Yesterday mentioned how dreadful it was that pensioners were having to stay in bed to keep warm, yet in the 70's - when we had electricity cuts - we were all told how to improve our lives - go to bed early to keep warm, share a bath/shower to save the hot water, wear an extra layer (or two) of clothing.  Everyone took heed and didn't make an issue out of it.  Now it seems that one step back (to how it used to be) is a step too far.  We shouldn't have to do any of it.  Perhaps not, but then should we expect everyone's life to be as comfortable as the wealthy used to have?  We may not have such a strong division of 'class' as we used to have, but it does seem that the working class of today seem to live a much better (and often higher) standard of living than those who we would once think of as 'upper crust'.   Think holidays abroad, big plasma TV screens, more than one car to a family, and you see what I mean.

Jo (New Zealand) has given us an example of how normal life was (during the colder weather) in her younger days.  Normal then is not normal now, but that's purely because we've been lucky enough to have all the advancements in technology.   But all come at a cost.  Most of these are fuel-related (gas, electricity, petrol), and prices for all these rise, and continue to rise.  If only we could go back to the old days, the old ways, then we'd have more money in our pocket, probably feel a great deal happier as well. 

This brings me back to food - this also rising in price.  Even so, being blessed with such a variety, it should be easy enough to feed ourselves well, just as long as we are prepared to try new dishes.  Some people are stuck in a rut, wanting meat and two veg every day and not prepared to deviate from that.  Let us hope that many of us will attempt new dishes, using new (to us) and cheaper ingredients.

Now that many of us are keeping away from the shops and using up what we have in store, and especially food that might normally have ended up in the bin, this almost has the makings of a new cookbook, a good title for that would be "Taste the Waste".  Anyone like to write it?  Feel free to use any of my suggestions and recipes.

In a recent cookery mag that dropped through the letterbox (my Christmas gift to myself is a year's subscription), there was an advertising supplement: "Hellman's Sandwich of the Century" (a selection of different sarnies from the finalists of Hellman's best sandwich challenge).
The winning sandwiches, to me, were very 'American' in that they were massive. Lots of lovely ande stacked fillings, you could say each was a meal in itself, and probably best not to follow their reasoning of these being 'easy to eat, portable, and an anytime treat', as eaten as a snack, we can only add more to our ever increasing waistlines.

Probably not meant to be how it seemed, but the winner's sarnie called 'Boredom Buster', made from avocado, Stilton cheese, smoked bacon, chicken breast, and (of course) Hellman's, layered between two slices of multispeed bread...was given a bit of an explanation.  The idea for this came from making the use of left-overs, the winner's 'favourite dish to cook when she hosts a dinner party was chicken stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in bacon'.  She then went on to say "there's always plenty left over, which I love to slice next day and layer in a sandwich...". 
Have to say that when I entertain, having food left over would mean that people really didn't like it very much, or is it that I enjoy cooking for folk who like to ask for seconds (and thirds?).  I always make enough and more, but never have 'plenty left over'.   Even so, will try the chicken stuffed with Stilton and wrapped in bacon, for if B doesn't like it, I can then use it to make a sarnie (although as I am not eating carbos at the moment, will probably eat it cold with salad.

Not sure why, it maybe the eggs, but yesterday - having hard-boiled three eggs, shelled while still warm, seasoned well with salt and pepper and a drizzle of Thai sweet chilli sauce - ate them (still warm) during the morning, and these really filled me up.  
Made a big pot of vegetable soup - but instead of using chicken stock, used a tub of (home-made) beef stock, adding red lentils to the veg (instead of pearl barley with chicken stock).  Added a little Bisto Best Beef Gravy Granules to add a bit more meaty flavour (and also help to thicken it).  B absolutely loved it, even I had a big mugful, and that was enough for me.  Normally I get the urge to nibble during the evening, and yesterday kept trying to think of something to nibble at, but just couldn't face eating anything else.  That's almost a first for me, but have to say that eating hard-boiled eggs really does help me to lose weight.   Nigella Lawson's husband lost several stone on a diet of 9 eggs a day,  Margaret Thatcher did the same, but ate less eggs (believe she had four a day).  Believe this may have something to do (and I could be wrong again) with the body working harder to digest the eggs, and so burning off more calories as it does so.  Maybe as many calories as the eggs have themselves (although the protein and minerals etc in the eggs will not be lost, the body making use of them - as it should).   My weight is rapidly going down, another 2lb lost overnight.  There is plenty of soup left - meant for me (for the next two days), but although suggesting to B he had chicken tonight (he hasn't had chicken for a week or so), he said he wanted some more of the soup (once I mentioned I'd be having it), so we'll have to share it, and he will have the chicken tomorrow.

It's rather funny really, B is now wanting to lose weight as he's gained quite a bit over the past few months, all due to his constant snacking once he's eaten his (large portion) main meal of the day.  Almost on the hour every hour during the evening he gets up and goes and gets himself something on toast, or a sarnie, or cheese, biscuits and grapes, or eats bars of chocolat.  He is pig sick that I'm losing weight without taking any exercise at all, and he goes to the gym and still gains.  Maybe that's why he wants soup and nothing else (for his 'mains'), but he will then keep going and toasting slices of fruit loaf (liberally spread with butter), followed by home-made baps (spread with plenty of butter) filled with slices of home-cooked ham.  And repeated until bed-time.

B is having a medical check at the surgery this Friday, and if the doc. finds his cholesterol is high and he has to cut out his butter (and sweets etc), B will do this, but then will be so miserable he will be unbearable to live with.  Not being able to comfort eat will play havoc with his temperament.  But then this would be another challenge, making him lovely things to eat that don't contain cholesterol or sugar or any other naughty bits.   Personally I'd rather give up a few years of my life and enjoy what I eat, rather than live longer in misery.

As some of us may have cranberries left over from Christmas (can be dried off a bit in the oven), or maybe have some dried cherries in the larder (or use chopped no-soak apricot, dates, sultanas or other mixed dried fruits), and if short of (or no) seeds, add extra nuts (chopped) and with the other main ingredients, this recipe should fill those gaps.  If not wishing to 'snack', the granola bars could be eaten as 'breakfast on the run', added to a lunchbox as 'afters',  or instead of pudding after a main course.  As they keep well for at least a week in an airtight tin, yet another 'making' to use some of what we have.

To keep us thinking positive, look on these as a 'treat', expensive to buy ready-made, but virtually 'free' to those of us who are using up ingredients that we have already paid for.  Yes, I know - eventually - many will need replacing, but that's in the distant future.  Just live for today.

Spicy Fruity Granola Bars: makes 12
8 oz (225g) porridge oats
4 oz (100g) sunflower seeds (or similar)
2 oz (50g) sesame seeds
2 oz (50g) chopped walnuts
4 oz (100g) butter
3 tblsp honey
4 oz (100g) light muscovado sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 oz (100g) dried cranberries (see above)
Mix together the oats, seeds, and nuts.  Place in a greased and lined 18 x 25cm baking tin and oven-cook for 5 - 10 minutes at 170C, gas 3. Take care they don't burn.
Meanwhile, put the butter, honey, and sugar into a largish saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the butter has melted, then add the toasted oat mixture, the cinnamon, and the dried fruit.  Stir well until combined and everything coated with the buttery, sticky mix.   Return to the baking tin, pressing down lightly to level the surface, then bake (same oven temp) for 30 minutes.  Leave to cool in the tin before cutting into 12 bars.   Store in an airtight tin.

A reminder that - at this time of the year - potatoes often begin to sprout.  Keep checking those we have in store (probably in a potato bag), and keep rubbing off the tiny sprouts as they appear.  If any have grown longer sprouts, then aim to use these spuds a.s.a.p.
Myself keep the small 'new' potatoes in the fridge, still in the plastic bags they come in, but always breaking the bag so the air can get in (otherwise the spuds will soften and go soggy/mouldy).  They hardly ever then sprout.
Apparently, we should not store potatoes (of any sort) in the fridge as eventually the starches change to sugar, and this may make them slightly sweeter when cooked (although can't say I've noticed), even so, worth keeping them chilled as then there are not to go to waste. Larger potatoes I keep in a special cloth bag kept in the coolest and darkest place of the kitchen.

Here is a recipe to make use of some of the large potatoes that may have begun to sprout.  As long as the spuds are clean (and sprout free, with no green colouring), you could leave them in their skins, but if you prefer, peel them, but thinly.
These wedges eat well with many foods such as sausages (can be roasted in the same oven in the same time), and/or with a dish of spiced up baked beans.  Or just as a not 'nibble', maybe with a chunk of cheese?
Spicy Potato Wedges:  serves 2 (easily doubled)
1 tblsp plain flour
half teaspoon paprika, cayenne, or chilli powder
1 tsp dried mixed herbs (opt)
salt and pepper
2 tsp sunflower oil
2 baking potatoes, each cut into 8 wedges
Mix together the flour and chosen spice(s), and herbs (if using), adding seasoning to taste (it makes it easier to coat the potatoes if this mixture is put into a plastic bag.
Drizzle the oil over the potato wedges, tossing (or rubbing with a finger) so the cut surfaces have a smear of oil, then add to the flour mixture and toss so the spuds are well coated.  Tip into a roasting tin and bake for about 30 minutes at 200C, gas 6 until crisp and cooked through.

Not sure what is happening with the weather over the rest of the country, as despite the western side of England getting the worst, we seem to have been more fortunate.  Today just a middling breeze and a bit of sun shining through a hazy blue sky.  It could be a lot worse, and still will be for many unfortunate people who live in the worst flooded areas.   One good thing - the days are getting longer and the nights getting shorter, and deep down within me there is almost a stirring of spring.  Almost.

No blog tomorrow as my morning is fully booked up, but will be back again on Friday. Hope you will be able to join me then, and looking forward to hearing more about your 'using-up' experiments.
Have a good day and TTFN.