Monday, August 11, 2014

Keeping it Simple...

Am writing my blog early again as my knee has been paining me - could be the change in the weather?  Felt an early night might help.  This time next week will have seen the doc. and hope he will have prescribed pain-killers that work.

Sounded as though jane, you caught quite a lot of the storm.  Hope the flooding in your road stayed at street level and not into any houses (or at least your house).  Am sure the weather will have improved by the time you have your late summer holiday in Scarborough.

Suppose the weather in Australia can be (seasonally) different to that in the UK for - as Kate says - the winter so far has been very dry, with drought conditions.  We do hear about adverse weather in Australia, but mainly bush fires, or flooding, and we sort of think of Australia being a land of nothing but sunshine and warmth (and why so many people want and do emigrate there).

The weather in Canada - Toronto area where Margie lives - remains very hot, and until now the UK has matched the temperatures, and also most of the weather since the spring began.  But what may be normal for Canada has been unusual for the UK, so who knows what we'll get next.   Myself I enjoy hearing about the weather around the globe, at least where readers of this blog live.  Being British the weather always seems to be a subject we all talk about, especially ours.
Am looking forward to watching the 'foodie' film mentioned, hadn't heard of it before, but anything with Helen Mirren is bound to be good.

Did watch 'Cook's Questions' last week Les, and it is being shown at the moment, but as B is in the living room watching a series about commandos and I'm in here typing, am having to miss it this week.

A few blogs ago mentioned the making of chicken stock using chicken wings with extra wing 'tips' (plus carrot, celery, onion, bay leaves and a little salt and pepper for seasoning).  Think about 3 pints of water was added (to just cover the contents in the pan), and then simmered for at least two hours (maybe longer).
After removing the wings and picking off all the flesh (B used this the next day in his stir-fry), the bones and skins were put back into the pot, and the next day boiled up again.  Then the lot was strained and the stock put into a bowl, then - when cool - put into the fridge.   The plan was next day to bring it back to the boil to simmer down and reduce it even more.

No need to reduce at all.  The stock has set to a very firm jelly,  never had it set so well before, and proves that chicken wings DO make the best stock.  The flavour was out of this world.   Used some to make B a risotto (gorgeous), and yesterday made a big pot of vegetable soup, using some of the jellied stock (plus water).   That too was really REALLY tasty.  B had two servings of it, and with enough left for today had another, and I had the remainder and even I (who made it) thought it was pretty darn good.  Pay a small fortune for it if it was served to us at a posh restaurant.  Yet the ingredients were very basic (and cheap!!), and the whole thing simply made.

However much I hope to give recipes to please everyone, obviously many would not be suitable.  Vegetarians would dismiss anything that contains meat,  and I'd find it even more difficult to find recipes for a vegan diet without researching specialist cookbooks or the Internet.

Today am hoping the recipes I give will suit the majority of readers as it is one that can be easily adapted.  Although the first makes a large pie to feed eight, it doesn't have to be one pie, it could be eight individual pies, or pasties (Cornish style).  to serve four just halve the ingredients, but as it can be eaten hot or cold, worth making the large style (for a family of four) to eat hot with (say) baked beans on the day of making, then kept in the fridge for up to 3 days and eaten cold for picnic food, or a packed lunch.

As you know my aim is to cut costs whenever possible, or at least offer alternatives as one way to cut costs is 'use what we have'  and not go out and buy what a recipes states.  So we could use any hard cheese, and several different ones (not just the two stated), maybe raid the freezer so we could include some grated cheese that maybe we had frozen away months earlier.
Don't forget onions too are not always the same.  We could use the strongly flavoured 'cooking onions', or the larger sweeter Spanish onions, and red onions are sweet enough to eat without being cooked, as are shallots.

Many chefs suggest we fry onions before adding them to a dish.  This pie uses raw onions, but if you prefer a milder flavour then first fry the onions until softened and just changing colour (this begins to caramelise them which gives them a sweetness), draining them well before using.
Although I've not yet done this myself, am sure the addition of a few chopped pickled onions would improve the flavour even more.

Cheese and onion always go well together, and to keep this pie within budget limits potatoes are also included to add 'body' to the filling.  To save the bother of peeling/boiling/chopping the potato, I part cook a whole unpeeled potato in the microwave (as though cooking for 'jackets') but slightly undercook, then leave it too cool slightly before peeling away the skin (which comes off like tissue paper so we end up with no waste flesh stuck to the skin).  THEN I dice the potato.

The amount of pastry depends upon the size of the dish (or dishes) you will be using, so forgive me for not giving any weight re this.  Work it out for yourself (I have to).

Deep-Dish Cheese and Onion Pie: serves 8
1 quantity of short-crust pastry (see above)
7 oz (200g) Red Leicester cheese, grated
7 oz (200g) Cheddar cheese, grated
2 onions (see above) very finely chopped
1 large potato, peeled/cubed/boiled (see above)
1 egg
good pinch of ground black pepper
1 tsp mustard powder
egg or milk for glazing (opt)
Grease a large, deep pie dish and roll out approx. half the pastry to a size large enough to line the dish and overlap the rim..
Into a bowl put the cheeses and onion, and mix until well combined, the fold in the potato.  Then beat the egg with the pepper and mustard, then stir this into the cheese mixture, and pile it into the pastry case.
Roll out the remaining pastry to make the lid, dampening the edges with water, then lay the lid on top of the pie, crimping the edges together. Trim if necessary, then brush the top with egg or milk if you want a shiny surface (opt).
Bake at 190C, gas 5 for 35 - 45 minutes or until the top is deep golden in colour, then leave to stand for 10 minutes before serving.  Good eaten hot with cooked vegetables, or eat hot or cold with baked beans and a salad.

Second recipe is not a million miles away from the one above regarding ingredients, but a more traditional dish from the north of England, and simpler to make. 

Pan Haggerty: serves 4
1.5lb (675g) potatoes
2 onions, chopped
2 oz (50g) dripping
4 oz (100g) grated Cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
Peel and boil the potatoes until just tender, then drain and cool slightly before cutting them into thin slices.
Melt the dripping in a frying pan and fry the onions for about 5 - 8 minutes until softened, then remove using a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.;
Using the same pan arrange the potatoes, onions and the cheese in layers, seasoning each layer generously. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes, then finish by browning under the grill.

We all try to keep our food budget as low as possible and - at the moment - with the supermarkets all trying to outdo each other with bargains, it is not as difficult as it has been in the past, although some things - such as meat/fish - do seem to be increasing in price.  But we all know there are plenty of cheaper alternatives we could be eating.

Myself would find it interesting to know what decisions readers make to keep costs down.  Some I know make up the menu for a week, then go and buy what is needed AND NOTHING ELSE.  Others may have a rough idea of what meals they wish to make (meat on Sunday, vegetarian on Friday for instance) but wait to see what meat/fish is the cheapest (on offer or reduced) before choosing which to buy.

Some may prefer to buy packs of mixed stew-pack veggies, other may prefer to buy them separately (either in packs or loose).  And what about branded foods?  Do you try different brands of baked beans/sardines/tuna/corned beef/chopped tomatoes etc?  Or always buy the ones you know you like?

And what about bread?  Are we satisfied with the soft hardly-ever-goes-mouldy cheese that now fills the supermarket shelves, or do we prefer the crusty farmhouse type, and for that matter if we really do like good bread, do we bother to make it ourselves, and if so do we use a packet of bread mix (which can be extended by adding more strong bread flour) or prefer to make it from scratch?

Not sure whether I mentioned (some weeks ago) that my friend Gill - who brought up four children and was a really good cook - told me she had baked a cake (first time for ages - and possibly because she had a new oven), but had used a packet cake mix.  I nearly fainted when she told me.  I think it was Brownies she made, and she was very pleased with the result.  

But I can see where she was coming from.  Now living alone, not eating cake herself, wishing to take cake to her grandchildren, wanting to try out the oven, this was the simplest way, and as it worked then almost certainly cake-mixes will begin to be popped into her shopping trolley.

When something is made easy for us to make, how can we be blamed for choosing something where a lot of the work has been done for us?  Instead of weighing umpteen different ingredients (then replacing them all back on our larder shelves) all we have to do is open a pack, add the necessary liquids (egg/milk?), and pour into a prepared container (maybe provided) and bake. 

Despite the thought I'm not talking myself into using any conveniently prepared products YET!  Can't say it isn't tempting, but as I'm the most miserly person you can think of then be sure I'll have worked out what is the cheapest way to make a cake (or anything else that can be bought as a 'ready') and home-made always wins.  Tastes a darn sight better too - which is a bonus in itself.

This is not to say I don't buy 'ready-mades', and doubt very much if I'd make my own potato crisps again (although I have in the past).  And I'm very fond of rice crackers (low in calories).  I even buy hummous although I do have the makings (I'm getting very lazy these days - blaming it on my knee of course).  But cakes, biscuits, scones, desserts of all kinds, and of course bread are all home-made.  My only weakness is buying ready-made pastry:  short pastry, puff pastry and filo pastry.  Purely because I truly cannot make pastry as good.  It doesn't matter how much I roll heavily, scrunch up and knock to smithereens the bought short pastry, it still cooks as tender as if treated with delicate hands.  My home-made is and always has been like thick cardboard (and tastes like it too) however carefully I treat it.  My mother used to make wonderful light pastry, but she always had icy cold hands.  I've run my hands under the cold tap, I've made the pastry in the processor using cold fats and iced water and never touched it with hands until I had to, and still it ends up as cardboard.  So I buy it, store it in the freezer, and then it is always there when I need it.

That's it for this evening.  Not sure if I'll be going to the church tomorrow afternoon, the seats there are not comfortable and I don't like having to squeal when I stand up, but am sure they understand. Two of the ladies there have arthritis but they don't squeak.  Perhaps I have a low pain threshold or something.  Or maybe it's not arthritis.   Have to wait and see.

Now that Bertha has moved away from our shores (or just about), and what was a breezy day here seems now to have quietened down,  let's hope we get back to some gentler weather and the children will be able to enjoy their summer holidays in the fresh air and not sit in front of their comps or whatever is the latest technology to drain our pockets and ruin our social life, not to mention health.
Please join me again tomorrow, and will look forward to 'seeing' you then.  TTFN.