Saturday, February 15, 2014

And Still Falls the Rain...

It was only a year ago when I couldn't wait to get up in the mornings, almost at first light in the summer, and even while still dark in the winter. 
This winter all I've wanted to do is stay in bed, and even now the nights get shorter, even the daylight is not persuading me that a new day has dawned with much to look forward to.  

Being kept awake by high winds or the rain flinging itself against the bedroom window tends to make for light sleep, followed by lovely dreams that I'm loath to leave (if I wake I find it easy to fall asleep and continue the same dream).   So perhaps blame the weather (although in truth it could be old age) that makes me want to stay in bed.   
This morning was very tempted to do so - it is quite windy and not surprisingly - raining.  Quite cold just a few degrees above freezing, but when damp, the weather feels colder than if there was snow on the ground.  More storms are expected over the country, but the weathermen are hoping it will be the last of the current storms - until the next lot arrive.  
As we are told it will takes months for the flood water to drain away (the ground is so sodden), any rain just raises the water level.   And there's me complaining that I have to get out of a warm bed, just to begin a perfectly normal day.  We are so lucky where we live, it must be sheer hell for many other parts of the country, especailly in the south and the south-west, although I've heard that Cumbria (the next country to us, a spit away across the bay, has also had severe weather, and now snow.

People used to be amused at the way we Brits always chat about our weather when we meet, but now we really have something to talk about, and it's not been good.
Maybe we've just been extra lucky with the weather over the past 100 years.  Snow falling when it should and where it should, rain ditto, and - here in Britain - fairly good summers, not too hot, not too cool.  In fact, just right.

Yet, the earth 'calendar' (if you can call it that) seems to have cycles of inclement weather,  we all know of the Ice Age, in fairly recent 'earth time',  and before that, fossils found in England show that dinosaurs lived here, and there was much tropical vegetation, so when it comes to weather, either long or short-term, it is swings and roundabouts.  We've never had it so good, now perhaps we are seeing the other side of the picture.   Just as long as we can cope, that's all that matters. 

As always, once I've had my Saturday moan, I look to your comments to cheer me up, and this batch does just that.
Love your idea Amanda, always having a glass of wine to drink when making risotto.  They call this 'cook's perks', and one I will now do each time I sit stirring the rice, not just occasionally (memo - make sure I make risotto - any sort - at least once a week from now on!!!).

Not sure whether I feel sorry or pleased for Anna, hearing that where she lives (near the Alps) it is unseasonably warm and there is little snow for skiing.  Having clear roads for travelling to work must make it easier, but expect even when snow-bound the roads are cleared far more rapidly than here as people used to snow are a great deal better at coping with it than us Brits.

Anna and Sarina's mention of holidaying in Morocco   reminds me of when I had two weeks holiday (with a friend) in Tunisia.  We left England on February 2nd when the country was covered in black-ice, and it was bitterly cold, arriving in Tunisia at mid-night, and waking the next morning to the sun shining, and summer warmth (not warm enough for the 'natives' who still wore thick capes over their Western suits). Going to our bedroom balcony, looking over Sousse and the sea, I saw hotel staff watering the red geraniums in the flower beds.    It was warm enough for us to walk on the beach each morning wearing short-sleeved tops.  The only rain we encountered was one day when we took a coach trip to the north, towards the Atlas mountains where the terrain, full of pine trees, looked much like Scotland.  Another day we coached down to the south where it was desert, and considering Tunisia is about the same size as England they have a vast difference in their terrain compared to here.  We had the most lovely holiday, yet I felt a bit like a fish out of water as the Arab culture is so different to ours, and I always felt they were only being nice to tourists to get our money, but probably this was unfair, and I've always heard lovely things about Morocco which has the same culture as Tunisia (and probably most Arab states) but possibly open their arms wider to people who wish to live there.   Certainly wonderful places to take a holiday. 

Methinks there won't be many tourists planning to visit our country this year, certainly not until we have dried out.  So not only will the floods do damage to property and arable land, we will also lose money from the tourist trade, making our recession even worse than before.  Apparently millions of our own countrymen/women/children have gone abroad for the next week (half-term) to get away from it all and find some sun.

To prevent yogurt from splitting Cheesepare, when it is added to a dish to be cooked, the recommendation is to first stabilise it by first mixing it with a little cornflour so it thickens when cooked.  Not quite sure, but think the yogurt could first be thickened in this way by heating before it is added to whatever.  I must look it up to find the right way.

At least this past week the TV has been worth watching.  Although normally not caring much for winter sports, have been glued to the screen watching quite a bit (if not all).  Well done Canada who seemed to be good at many of the different disciplines, and even we have won at least one gold.  Japan also were proving hard to beat, and their ice-skating has been wonderful to watch (even with a few near falls).

We also had the Hairy Biker's new series, this time set in the Far East, and - as ever - this duo are also very watchable,  they made me want to go straight into the kitchen to start cooking a stir-fry.  B wouldn't watch, although I tried to persuade him, seeing he is now able to stir-fry all by himself, but he said he doesn't like watching the H.B's, maybe it is because they have long hair (B is nearly bald and always envious of men with hair, when he sees an older man with plenty he insists they are always wearing a wig).  Or perhaps he just wishes he could have a motor-bike and zoom around the countryside wearing leathers and of course sporting the obligatory pony-tail as all the many bikers in this area seem to do).  Mind you, I wish I could have my own motor-bike and wear leathers.  Suppose I could get the gear (and tie my hair in a tiny pony-tail) and pretend Norris (then name given to my mobility scooter) and just 'pretend'.   Norris is quite a big scooter (needed one due to my heavy weight at the time, I could use a smaller one now, but Norris is very comfortable).  He is big and black with four wheels and looks a lot like a four-wheel motor bike (when looking at a distance). Trouble is he is only allowed to travel at 4 mph on the pavement, although can go up to 8mph on the road), and have to say I don't much care for continually being passed by people who can walk faster than that.  I like speed!   How I wish I could go back to those days when I used to drive down the MI in my Fiat Panda (60miles to the gallon), at 'slightly more' than the speed limit.  Oh, well, Norris is better than nothing I suppose.   Must think positive.    Haven't been out on him since last autumn, so as soon as the weather settles, will wrap up warm and take him for an outing.

Memories of what were and thoughts of what could be are no use when it comes to my actual life that seems to revolve around nothing but cooking (and watching TV, plus reading books).  But even these basic 'tasks' can be enlightening.  It was only the other day, after I'd batch slow-cooked beef/pork mince, deciding to make B a Cottage Pie (after packing the rest of the cooked meat/beef stock for the freezer), that I decided to use up all the potatoes that had sprouted, cooking them first in the microwave and then removing the flesh to mash.  I saved six of the smallest potatoes to plant later, leaving six larger ones to cook.  The remaining potatoes were those from Riverford, and these have not yet begun to sprout.

As there didn't seem much mash (well I did sample a bit once I'd added the butter, salt and pepper, for as you know cooks have to keep tasting to make sure the seasoning is correct, my excuse anyway), decided to also cook the second of the sweet peppers (from Riverford), also in its skin, in the microwave.  This turned out to be very interesting.  Being the shape it is, narrower at the end than the middle, the ends had softened but the centre was still hard, so I gave it a few more minutes cooking, then left it to cool slightly.  The skin had begun to split so it was easy to open up, and when I began to remove the flesh with a fork, it flaked and looked exactly like flakes of cooked salmon (or flaked canned) being the same colour as well.   Made me wonder if it would be possible to flavour cooked sweet potato with (perhaps) fish sauce?  Pretend it was cooked salmon, or at least add it to already flaked salmon  to make it look more, go further.  Perhaps use it with salmon in a quiche.   Certainly some experimenting worth doing.

When I'd mashed/seasoned the sweet potato, then mixed it into the already mashed spuds, it tasted a bit too sweet for my liking. Pleasant enough for some purposes (children would love it), but felt it wasn't quite right for topping the minced beef/onion/gravy below.  So added a teaspoon of English mustard, mashing this in well, and that balanced out the sweetness perfectly, and just right for the dish I was making.  

Beloved is going to Morrison's today to get is Health Lottery ticket, so am taking the opportunity to get him to bring me a few fresh products.  Not that I really need them as have plenty of long-storing veggies, but could do with some salads (cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce) for myself as am not losing weight, but actually gaining again, due to me eating too many carbs.  There is only so much boiled cabbage I can stomach, and prefer to cook the carrots (better for us when cooked than when raw we have been told) than use them in coleslaw, especially as I'm trying to keep away from my grater since (last week) grated my thumb knuckle badly when I was trying to grate a hard chunk of Parmesan that had been in the fridge for yonks.   After binding my thumb with the cooks blue plasters, decided to turn the grater on its side and finish grating by rubbing the block of cheese across what was now the top side, rather than down the sides.  This made it much easier for me to keep my hands away from the very sharp cutting edges.

So, what else is new?  Nothing that has been worth remembering, although really must keep jotting down in my 'apron note-book', anything that is a little bit different, just so that I have something more 'useful' to chat about.  You must find my blog very boring at times, for it all truth it seems to be more me writing a diary of my day (just for me and future generations of mine to read) than concerning myself about what YOU really wish to know about. 
What I don't want to do is be like those who 'tweet' what they are doing, almost every minute of their day.  Do you really want to know that I'm now going into the bedroom to switch the central heating on again because the house feels cold and a bit damp?  Or make the beds while I'm still in there?
Of course you don't.  What you would like to know is whether I'm cooking anything worth the effort. Well, wait until Monday and you will find out.  Tomorrow - being Sunday - and a 'Gill phoning' day, will, as now usual, take that day off, and return again at the start of the week. 

Can't leave without giving one recipe, and this one is for those fortunate to have a little brandy left over from Christmas (but if you haven't the brandy, maybe you have some whisky or vodka to use instead).  It's just a way of making a coffee liqueur that is far cheaper than the ones on sale.
When I first made this, experimented with using an eggcup as a measure, but as long as you use the same measure (tea-spoon, tea-cup, measuring jug, even a bucket!!) it works.

Coffee Liqueur:
1 measure of runny honey
2 measures of granulated sugar
2 measures of water
1 measure of instant coffee
3 measures of brandy
Put the first four ingredients into a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.  Simmer for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally as the mixture becomes syrupy.  Cool slightly, then stir in the brandy.  When cold pour into a small sterilised bottle, seal and store in a cool dark place.  Keep for a week before drinking.   Use as a liqueur and for flavouring butter cream etc.

Also, one query from me to Les.  Am wondering about the very low temperatures that you say you use for cooking your meat.  Am sure beef is alright, but we are always advised to cook poultry and pork thoroughly. We are always being warned to re-heat cooked meat through thoroughly to kill off any bacteria that might have developed since it was cooked, and wonder whether low-temperature cooking is high enough to kill off any bacteria/salmonella that might be in the raw meat..  Just need to be quite sure to know exactly how low a temperature can be used for cooking meat/poultry to make sure it is still safe to eat.  

That's it for today, hope you all manage to have a pleasant weekend, preferably indoors rather than out (unless the sun is shining).  Do hope we are all able to meet up again on Monday.  See you then.