Monday, March 24, 2014

Once it was so easy....

A couple of days ago I decided it was time for me to fill several bags of self-raising flour, ready for use when I wished to do some baking.  Most recipes use 8oz/225g, so that was to be the weight I chose.  Sometimes I fill bags with 4oz/100g (as can always use two if necessary). 
Using a tablespoon I removed heaped spoonsful of flour from its large bag and put it into the smaller bag that was standing on my digital scales (these being the most accurate).  When the scales read the correct amount, I removed the bag and set it to one side to fill the next.
I counted each spoon and very soon realised that 8 heaped tablespoons came to exactly 8oz.  So from then just filled each little bag with 8 heaped tablespoons, finally checking to see the amount was the same in each - and it was.  So now I will never need to weigh 1 oz/25g flour any more, just use the same spoon heaped high with flour.   Spoons vary slightly in size, so best always to use the same one for something like this.

Gill and I spoke on the phone early Sunday morning, and we chatted about cooking - as we slways do. I remarked that my mother never seemed the need of a cookery book, and she said her mother didn't have one.  In those days girls were taught to cook by their mothers, and - like most households - the meals were mainly the same each day of the week based on the meat cooked for the Sunday roast (with the exception of fish on Friday and egg and chips probably Saturday).

Even if someone had never learned to read, this didn't really matter if there was no need for recipes to refer to.  So - in a way - cooking was so much simpler then:  a spoonful of this, a cup of that, a pinch of....   Even the ovens - then not fitted with thermostats - had to have their heat gauged by how long it took to brown a slice of bread, or if you put your hand inside how long it took before you screamed in pain. 

We don't think of that when the aim today is to get people to return to cooking.  Now it is a lot more complicated.  You and I probably knock up several favourite dishes without needing to refer to a recipe, we've made these so often.  A novice cook has constantly to refer to a recipe, never quite understanding half of what happens to the food when it is cooked, and never dares to deviate from it.  If a recipe needs a certain ingredient and the cook has none, then the dish can't be made - or so it is thought.  Otherwise go out and buy it.  So money spent than really necessary.

Not everyone is good at understanding the written word, or - for that matter - working with a food budget.   Cooks who blog, and bloggers who cook have probably been taught home economics and have a good smattering of maths.  (Myself had no cookery tuition - probably due to the wartime rationing - so it took me a long time to teach myself how to.  Thankfully, I was good at arithmetic - but not algebra and geometry).   So, what could seem a very simple recipe to some, might still be difficult to work through for another.   Myself have to remember this when I write 'sauté the vegetables' ('what's sauté mean?' I can hear screamed out all over the country).

The best way to learn is to watch someone cook, and - even better - do it for real, with the cook standing at your side guiding through the steps.  Even then this doesn't mean perfection.   My mother used to make the most wonderful short-crust pastry, it really melted in the mouth.  I worked with her, side-by-side, using the same ingredients, the same weights, cooked in the same oven temperature for the same time and hers turned out beautifully and mine ended up like breeze blocks.  Time and again I tried and it was always the same.  Perhaps one reason was because my mum's hands were always cold and mine were warm.   Even so, today I've tried making pastry using a food processor so my hands never touched the dough, chilled and rolled it STILL was dreadful.  Now I buy Jusrol and it doesn't matter how much I handle this, how hard I roll, screw up the trimmings and re-roll and the Jusrol, when cooked, is gorgeous.   Have to face it, I'm just not a pastry-cook (although do make good cakes).

There was a recent comment about many vegetarians not needing to take iron supplements, and it reminded me of my son-in-law who had a 'funny turn' and after a hospital check it was discovered his body made too much blood (or it had too many red corpuscles or something).  He had to give a pint of blood every few weeks until it was stabilised, and since then cannot eat red meat and anything that contains iron, also mustn't drink Guinness - he lives in Ireland!).  So I suppose we all differ as to how our bodies absorb vitamins and minerals.  I do know that the body absorbs more iron from food if it is eaten with another that contains Vit. C (for example: have a drink of orange juice when having eggs for breakfast).

Am surprised Margie that fish is expensive in Canada as have always believed there is a lot of fish in the rivers, lakes, and in the coastal areas.  But then Canada is very large and it would cost a lot in fuel to get fresh fish to the inland areas.
Here in the UK - and such a small island in comparison - with plenty of fish in the surrounding sea, even our fish is expensive.  Problem is a lot of the fish we don't seem keen to eat (our favourites being cod and haddock), so much of the catch is sold to European countries.  At one time cod and haddock were the cheapest fish, and remember my mum preferring plaice ("always look for the red dots and bright eyes and this will show the plaice is fresh" she told me), also turbot and she was very fond of bloaters that she had sent by the boxful from a town in Norfolk.
We can now buy farmed salmon that is relatively cheap (cheaper than cod...), and mackerel is also becoming popular, also sardines (in Cornwall these are called pilchards).  Am pretty sure the fish stall at Morrison's sells a variety of fish, but I've never been interested in trying any of the more unusual ones.
The frozen fish we buy as 'white fish' is usually 'tilapia' (think that is the name). Doesn't really have any flavour.  My preference is frozen smoked haddock that I use in several dishes - that at least does have a good flavour.  Kippers too are very tasty.

Cheese here varies a lot in price.  At one time Cheddar cheese was made only in the Cheddar area of Somerset (think that's the right country), but now it seems that umpteen countries produce this named cheese, I once counted 13 different cheddars for sale on the same counter.  These were the cheaper cheeses and none have much flavour, even the 'mature', or 'vintage', or 'seriously strong' are pretty weak by my standards.  To get a really good cheese we have to buy proper farmhouse cheese, and have it cut from the block.  But then this will be very expensive indeed.

No Cheesepare, we didn't get any hail here in Morecambe (unless it was during one night when we were asleep).  So far we have been lucky, have had only two light frosts the whole of the winter. However, it looks as though we might be getting some now as the temperature had dropped even further, minus 6C in the west of Scotland, but as we are told "frosts are expected ''away from the coast" in the west, then again we might be lucky and not have any.

Your suggestions for filling the tomatoes with other things than in the given recipe would work well. Also would work using bell peppers as cases/lids.  Almost any cooked grain (esp rice) would help make the filling more, well - filling, and I do like the idea of using one of the Beanfeast mixes - with added beans.
At the moment I am becoming very fond of eating beans (pulses, not the green ones), perhaps because these too are filling.  Bakes beans on the larder shelf are now being replaced with the Heinz Five Beanz to which I add a good squirt of Heinz Fiery Chilli ketchup (do hope Heinz realises how much free advertising I'm giving them and send me a crate of their H.Five Beanz as a 'thank you').

You asked me once before about the 'chicken four ways', and I did reprint the recipes, but not sure where I put the mag where they were first published.  If I can find it I'll be able to give details of the blog date so you can retrieve them (because I can't remember what the recipes were called - well, I have written quite a few....).

Beloved's menu is made up of all his favourite meals - these he's been having for years (and years, and years...).  However, I left some small recipe books on the kitchen table, so he flicked through some after he'd eaten his supper (duck confit with orange sauce, pan-fried potatoes and peas - this was not one on his list - he had it as a 'cook's special' - well, I do like to try new things some times).
Seems B saw some dishes he took a fancy to, so I suggested he wrote down the page numbers on a bit of paper and put it in the book/s so I could work my way through them.  Much depends on whether I have all the ingredients.  I probably have not made them before because I hadn't.  Make sense I suppose.

How lovely to get fresh duck eggs. Each one is worth two hens eggs (by weight) if not three, so very well worth the money.  As to me keeping hens, pretty sure now that has to be a no-no, much as I'd love to have some, as although I was fit enough when we first moved here (anyway then B said I couldn't have them), my joints are now paining me so much that even walking outside in the garden is almost too much for me.  I'm fine when sitting down, feel like a spring chicken when I am, but as soon as I try to get up (more likely 'heave myself up'), it's pretty painful (knees creak and I go 'ouch') and then feel very old indeed.  Probably why I prefer sitting down a lot these days, although I shouldn't, I do need the exercise.   Sometimes, as I'm hobbling across a room with my walking stick it's almost as though I'm someone else.  Someone else, very old indeed.  And really I'm not (yes I am, just feel 35 in my head).

As it's now after midnight (so it's Monday again), just one recipe, and this a cake chosen because it uses seasonal rhubarb.  I've adapted the recipe slightly (as I normally do with most recipes as this usually helps to keep the cost down.  Experienced cooks will realise the basic ingredients for the cake are the same as for a Victoria Sponge Cake (as happens with many recipes), but not apparent as the cake is made in a slightly different way. 
The original recipe uses canned custard, but I use home-made custard (made with Bird's Custard Powder).  Am puzzled with the 'serves 16' as it is baked in a 9" round tin, but it may be correct, depends how large/small the servings are.  Am sure we can decide how far we wish it to go when we slice it.

Rhubarb and Custard Cake: serves 16 (?)
14 oz (400g) rhubarb, cut into short lengths
11 oz (50g) caster sugar
9 oz (250g) butter, softened
5 fl oz (150ml) ready-made custard (see above)
9 oz (250g) self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
icing sugar for sifting
Rinse the rhubarb, shaking off excess water, and put into a bow with 2 oz (50g) of the sugar. Toss together so the sugar coats the fruit (it's actually a vegetable but never mind), then spread it in a single layer onto a baking sheet, with any surplus sugar left in the bowl.  Cover with foil and oven cook at 200C, gas 6 for 15 minutes, then remove foil.  The sugar should have dissolved.  Shake the tin, and return to the oven to cook for 5 mins more or until the fruit is tender (but not mushy) and the sugar turned syrupy.  Drain off the juices and leave to cool completely.
Put 3 tblsp of the custard in a bowl and put the rest into another bowl along with the butter, flour, baking powder, eggs, vanilla, and the remaining 9 oz (250g) sugar.   Beat together until creamy and smooth.
Spoon one-third of the cake batter into a greased and lined loose-bottomed 9"/23cm cake tin, then spread some of the rhubarb over this, cover with a further third of the batter, then more rhubarb, finishing with the last third of the cake batter.  Don't worry if it is difficult to spread evenly, it'll cook just as well if mixed up a bit.  Scatter any remaining rhubarb over the top, spooning the remaining custard over in dots.
Bake for 40 mins until risen and golden, then cover with foil and cook for a further 15 - 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Leave to cool in the tin, sifting icing sugar over the top when the cake has cooled down.

Another weekend over and done with.  As it's now 12.40am already Monday and a new week lies ahead.  At one time I used to love every Monday as the start of a week where I would always seem to learn new things.  Suppose this can still happen, although not as frequently nowadays, perhaps I'm not looking hard enough.

Hope you've all had a good weekend during the recent spell of good weather (lots of sun even though it has been chilly).  Looking forward already to being with you again this time tomorrow, so hope you can join me.  TTFN.