Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Negative Approach

We give a welcome to Liv (Montreal, Canada), who we hope is recovering from her cold/flu.  It is a very good idea to freeze left-overs (meals) in individual portions as these don't need anything more than thawing/reheating, and when we feel poorly, they save so much time.   We don't have to feel ill to take advantage.  Just saving time (and of course money!) is something we can all do with now and again.

Another article in the Daily Mail caught my attention.  This about "Xmas food BOGOFS that got binned".
Seems that one if five people wasted more than 10% of the food bought over the festive period.  And 'tons of fresh vegetables,  salad, mince pies and turkey were binned because they could not be eaten before they went off'.

'....before they went off' seems to indicate that shoppers are still following the 'use-by' dates on the fresh foods, and considering that veggies such as carrots also have recommended dates when sold in bags (but not loose), this could be the cause of much wastage. 
Apart from salads, there is nothing really that can't be kept for several days in the fridge, certainly lasting well over the festive period, and if not keeping too well, could be cooked and frozen.  Perhaps I'm wrong in expecting most families now to have at least a small freezer (even if only a compartment at the top of their fridge). 

A few more facts from the survey: '72% of shoppers said they were tempted by the Bogofs, while 70% said they bought extra because of the half-price deals'.  But there was one thing very interesting: 'some 45% of the over 65's did not waste or throw away any of the food, which compares to a third of those aged 18 - 24'.
This seems to prove that older folk have the advantage of having learned how to cook, either taught by their mothers, or at school.  Once supermarkets came to our shores and convenience foods/meals began to fill their shelves, it seemed that all the work was being then done for us, and no need to bother to cook any more.  Just open a can or pack and heat things up.
We cannot blame younger folk for lack of knowledge when it comes to what to buy and what is safe to eat (whatever the date says).  What we do need is plenty of foodie educations, either in schools (could be night school), free cookery demos in public places, and lots of sensible cookery progs on TV. 

When it comes to buying food (they say we buy too much because we are tempted), personally I see nothing wrong with Bogofs - these being nothing more than a half-price offer in disguise except you have to buy two to get the reduction.   If we would normally buy the product on offer (a Bogof or half-price singles/packs), and it would store, freeze, or even shared with a friend or neighbour (who then shares her - different - offers with you) then why not take advantage of these savings, as - over a year - they could reduce our food budget enormously.  It's these 'offers' that are in my larder that I'm using at the moment - and as I've now gone a whole month without having to buy anything (apart from a 4pt container of milk that B brought in and I didn't need - having UHT, but have already told you that....) and hoping to last at least another month (apart from more milk, eggs and maybe a lettuce and cucumber....) buying food on offer does work.
You may be wondering why I'm buying salads during the winter, when I could be using the plentiful seasonal (root) veggies that I still have.  Read on and you will find out.

Whether it is because I'm trying to lose weight or maybe I'm just fed up of watching so many cookery progs that I'm being a bit more selective about what is on TV at the moment.  Have not been watching the 'sports' Bake Off (in the hope it will be repeated over the weekend), but do see the 'Baker's Challenge' (not sure if that is the correct name) on ITV in the afternoon, although it's not actually 'grabbing' me.

Decided to give 'Taste' another trial last night, but decided it was not even worth the viewing. We barely saw any preparation of the different dishes, and when they ended up on the spoons again, couldn't make out what they were anyway.  Don't think I'll be watching again.

How different it is these days, celebrity cooks showing dishes that most of us can't afford to make, and dishes that most of us wouldn't wish to eat.  Wish that those programmes made by 'ordinary' ladies could be re-shown.  Anyone remember Dorothy Sleightholme?  Believe she was a farmer's wife from Yorkshire.  There was another (older) lady who had a TV series, believe she might have once been a cook in a large house, can't remember her name.  Both showed how to make good, honest food that would warm the cockles of our hearts, using basic (and local) ingredients that still would not cost a lot.

Instead of the 'Bake Off' I chose to watch a programme about obesity (and the hospital that dealt with it).  Great programme to watch when I was toying with the idea of going into the kitchen to get myself a snack.  Stopped me right in my tracks I can tell you - leading to me NOT snacking, and another 1lb lost in 24 hours!!!

My 'diet' is going well, probably because I have discovered that I'm now eating a lot of what are called 'negative calories'.  These are foods that take more calories to digest than they contain, such as lettuce, cucumber, celery...  So no wonder that - even if making myself a huge bowl of said salad veggies, and then later eating another one - I can also add hard-boiled eggs and some grated cheese (Edam as it is lower in fat), the body taking time to digest both of these and burning off more calories as it does so.  And the pounds keep dropping off.

Seems that what is said to happen - the earth's wobble on its axis causing extremes of weather every 30 years or so - is about right, for while North America and Canada have been experiencing extreme cold, in Australia they are getting the reverse - really hot temperatures.
Maybe, in the future, when more is known about climate conditions, we will find people taking a four -to six month holiday in the southern hemisphere during our winter, returning back to our more gentle English summer (which is the best in the whole world and cannot be beaten when we have a good one).
A next door neighbour has got it right, she owns property in Barbados and spends half her year there, returning to her home in England usually late March (or is it April), then back off to the warmer climes again in late October.  Not sure whether that sort of life would suit me, Britain has so much to offer, and once the bad weather has abated, it is a tourists paradise.  So much history in such a small island, and had to admit (shamefully) I've not yet seen it all, maybe not (yet) been to every county (and how different each one I've seen seems to be - different terrain, different architecture, even regional differences with foods eaten - not forgetting the sheer pleasure of listening to the local accents).

It's lovely having the house to myself all day and am able to do a lot more 'chores'.  My Beloved does not like to see me cleaning (hoovering, dusting etc) when he is in the house, and certainly NOT in the room he is sitting in.  Never quite sure why, perhaps he feels guilty sitting there with his feet up while I slave away.  Mind you he doesn't mind if the slave action is in the kitchen - making his meals. It's me then that hates to have him around when I cook - he gets in my way.  Most of the time it's almost as though we are 'ships that pass in the night'.  We've just about got it right.  Even so, being really alone ALL day is something that hasn't happened for a couple or so years (previous to that B used to take long sailing holidays on the Tall Ships, sometimes for a whole month - lovely!).  I miss the solitude, perhaps being an only child have learned to be comfortable in my own company.  But - as I used to find - after several weeks of really being alone - it was good to have B back, even though he can be very annoying at times, I love him to bits.

Today have written up a list of 'things to do today', but before I sign off will give a few more recipes in the hope that someone is reading my blog there being a dearth of comments recently.  I do so love hearing from readers that when comments disappear I feel everyone has drifted off to pastures new.  However, I do have a 'number total' of readers each day, so can work out how many have logged on each day and the numbers seem to be going up, not down, so it's just me nagging you to write to me. You don't have to.  I'd just love it if you would.

First recipe today should be made using flat field mushrooms.  The chestnut 'flats' are called Portobello, but otherwise are the same.  Chestnut mushrooms are much firmer, store for longer, and seem to be more 'meaty'. 
If you haven't the large mushrooms, then either make the 'rarebit' and serve on toast, OR slice smaller mushrooms, cook in a little butter until tender, then spoon these onto toast, topping with the rarebit. As per usual I would use any beer (even lager) if I hadn't the stout, and would use any hard cheese, and Dijon mustard if I hadn't the English.  You could omit the onion if you wish.

Mushroom Rarebit: serves 4
4 large flat mushrooms (see above)
olive or sunflower oil
1 oz (25g) butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tblsp plain flour
3 fl oz (75ml) Guinness or other stout
4 oz (100g) mature Cheddar, grated
1 tsp English mustard
salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
Remove the stems from the mushrooms (keep these to chop up and add to another dish). Brush both sides of the mushroom caps generously with oil and place in a baking dish gills side up. Bake at 200C, gas 6 for 15 minutes, then set aside.
Meanwhile make the 'rarebit' by melting the butter over medium heat, adding the onion and frying this for 10 or so minutes until softened.  Stir in the flour and cook for a further minute, then reduce the heat and add the stout, cheese, mustard, and seasoning.  Keep stirring until the cheese has melted, and continue stirring as you add the eggs, and until the mixture thickens (this should take about 5 minutes).  Don't overcook or the eggs will end up scrambled.
Spoon the mixture onto the mushroom caps, then place under the grill and cook for a few minutes until the rarebit is puffed and golden.
Can be eaten as a light lunch/supper dish alone or with salad, or with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable as a more substantial meal.

Over the past months am finding I prefer a meal to have a bit of a kick to it, and why I now always seem to add a good squirt of Heinz 'Fiery Chill' Ketchup to many soups I make for myself.  Before cutting out carbos I always enjoyed spreading mustard on the bread when using meat (beef, ham, chicken...) as a filling.   I've even enjoyed a sarnie with no filling, just spread with mustard or chilli ketchup. 
Although my B prefers our hot English mustard, myself also use Dijon and whole-grain mustard according to what I'm eating.  Dijon is milder than the English mustard, and whole-grain also seems milder and slightly sweeter (but that maybe just how it seems to me).
In the 'old days' when mustard was always freshly made using mustard powder (I still use this for certain recipes), when made with milk instead of water it would be milder.   It was always said that Colman's made their fortune by the amount of mustard that was left on the plate (or in the mustard dish) after a meal was finished.  Not a lot of food went to waste in the old days, but made mustard was scraped of the plates and binned.

Next recipe uses chicken thighs (more flavour and cheaper than chicken breasts).  Preferably use thighs that have not had the bone removed as the bone adds even more flavour, but we can get away with using less than the recommended amount of chicken if we use boneless thighs, and cut the flesh into large chunks, making up the shortfall by using more of the veg., and to make it even cheaper use less parsnip and include some carrots. Remove the skin from the chicken before cooking.
The main thing to remember when reducing the amount of one or more ingredients (usually the main one/s), as long as the total weight of ingredients remains the same,, then there will be enough to feed as many as the recipe states. 

Sweet Mustard Chicken: serves 4
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
4 small or 8 large chicken thighs (see above)
2 onions, finely chopped
12 oz (350g) parsnips, cut into batons
half pint (300ml) chicken or vegetable stock
2 tblsp wholegrain mustard
2 tblsp runny honey
pinch dried thyme (or dried mixed herbs)
salt and pepper
Put the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the chicken thighs and brown the meat until golden, then - using a slotted spoon - remove from pan and set aside.  To the oil in the pan add the onions and cook for 5 minutes until softened.  
Tuck the chicken thighs into the onions and add the parsnips.  Mix the stock with the mustard and honey and pour this over, sprinkling on the dried herb.  Bring to the boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes until the chicken is tender (if you have the time it can happily bubble away for 90 minutes - the longer it takes the more tender the chicken will be). Add seasoning to taste and eat as-is or serve with a green vegetable.

Depression has almost hit me.  Is it me or what, but just flicking through a small booklet (supplement to a cookery mag) it shows many dishes that I really could not afford to make - such as 'slow-roast duck'.. 'roast leg of lamb'... 'roast pork loin'...  True there are some less expensive ones, but even these are not exactly 'cheap'.   Maybe I've lost the plot and that it is expected that everyone should spend a lot more (than I do) on food these days.
But then life seems to have turned on its head.  In my youth people were either wealthy (usually the 'gentry'), or earned enough money to keep a roof over their head.  Or could be downright poor.
Nowadays it seems the 'poor' (on benefits) expect to have the same sort of life-style that the 'upper crust' used to have (cars, holidays abroad, and now plasma TVs etc...), not to mention eating the same foods served in those days only at the rich man's table (grapes, pineapple, fresh berries out of season, and especially chicken that even in my youth was cooked only on special occasions).  When it comes to food we've never had it so good, it's just the rising prices that now make us think twice before we buy. 

Let us not think negatively when it comes to preparing meals today - after all, our old traditional fare was never expensive, and because these dishes have been pushed aside in favour of the dishes from other countries, we could make as start by serving them again (as the top restaurants are now doing, and able to charge a high price because such simple delights as Treacle Tart have been sadly missed and there are people - especially men - who would be glad to pay a king's ransom just to have a taste).

With that in mind I'm going to hunt out some old recipes that will still be low cost, and of course - as in the old days - very easy to make.  Hope to give some tomorrow, so keep watching this space.  TTFN.