Sunday, March 30, 2014

'Grate' Expectations

It's been a glorious spring day today.  B and I went to meet our daughter to arrange a family get-together later this year (it will be our diamond wedding anniversary in a few months time. Sixty years, and sometimes it feels like yesterday).

Everywhere there are spring flowers in gardens (daffodils, tulips, primulas...) with huge magnolias trees in full blossom, also flowering almond and cherry trees.  In our own garden the butterflies and bees were flying around.  Birds busy with nest building and raising their chicks, and the leaves on the trees are now beginning to break into buds. 
We shouldn't be that surprised, for in just over a week it will be April, close to Easter, but somehow it still feels as though we are still waiting for winter - for we just don't seem to have had any.  It has sometimes been cold, but as I said before - at least here in Morecambe - we've had only a couple of light frosts.  Don't think the temperature has dropped much below 0C.  Minus -1C is about the worst and that was at night.
Other parts of the country haven't fared so well, all that rain, winds and floods, but then they have also had some very warm weather indeed, with 20C being recorded around the London area a few weeks ago. 

Hope jane, that you have good weather next week for your holiday on the east coast.  Think the forecast is good, although some cooler winds expected on that side of the country as the wind is coming from the east (usually the prevailing winds are from the west).

Don't think I could keep going for a month on war-time rations as your daughter did Joy, a week would be long enough for me.  Have to say thought it would do us all good to have a week's trial if only to make us grateful for what we have now. 
Having to manage on one egg (per person) a week wouldn't be easy, and downright difficult if it was one egg per fortnight (as happened during part of the years of rationing - probably in the winter months when not so many eggs were laid).

This Saturday did quite a bit of baking and would you believe that every egg I used had a double yolk.  All NINE of them.  Still some left from the same tray, so perhaps they were all doubles.
These 'doubles' usually occur most frequently in spring for some reason. 

Was watching a bit of 'Food Network' today, and saw a programme called 'The Pioneer Cook' (or something like that.  The cook was the wife of a rancher (in Texas?), and she cooked at the ranch house for her large family, and also the cowboys. 
Today she was cooking 'fried chicken steaks', explaining it wasn't chicken, but beef steaks cooked in batter (a bit like Kentucky fried chicken I suppose).  Was a bit flummoxed by the way she made the gravy, same way as we do - using a tiny bit of oil and the scraps left in the pan - but after adding the flour to make a 'roux' (she didn't call it that), she then stirred in full cream milk and it ended up looking like a rather dingy white sauce.  Apparently the ranchers LOVED it (why?).

The above wife also made cowboy sandwiches for breakfast to take to the men in the fields, this consisted of 'Texas toast' (very thick slices of bread toasted/fried on both sides, topped with a flat slice of sausage (looked like a burger), this covered with a slice of processed cheese, with a pile of fried green jalapeno peppers on that, the sandwich finish off with the second slice of Texas toast.

Pam (Texas) may recognise the above of sarnie, and in her comment she mentions trying not to eat if not hungry, and have to say that I can't really recall every feeling really hungry,  just tend to eat at mealtimes, just because it IS mealtime.  That's probably where we all go wrong, and should eat only when we really ARE hungry (if only I knew what that felt like).

A welcome to Mary from Perth (in Australia).  As mentioned above, the English spring is in full swing and really there is nothing more lovely when it happens in good weather.  We could do with a little rain to help keep the flowers fresh, but think the ground has been wet enough for the roots to be able to still find moisture. 

Understand what you mean Barbara, re food labelling. Perhaps a photo/sketch of the contents would be more easily understood by those who don't understand the language.   I've some packets of 'foreign food' that are printed in what looks like Arabic, and no way can I understand any of it (these were given to me by a friend who saw them reduced in price and 'just knew I'd like them'.  If I knew what to do with them I probably would.  At the moment they are just sitting on the shelf.

Thanks for your Mothering Sunday greetings Grub-lover, hope all readers who fit into that category have all had a lovely day.

It is still Sunday as I write, and with the hour going on it feels earlier than the clocks now show, so still feel lively enough to give a couple or so recipes before I toddle off to bed.

One of the best ways to make food go as far as possible is to grate, finely slice, or chop before adding to the other ingredients.  It not only looks more than it really is, it also spreads the taste of each around so that every mouthful is bursting with flavour.

This first recipe is a basic pasta - using either the tagliatelle, or the slightly thinner spaghetti. Or - if you prefer, us macaroni, or pasta penne.  Most of the ingredients are not actually grated, but coarsely chopped (easily done using a food processor).  The cheese IS grated (and use any hard cheese, it doesn't have to be Parmesan - the staler/harder the cheese, the more finely it can be grated).
Instead of hazelnuts, use roasted peanuts, walnuts or almonds.  Watercress, rocket or baby spinach instead of parsley.

Pasta with Herbs and Hazelnuts:  serves 4
12 oz (350g) tagliatelle
3 oz (or 75g pack) flat-leaf or curly parsley
4 oz (100g) toasted hazelnuts
2 oz (50g) Parmesan cheese, grated
zest and juice of 1 lemon
4 fl oz (100ml) olive oil
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions. Meanwhile, chop the parsley and nuts and mix them with the Parmesan, and lemon zest.  Drizzle in a little of the lemon juice and a little of the oil.  
Drain the pasta and return it to the hot pan with the remaining lemon juice and the oil, and the herb and nut mixture, add seasoning to taste and toss well so the pasta is coated with all the ingredients. Divide between four individual bowls and serve immediately.

Although this next recipe calls for most of the ingredients to be chopped, I find that by fitting the processor with the grater-disc, this given a slightly different shape/appearance to whatever is being processed, and to all intents and purposes is - grated.  By all means just chop on a board/plate, or even cut into snippets using scissors.

Cauliflower Cheese with Herby crust: serves 4
1 small cauliflower
500ml milk
3 leeks, trimmed
2 oz (50g) butter
3 slices crustless bread, roughly chopped
2 tblsp sage leaves, roughly chopped
2 oz (50g) sundried tomatoes, chopped
2 tblsp wholegrain mustard
3 tblsp plain flour
4 oz (100g) Cheddar or Gruyere cheese, grated
Remove the bunches of florets from the cauliflower stalk and roughly chop.  Simmer in the milk for about 8 minutes or until tender, then drain and reserve the milk.
Meanwhile, slice/chop the leeks and fry in the butter until tender.  Whizz the bread and sage in a food processor until crumbed (or chop/grate by hand).  If using the processor, then add the tomatoes and their oil and blitz until chopped (or do this by hand).
Add the mustard and flour to the leeks and stir to make a 'roux', the gradually add the reserved milk and stir until thickened.  Simmer for a couple of minutes then stir in the cheese.  Put the cauliflower into one large ovenproof dish, or four individual ones and pour the sauce over.  Scatter the herby crumbs on top and place under a preheated grill for 5 minutes, then serve immediately.

As by know you all know I tend to eat a salad for my supper, and what a large amount it looks when a few veggies (and fruit) are first finely sliced or grated.
Iceberg lettuce is the base of my salad, very finely shredded, then - if I have some - chopped watercress is mixed in.  Then comes a cup of grated carrot (about half a whole carrot), plus a chopped fresh tomato, and a grated (or finely sliced) red onion or banana shallot. A big chunk of cucumber also chopped, and half a red or yellow bell pepper either in strips or chopped. 
By now the salad bowl is looking full, so I drizzle over some low-fat mayo or French dressing, give the salad a toss, then throw in a handful of grated cheese.  After another toss the dressing has caused the tiny bits of cheese to stick to every bit of salad making it a lot more tasty. 
This salad I can eat as-is or (without the cheese) I would add half a pack of seasticks, these also chopped into tiny cubes and tossed with the salad. Or a can of tuna, flaked.

It's not unknown for me to add a sliced banana in with the salad veggies, or maybe a few cranberries, blueberries, even strawberries.  Thing is, the more variety the better the flavour, and when all has been chopped or grated the larger the bowl I need.  Takes much longer to eat than if I'd left everything whole and it really does seem 'filling'.   Forgot to mention the seasoning.  A little salt and plenty of ground black (or white) pepper.  All I need then is a fork and I'm ready to start munching (or should it be crunching?).

Tomorrow (Monday) I expect I'll be making another salad for my supper.  I have a big bunch of asparagus stalks, so I'll be steaming these, and they can then be chopped to add to the rest of my chosen salad ingredients for that day.  I'll probably be using the remainder of the 'frilly' lettuce that came in the organic veggie box (have iceberg but that keeps well in the fridge, the other best used a.s.a.p.).

And that winds up this 'Monday' blog, and I'll be back writing one intended for Tuesday this time tomorrow evening.  Only 5 minutes to midnight, so it's nearly Monday anyway.  Not sure if blogger gives the time of publication, but in the past they've not changed to BST so it might read an hour earlier than it really is.  As long as I've blogged something, who cares what time of day or night it is.
With so many readers living abroad in different time zones, what time it is really doesn't matter. 

Hope you've all had a lovely weekend, and am looking forward to 'meeting' up with you all again tomorrow.  TTFN.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ration Passion...

Fascinating article in today's Daily Mail about a lady who went on a year long diet based on using war-time rations.  She lost nearly six stone (but since going back to eating normally again has gained back several stones and now beginning to live on 'rations' again. 
There is a link to a website that covers this: that gives 100 wartime recipes, so could prove to be an excellent site to discover meals made using low fat, low sugar, and plenty of vegetables.  I'm looking forward to browsing through it when I find the time (I'm not one for sitting in front of the computer longer than I have to, and only use it to write my blog.

Am myself finding I'm eating a lot more veggies these days, mainly due to using up the very fresh organic veggies from 'the box', as these are best eaten within days of picking.  The fresher the better.  B is not so keen on cabbage, Chard, asparagus, preferring frozen veg such as Brussels sprouts, string beans, and peas.  However he will eat the root veggies such as carrots, parsnips and beetroot as long as they are cooked until very tender (I prefer them slightly more al dente), and - of course - onions.

I've probably told this tale before, but when I cooked my first casserole after we were married, B removed all the pieces of onion and put them on the side of his plate.  "I don't like onions" he whimpered "my mother never used to put them in her stews".  Next time I made the casserole I didn't include the onions..."It doesn't taste as nice as before" B almost sobbed,  "That's because I left out the onions" was my response.  After that he had onions in his stew and ate them all up.

Ali (Shropshire) dislikes the smell of onions when she slices them.  Some can be quite pungent, but have to say I really do like the smell when they are frying. 
Sometime my eyes run when chopping the really strong onions, but not often and perhaps this is because I wear glasses, but it I happen to rub my eyes when I've onion juice on my fingers - boy, does it make my eyes sting and then they really do run. 
I too used to love the smell of creosote - this not often used these days as it can kill plants that touch it while it is still wet.

A welcome to Suzi xx who asks if there is a way to have my blog show up on her reading list.  As I am completely computer illiterate, hope that a reader will let us know how this can be done.

It could well be I sometimes write my blog late at night or maybe leave it until early next morning. What I don't wish to do is write two on the same day so that if a reader leaves it until late evening to read, he/she might then read the most recently one published and miss the preceding one.  Perhaps I should put the day that it is intended for at the start of each posting. 

It is still Friday evening, but this is intended as the Saturday blog ( and probably will be posted just after midnight),  and - as is now usual - will be taking Saturday off, so won't be blogging again until late Sunday evening (for the Monday blog). 

Here are a few more recipes that I hope will be of interest.  The first is a store-cupboard one, and although spaghetti is the chosen pasta, any pasta shapes could be used.  A red chilli is one of the few ingredients, but I never buy these, preferring to add a few dried chilli flakes or a dash of chilli sauce, Tabaso, or Fiery Ketchup.  Add as little or as much of this 'heat' as you can take, or leave it out altogether.
I've found that adding plenty of ground pepper gives just as much heat as chilli sauce does, and white pepper (which went out of fashion once ground black peppercorns became popular) is far stronger than the black and now I use it a lot more when cooking - keeping the black peppercorns in the mill on the table to grind over when we eat.

Fresh tomatoes (when in season) are best to use for this dish as with the tuna and chilli they form a 'salsa', but canned chopped tomatoes would work just as well, especially when using a chilli sauce instead of the chilli.

Pasta with Tuna, tomato and chilli:  serves 4
12 oz (350g) spaghetti, or other pasta shapes
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 lb (450g) fresh tomatoes, finely chopped
2 tblsp olive oil
1 red chilli (see above), seeded and finely chopped
1 x 140g can tuna in brine, drained and flaked
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water as per packet instructions. While it is cooking, put the onion and tomatoes in a pan with the oil, heat gently for a few minutes, stirring in the prepared chilli after a couple of minutes, giving a good stir from time to time.  
Drain the pasta and add to the onion/tomato mixture in the pan, finally folding in the flaked tuna with seasoning to taste.  Toss well together and serve in individual bowls.

A couple of days ago I gave a recipe for a pea and prawn risotto.  Here is a similar dish this time made with linguine pasta (this is like spaghetti, but thicker).  Use ordinary spaghetti, macaroni, pasta penne, or pasta shells.  Or whatever you have.  That's one of the great things about pasta, use what we have, it really doesn't make that difference (well Italians probably think it does...).

Prawn and Peas with Lemon Linguine: serves 4
12 oz (350g) linguine
7 oz (200g) frozen peas, defrosted
8 oz (225g) frozen cooked, peeled prawns, defrosted
2 red bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
zest and juice of 1 lemon
4 fl oz (100ml) double cream
Cook the pasta in salted water as per packet instructions, then put the peas, prawns, peppers, the lemon zest and juice in another pan and heat gently for 3 - 4 minutes until hot.  Add seasoning to taste. 
Add two tablespoons of the pasta cooking water to the pan of peas/prawns... then to this stir in the cream, bring to the boil and let it bubble away for one minute.  Drain the pasta, and either put it back into its pan and add the cream sauce, or add the pasta to the pan of sauce.  Doesn't really matter which way it goes together as either way it has to be tossed together before serving in individual dishes.

It is now one minute past midnight so I can safely publish knowing it is now Saturday, my day of blog-rest although a busy one in the kitchen (Saturday being my baking day).  The weather seems to be set fair for the weekend, looking more spring-like as each day passes.  The little blue tits much have already hatched their babies as the parents are flying back and forth to and from the tit-box with barely a break every daylight hour.  They must be exhausted.
The house at the back of our garden has the seagulls building a nest again between the chimney pots.  Last year they hatched three baby gulls, all falling out of the nest and having to be reared on the sloping roof, very visible, and fortunately the weather was fairly dry at that time.  The previous year they had to babies, one only being reared on the roof (and getting very wet most of the time).  The year before that they had only one baby.  Interesting to see how many they have this year (one or two is normal.  Three is one too many).

Will be back here blogging again late Sunday evening, so it will be in the wee small hours of Monday my next blog will appear.  Please keep those comments coming so that I have something to reply to and also have time to find the answer to any queries you might send in.  Have a lovely weekend. TTFN.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Second Uses...

Whenever I buy something - especially a kitchen utensil or whatever - I always look first to see if has a second use, then it could end up worth more than its money.   So a white plastic box with a clear plastic roll back lid does treble service, first as the cheese box it was intended for, then as a mini-greenhouse to hold tiny pots of seedlings on the windowsill, and - when not in use for either - it then is the perfect place to put a little hot water into the base and in this stand a loaf tin full of bread dough, lid down and leave it to rise in the steamy warmth. 
At the present moment it is holding my collection of empty mustard pots and tiny jars that once held jams and marmalade (given as a gift but very useful to fill with home-made preserves to give away).

The little mustard pots themselves prove very useful as just the right size to bottle up home-made lemon curd (some also to give away), and I have quite a collection on a shelf holding the last few fl.oz of spirits that I use for cooking (kirsch, limoncello, rum, brandy, vodka and also sherry).  These take up a lot less room than the almost empty large bottles (and frugal Shirley never bought any of this booze, always asking for these as either a birthday or Christmas gift).

One of these small bottles contains that split and chopped vanilla bean that was covered with a couple of inches of vodka, and now - after several weeks - the liquid has turned a lovely brown colour and it smells (and tastes) exactly like the expensive Madagascan vanilla extract, of which a little goes a very long way.

Empty Golden Syrup and Black Treacle tins are washed and when dry turn into holders for my pens and various other small kitchen tools.  With their iconic pattern they look very attractive on the kitchen table/shelves, and also make good holders for the smaller flower pots.

Goes without saying that all our 300g Nescafe jars (and some 200g) are always saved, then used as storage jars in the larder.  Must have a good dozen of each filled with various 'dry goods' and several more waiting to be filled.

Recycling is on my mind today (Thursday as I write) as 'Rip off Britain: Food' this morning was all about food wastage.  If the 'average' family can throw away £60 of food a month, and I throw virtually none away - like most readers (I hope), that means some families could be throwing away over £100 worth a month.

There was some useful chat about food label dating such as the 'display by', 'sell by', 'use by', 'best before', and a few others as well.  In most instances the food that should be used by a certain date was still fit for use for a short time after, especially when kept chilled. 

If you remember my mentioning the rising cost of sardines, I checked the date on the one sent with my Tesco delivery and it wasn't the same as the previous ones - in any case the colour/printing on the tin has been changed, the b.b. date as 2018, and oddly, there is not so much nutritional info on the tin as there was on the previous once.  All it now gives is the energy/calorie content. 
Had to smile when I read the list of ingredients as it said 'allergy advice is given in BOLD) - and the only BOLD print was as the beginning of the list where it said:  sardines (FISH).  Well, I really needed to know that didn't I, never knew that sardines were fish!!!!

Have to say that my grocery delivery was again worth it.  Because there were three items out of stock so was given substitutions that were more expensive, but still charged with the price of the ordered item so had a 'match refund' of £1.39.  My promotional savings were £7.23, and I by using vouchers/coupons also saved a further £3.50.   Had an email today to tell me that I'd also saved £3.23 (as certain items would have cost more had I bought these from one of the other major supermarkets).

On thing Tesco is doing now is to send money off (or extra points) vouchers to customers who regularly order certain products, and as you can see from the above, using only the ones for the food I was ordering anyway did save me £3.50, some of them last for more than one order, so can use them again.  I don't even have to keep the vouchers handy as they are listed on the site when I go through the check-out, so I can tick off those I wish to use, and store the ones I don't need at that time. 

As none of the vouchers are for products that I don't or rarely buy, the vouchers must be selected to give the offer on each customer's 'favourites'.   Makes a change from the 'flyers' that come through the door that try to tempt us with money-off foods we would normally never buy.  Most of these usually being what I call 'junk food' (but a few basics here and there).

Recipe today is for a risotto.  A risotto is such a useful dish to make as it can be as simple or as complicated as you wish.  Basically it is rice cooked in stock, then 'things' added towards the end (such as flaked cooked fish when I make B his Fish Risotto). 
The recipe below has peas and prawns added to the rice, but it's good with just the peas, and certainly I wouldn't use nearly as many prawns as the recipe states,  just a handful would be enough.  
Sometimes I dice a chunk cut from a red bell pepper and fry this with the onion before adding the rice - mainly because it adds extra colour to the dish, as well as adding a little more flavour. 
Myself ALWAYS use wine when making risotto, because this is the right thing to do, but of course if we have no wine, then we do without.  Instead use a well-flavoured stock.
The recipe gives a choice of stock, use home-made or a vegetable stock cube.  No mention of using chicken stock, but no reason not to use this, especially when not using wine.
As Parmesan is expensive, I'd also use a lot less - and maybe none at all.

Since that dreadful day when I discovered B had drunk all the wine in the boxes of 'cooking wine', I am now freezing some of the new batch in ice-cube trays, then storing the cubes in a box so that I've always got some white wine to add to a risotto, and red wine to add to a casserole.

Pea and Prawn Risotto: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
dash of sunflower or olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)
11oz (300g) Arborio rice
4 fl oz (100ml) white wine (opt)
approx 1.5 pts (800ml) hot vegetable stock
8 oz (225g) frozen small cooked prawns
4 oz (100g) frozen peas
salt and pepper
3 oz (75g) grated Parmesan cheese
Melt the butter in a large frying pan with the oil, then gently fry the onions until softened (but not changed colour), then stir in the garlic and the rice.  Keep stirring so the rice gets coated with the butter and begins to look translucent, then stir in the wine and cook until this has evaporated.  Slowly add the hot stock, a ladleful at a time, adding more as it evaporates.  Continue the stirring throughout (but not necessarily ALL of the time - I sit by the pan with a glass of wine in one hand and the wooden spoon in the other - slurp, stir, slurp get the picture).
After about 20 minutes the rice should be almost cooked (al dente if it was pasta), so then time to add the peas and prawns with seasoning to taste.  Continue cooking for a further 2 mins, then add half the cheese when ready to serve.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

It's now Friday so time for bed.  Had a thought - if the clocks go forward an hour, this time next week it will be after 1.00pm, so not sure what that will do to my body-clock (or should I call it 'bloggy-clock?).  Could be next week's blogs may have to be written first thing each morning. Not even sure if blogger change the published time from GMT to BST. Not that I suppose readers bother to look at the date/time of publication.  Oh, flip - what does it matter?  I'll just keep blogging one way or the other. 
Busy day tomorrow (coffee morning and then Norma the Hair) but at least don't have to blog first thing, so maybe the 'night shift' suits me better.  Time will tell.  

Three days to go and it will be April, and with Margie telling us about the snow they are still having on the eastern side of Canada, we could still get some here (it's been known to snow here in June - but that's English weather for you).
Can't say I've smelt KFC, as have never eaten any.  Would like to have had some, but the nearest KFC is about 3 miles away from where we live and by the time it was collected and driven home it would probably have cooled down too much.  However, it reminded me of the smell of our traditional fish and chip shops, especially those that fry the chips in dripping.  Smells (and tastes) much nicer than when fried in oil.

Agree that Indian food smells gorgeous, but where we lived in Leeds we had many Asian neighbours, and when their houses were sold the complaint from prospective non-Asian buyers was (and is) always that everywhere in the home (including the wardrobes) smelt of curry.  It's almost impossible to get rid of the smell, although I suppose the occupants never notice it. 

Seems ages since we've bought new shoes Alison (Essex) but can't remember any smell.  Perhaps because they weren't made of leather.  Real leather smells lovely, and always reminds me of horses and their tack (saddles, bridles etc), the horses having their own warm sweaty smell. 

Don't think they are used nowadays, but do remember the smell of moth balls that used to come from the winter clothes that had been stored during the summer.  Many garments were made from pure wool, so - given a chance - the moths would spend months munching away.   We'd have to hang the garments on the washing line outdoors to try and get rid of the smell before we wore the clothes.  Can recall the many times as a child - when out walking - passing ladies who were wearing coats that smelled strongly of camphor.  Horrid smell.  Old ladies also smelled of lavender - another scent that I disliked at that time.  Now I'm an old lady myself absolutely love the smell and nearly every night spray a little lavender perfume onto my pillow as it really does help to send me to sleep within a very few minutes.

I've already sprayed my pillow which is now waiting for me to lay my head and start dreaming again, so off I must go or it will soon be time to get up.  Back again tomorrow - or have I already said that? TTFN.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Trying Something New

The annoying thing about recipes that give a long list of ingredients is that these can be off-putting.  For one thing they LOOK expensive (probably would be if we had to buy all the ingredients from scratch), but usually are not because most recipes have only one to three main 'hero's' - as they are called - the rest would be herbs, spices, sauces, and maybe a few veggies thrown in as well.

Recipe that have only a few ingredients usually are slightly more expensive to make, so it's with great pleasure that I can give one where the one main ingredient is fish, and although this could be costly my suggestion would be use the 'value' frozen fish fillets (often tilapia or some name like that), that really are not costly.   Ideally served with rice, we could serve them with another grain such as pearl barley, couscous or a bulgar-wheat based Tabbouleh.

This recipe also makes use of stale bread and if you haven't a lime, then use a lemon.  Korma curry paste is mild, but if you prefer a hotter one, then use the one you prefer (but pref. not too hot).
If using fresh fish (not previously frozen), then once the topping is in place they can be frozen.  Use with 6 (or so) weeks. 

Spicy Crusted Fish: serves 4
3 slices bread (about 3oz/75g bread
1 tblsp curry paste (pref. korma)
4 thick white fish fillets
salt and pepper
zest and juice of 1 lime
Put the bread into a food processor and whizz until rough crumbs, then add the curry paste and whizz again until the crumbs are fairly fine and coated with the paste.
Season the fish on both sides, and place the fillets onto a baking sheet., then sprinkle the lime zest over the top. followed by the curry-coated crumbs, pressing these gently onto the fillets.
Bake at 200C, gas 6 for about 7 minutes or until the topping is golden and crispy.  Plate up, drizzling the lime juice over the fillets and serve with rice or what you will.

Those who like the idea of a crunchy topping to fish but don't care for curry might like to try this variation.  Red or green pesto can be used, or black olives instead of green.  Instead of pesto/olives we could use tapenade.

Pesto Crusted Fish: serves 4
2 tblsp green pesto
zest of 1 lemon
10 green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
3 oz (75g) fresh breadcrumbs
4 thick white fish fillets
Mix the pesto, lemon zest, olives and breadcrumbs together.  Place the fish fillets on a baking sheet skin side down, then press the crumb mixture over the top of each piece.  Bake at 200C, gas 6 for 10 or so minutes until the fish is cooked through and the top is crispy and golden brown.

As ever, thanks for the comments, and please Grub-lover don't apologise for rambling for that is what makes comments so enjoyable to read.  Agree that it is best to buy the best sausages we can.  B bought some the other day from M's, and - after watching a programme on TV about the amount of meat in sausages - he went into the kitchen to read the ingredient list on the back.  It said 43% pork, the rest was fat, rusk, flavourings....  After they were cooked B said they didn't seem to have much flavour at all.  Not surprised.
Think 'proper' jpork sausages are supposed to contain at least 60% of pork meat, and probably the only place we are likely to buy these are from a butchers or ordering on-line.

Do envy you Kathryn for still having the cuckoos and skylarks to listen to.  Granny G wonders if the world is getting quieter away from the busy roads.  In some ways it may be as we seem to be losing a lot of bird song, but when we are used to the urban (and suburban) sounds, the country can seem extremely quiet.  But then it always has been, and hopefully always will be.
To a country person the country probably isn't deathly quier, especially at night with the odd rustle here, the snort of an animal over there, if we sit still and listen it is surprising what we can hear. 
Myself miss the hooting owls and the scream of the fox.  Now our night sounds are usually cats yowling (there must be at least 8 different cats that keeping crossing our garden during the day).

The suggestion of smells that bring back memories is a good one.  My main one is going into a primary school (usually the cloakroom) and the smell there is the same as the smell of my own school (and my children's school).  Not a particularly pleasant smell I have to say.

Another smell I love is that of bonfires.  My dad used to light these at the end of autumn when he had pruned the bushes and cleared up all the dead wood.  Some areas ban bonfires now, and this seems such a pity, although have to say when our children were small and I'd just hung out loads of washing, it always seemed then that one or other of our neighbours would light a bonfire and the smoke would blow onto the washing.   Very occasionally now I get a whiff of bonfire smoke and it really takes me back.
This reminds me of another sound I miss - that of the log fires in the grate when the half-burned log would suddenly collapse and send a stream of crackling sparks up the chimney.  A log fire also had a nice smell, especially when burning apple wood.

Goes without saying that the smell of Johnson's Baby Powder takes me back to when our children were tiny, and why I choose to keep using that powder for myself now.  
Another smell I quite liked was Vic.  My mother used to spread it over my chest when I had a cold, and when I was much older - and pregnant - this was one smell I seemed to HAVE to have around me, even smearing it thickly on my top lip so I could keep sniffing it.  Mind you, when I was pregnant I also loved the smell of fire-lighters and would walk around holding a bundle of them, so I could keep breathing in the aroma.  

There are some smells that have been around for centuries and always enjoyed like the smell of bacon frying, or bread baking.  Add to that the wonderful aroma of roast beef, or cakes baking, even the smell of toast. 
Food smells that I don't like (that seem to hang around for hours) are fish and boiled cabbage.

Hope you are now feeling better Alison.  We seem to share most of the same sound memories.
Can't say I'm over impressed with asparagus.  Not enough to want to eat it regularly, but it is quite nice.  We had the Riverford 'sparrowgrass' today and it was lovely dipped in butter.  Didn't make a meal of it as we had vegetable soup to follow (needing to use up the odds and ends of veggies before starting the latest delivery).  I've kept the asparagus stalks to cook down and blitz up with some eggs/milk to flavour a quiche.

A shorter blog as I wasn't able to start until nearly mid-night (due to B using the comp).  This morning got up very early (about 6.30am) and maybe, now the days are getting longer, I may change back to writing my blog early again, for if I start at 6.00am, I'll probably be finished by 9.00am and that will still leave a lot of the morning left to play with.  Have to wait and see how I feel once the clock has gone forward this weekend. 

It would be interesting to know whether readers prefer to have a new blog ready to read early each day rather than wait until mid-day as previously.  It's taken me quite a while to get into the right mood (I tend to be a bit more 'with it' in the mornings), but as long as you don't feel I've lost the plot now I've changed the timing, I'll be happy to fit in to whatever is most suited to readers.

As it's been a long day, forgive me for signing off early.  Will be back tomorrow.  Hope to see you then.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sounds Good...

Sat and watched TV early this morning (not that early) in time to hear about a man who has been recording as many of the sounds of the past and present that will soon be lost forever (if life continues in the way it is going).  We heard/saw examples such as a whistling kettle; the whine of a milk float; the rag and bone man with his horse-pulled cart.  The sounds of a traditional London pub (probably one of the last of its kind) with customers all singing 'A Long Way to Tipperary' accompanied by someone at a piano; and the sound of an air raid siren giving me chills up and down my spine.

Sounds heard not so long ago are fast disappearing, and I miss hearing the call of the cuckoo (last heard about 30 years ago when in Scotland); the song of the skylark (heard about 50 years ago when we lived near farmland in Leicestershire.  Plus the clink of milk bottles as the milkman puts them on the doorstep; and the 'trill' of the old telephones.   Mentioned the other day about the sound of the Qualcast lawn mowers, and the hand-held hedge clippers, also church bells on a Sunday. Although probably all these sounds are still around, not very often heard these days.   What other sounds that have now disappeared can readers remember and wish to hear again?

Had my Riverford organic veggie box delivered today, and again very pleased with the contents.  Although I have a box delivered only once a (lunar) month, there is enough there to last B and myself without me needing to buy more (except occasionally a bag of watercress or an iceberg lettuce from the supermarket).  This week the box contained tomatoes, Portobello mushrooms, a big bundle of asparagus, a white Chard, large frilly lettuce, cauliflower, leeks, squash, beetroot, onions, carrots and potatoes. 
Normally would not buy chard, but because I'm not going to waste anything sent, the last time did shred and steam the leaves with some caraway and it was quite good.  The white crispy base end of the chard when shredded went into the stir-fries.
Asparagus is something I rarely buy because it is not the cheapest of veg, so was very pleased to find it in the box.  We will be eating this tomorrow when I've found a good recipe - if I can't, it will be steamed and eaten with the tips dipped in melted butter.  Can't wait!

Several comments to reply to, the new names getting a big hug and welcome to this site.  One from Anon (no name given) mentions the younger generation (that includes herself) now always seem to use manufactured goods (food and clothing etc).  This made me realise that many of the problems of today - rising prices leading to more shortage of money - is caused by lack of what I call 'domestic' education.  When we are not taught how to do things, then how can we possibly know how to cope when hardship hits?  It's never too late to learn (I was 40 before I began to cook 'properly').

Never thought about putting bottles into a door frame to open them. Thanks for that tip Ciao.  I do have an opener that I slide onto lids of tight-fitting jars that works, it might also work with the softer plastic bleach bottles. 

As I don't have an electric can opener Hilary, have to resort to using a manual one (have two different types, each works better on some tins than on others). When intending to use corned beef I always chill the can first as the meat can then be more thinly sliced.  If using the meat at room temperature it ends up what I call 'spreadable' (this can be useful if intending to use it for sarnies, mashing it with a bit of mustard or pickle).
One of my tin openers opens the cans without the rim being sharp, and although most cans now be opened only from one end, there are a few that can be opened from both ends.  Tuna being one of them.  After emptying these, sometimes remove the base as well as the lid, and after a good wash use them in the same way as those metal rings that are sold to pile food in (then remove the ring) to make it look attractive on the plate.  Also good (lined with clingfilm) to make individual cheesecakes.

Quite understand how fish is expensive in Toronto Margie, when you are living 2,000 miles from each ocean.  Think it was James Martin the other day who said none of us - in England - live more than 70 miles from the sea.  For Canadians and Americans this must be almost like having the beach at the bottom of the road.  But even the closeness of the sea doesn't seem to keep the costs down.

Thanks to Floss and Eileen for telling us about Aldi prices.  Do know they are cheaper, but at the moment am not fussed about paying a few pence more.  At midday today (Tuesday as I write) there was a phone-in programme about supermarket prices, and it was surprising how many people differed in their choice of store,  Sainsbury's didn't come out of it too well, but a representative of their company (whose voice was exactly the same as 'a girl called Jack' - so maybe she is now 'the voice of the store, and why not?) praised the store highly and explained about customer care/needs.
Even Aldi didn't come out of it with glowing colours, but in the main - when the cost of the food rather than the quality counted - it did.   Seems, like everything, we have our own personal favourites, and the one thing that did come across was that shopping on-line usually saved a considerable amount of money as our virtual trolley didn't contain food that would have tempted us had we shopped in store.   Also very good for mothers with small children, making shopping very relaxing (orders can be done when the children are in bed), and if the children are old enough to help empty the bags and put the food away,  they probably will enjoy helping to cook the food as well.

I've sent an order in to Tesco, and as it is much below the usual amount spent, have worked out this is because I now cook far more fresh food than before (due to having the organic veggies - these not pushing my food budget higher, but in fact causing it to be lower).  Always thought I cooked enough veggies, but now having different varieties (that I might normally not have bought) it is making me cook slightly different meals - which is no bad thing.  It's getting me away from serving the same old favourites day after day (even if B has given me a list of 15 - am now able to add to this).

See it is now just after midnight, so hallo to Wednesday.  Thoughts are now turning to using the asparagus, and my veggie book tells me it goes well with eggs, bacon, fresh and smoked salmon, shellfish and tangy cheese - and what d'you know, I've all these in the fridge/freezer, so now it's a matter of making a choice as B loves them all.  He doesn't know how lucky he is. 
As the bundle of 'sparrowgrass' (old name for it), is enough to feed four, will be able to eat some myself, and turn the rest into soup/quiches etc.   Even the tough lower part of the stem can be used (bend the asparagus stalk and it will snap exactly at the place where the stem begins to toughen, then just cook the top to eat as-is), as cooking the tough ends until very tender, then blitzing them with stock/cream will give a good flavour to soup or to a quiche.  Don't let anyone say I waste anything.

B takes all our rubbish to the tip as he/we can never remember what should go in the correct bin/s (we have about six different ones) and even when we do we put the bin out on the wrong week. So it is easier to bag up the stuff separately and take to the tip to be put into the correct skips. The most of our rubbish is all that plastic that comes wrapped round things. A LOT!!  Plastic bags are returned to Tesco (incidentally, the ones I use to line waste paper bins - if not needing to be changed, when left in sunlight, after several months the plastic just disintegrates into almost a powder).  Papers also taken to the tip as-  like bottles and cans - are recycled.  Anything else (and not a lot of this) is put into a swing-bin in the kitchen and taken to its special dumping ground.

As it's late, just one recipe - and one of my favourites as it is a vegetarian curry.  Normally served as a side dish to accompany a meat curry, it is a good meal to make just for me while I make something different - with meat - for B (note that the recipes makes enough for four, so I'd reduce the amounts when making for one).  Coriander is not our favourite herb so I would leave this out, also the green chillies (don't have any) and probably add a squirt of the chilli ketchup to add the necessary 'kick'.  May not even bother with the ginger (all though do have this).  The less I have to prepare the easier it is for me (I can spend hours preparing a meal for someone else, but anything more than a few minutes on my own meal is too long, although having said that the recipe below takes about half an hour to cook, but I don't have to hold its hand while doing so).

Cauliflower and Potato Curry: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, chopped
thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled/grated
3 cloves garlic, crushed
half tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp curry powder (or more to taste)
1 x 227g can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1 cauliflower, broken into florets
2 potatoes, cut into chunks
1 small green chilli, halved lengthways
salt and pepper
juice of 1 small lemon
handful coriander, roughly chopped
yogurt and naan bread for serving
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion for around 10 minutes or until softened, then stir in the ginger and garlic and cook for a further minute, then add the turmeric, cumin and curry powder.  Continue stir-frying for a further minute then add the tomatoes, sugar, cauliflower, potates, and chilli, with seasoning to taste.  Cover pan and when boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes until the veggies are tender.   When cooked, stir in the lemon juice and pile into a warmed serving bowl, scattering the coriander on top.   Serve in individual dishes with a dollop of yogurt on top and warm naan bread to eat with the curry (or you may prefer to serve it with cooked rice).

That's is for now.  Will be back again around midnight tomorrow - give or take an hour.  I try to publish after midnight so the date is right when read.  But do any readers bother with the date/time of publication?  I'd hate someone to miss a blog if I write two on the same day.  TTFN.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Keeping a Check on Things

The programme: 'Rip off Britain: Food' is worth watching.  Most of the things we are already aware of, but it doesn't hurt to be reminded of them from time to time.   Today's (Monday) programme spoke about so many things we all have to cope with, and given me a chance to pass on some tips.

The difficulty of opening tins and packets was dealt with.  Don't know about you, but myself find that 'childproof' caps are almost impossible for older people to open as well.  I'm always having to ask B to open the cap of the bleach bottle. 

Is it just me or does everyone have difficulty pushing pills out of plastic foil covered strips?  Sometimes the pills (especially if tiny) shoot out across the room, or if capsules often end up squashed and almost coming apart.

Am not even sure whether cans with ring-pull openers are as handy as they seem.  Have to say I prefer them as they save a couple of minutes getting the can-opener out of the drawer, but quite often the rings themselves break off, or the lid is difficult to pull back.  I do have a plastic 'thingy' that hooks into the ring and makes it easier.  Thank goodness.

One thing to make sure of when buying corned beef is that the key is still attached to the can. More than once I've bought a can (or two) and found a key missing.  I do have a big 'master key' that I bought umpteen million years ago (and only recently found in the bottom of my sewing basket), but it's always worth unwinding a key from a just-opened can and then storing the key in a special place so that it can be used if one is ever missing.

Tearing packets open was shown to almost impossible, even strong men had difficulty.  The answer was to open them using scissors.  Obviously.  This is why, in my apron pocket, I always carry a small pair of scissors around with me so wherever I am in the kitchen (or anywhere else for that matter, I hardly ever take aprons off during the working day), along with a pen, notebook, tape measure, tiny calculator.... 

Seasticks are like Marmite, we either like them or hate them.  I love them - don't know why, they don't have that much flavour (then neither does Spam, another of my pleasures).  Those who do eat them may have had the same difficulty as me - removing the plastic that wraps each individual stick. Normally I slide the pointed end of a knife between the plastic and the fish to rip it open.  Silly me, no need to do this at all for I have discovered that if the plastic is held at one end between thumb and finger then rubbed, it falls open.  Oddly, it doesn't do this at the other end, and it seems that usually I have been trying to open the wrong end most of the time.

Have been checking a few prices after the recent programmes re the difference between size/weight etc of products.  Not so long ago we could buy a whole cucumber for a certain price or half a cucumber for half that price (with perhaps a penny or two added).  Today I see that a whole cucumber on Tesco's site is priced at 49p (not given as being on offer/reduced) and the half (portion) cucumber at 40p.  A bare 9p difference.  Fortunately I eat a lot of cucumber so in a way the larger one is a real bargain - this week.

It's the time of the month when I begin writing up my Tesco order - then adding/subtracting as the days go buy until close to delivery date.  This month am spending less than usual (and that's without taking into account any price reductions).  Maybe it is because I now have most of my veggies from Riverford (and even taking the extra cost of paying for organics, this still means overall I will have paid out less for food this month.
Surely this can't be the store lowering prices, for so far they don't seem to (unless we count the cucumber as one).  Some things have been reduced, but not what I normally buy. 

Sadly, sardines have gone UP in price again.  Not so long ago was paying 35p for Tesco's sardines (very good sardines too), then they went up to 45p, and this week are 60p.  I've ordered a tin just to check the date on the can as most of the recent purchases all have the same date, and I want to make sure I'm not being charged for sardines that the store bought in bulk and have now 'price-raised'. 

Wanting to order a pack of Doritos tortilla chips, noticed that the 200g pack was £1.10p (55p per 100g), and a smaller 40g pack of the same cost 50p (£1.25p 100g), making the smaller pack more than double the cost - by weight - of the larger.
Thankfully, buying on-line, sitting in a chair, makes it far easier to browse the site and check prices before I decide what I will buy (or not).  It is very useful when the 'price per 100g' is given with many items.   Noticed that although the price of fresh chicken varied by size/weight, and the smaller chickens appeared cheaper (but the flesh bone ratio less than with a larger bird) both the medium AND large chickens were the same price per 100g.  This doesn't mean they were cheap - far from it. To buy the larger birds we'd have to pay around £7 (or more),  but the larger the bird the more flesh it has.

Only one comment came in - this from Kathryn who is very busy at the moment.  Her request for high-protein/high energy foods to 'eat on the hoof' (as I call it), has given me food for thought.
High protein foods are usually of the meat variety, but also include eggs and cheese, so a quiche (can be baked in oblong tins to cut into squares/fingers for easy eating, especially if including bacon or ham) would be packed with protein and the pastry - being carbohydrate - is an energy source.

Other suggestions could be hard-boiled eggs, or - even better - Scotch eggs.  Sandwiches made with wholewheat or granary bread (giving slow-release energy), then filled with a protein (ham, beef, chicken, cheese...) would provide the necessary nutrition.  These could also be made in advance as the bread and protein fillings freeze well.
My thoughts went on to meat 'n pastry (again protein and carbos), so a choice of pork pie, or Cornish pasties perhaps, and maybe the Bedfordshire Clanger -  an oblong version of the pasty, one end holding the savoury, the other the fruit (like apples).  These really are made to be eaten at the wander.

Home-made muesli-bars could give extra energy without being too unhealthy.  We are told that the dark chocolate (72% cocoa solids and upwards) is good for us, so we could coat the muesli bars with this type of chocolate to make them even more sustaining.
Musn't forget the banana - this coming in its own wrapping so to speak, and have recently read that banana skins are also edible, the suggestion being we sling it into the liquidiser along with the banana flesh and other fruit/milk etc to blitz together when making a smoothie.  And there was me thinking the only thing we could do with banana skins was use them to polish shoes (this does work).

Just had a sudden picture in my mind of a Calzone, this is a 'folded' pizza.  Make like a pizza, same dough, same toppings, but then folded over into a half-moon shape before being baked.  Sort of an Italian version of the Cornish pasty.  Depending on the topping, pizzas eat as well cold as when hot, so maybe a Calzone could be another 'eat in the hand' meal.   The bases (smaller than the average pizza) could be made ahead and topped with tomato puree/passata, then frozen, to later thaw and cover with whatever you wish just prior to folding and baking.  I always keep a box of grated cheese (mixed hard cheeses with or without mozzarella) in the freezer so that it saves grating when I wish to add it to a dish I'm making.

When in Tunisia had my first 'brik' - this being a disc of thin pastry (a bit like filo) topped with an egg, then folded and fried, and just loved it.  Flicking through my recipe books as I write (yes I do have four pairs of hands),  I've come across a recipe that could be adapted to a similar version.  As normally made as an open (flat) tart, the filling could be put on one side of the pastry, the other piece then folded over before baking to make a 'packet' easy to hold in the hand.   Although puff pastry is used, possibly rough-puff, flaky or even short-crust could be used and less 'messy' than puff when bitten into (if outdoors it doesn't matter).
An alternative to tomato paste would be to use red pesto.  The bell peppers could come from a jar, and if so drain well before using.  Instead of chorizo use another spiced cooked meat, or we could use cooked ham/chicken.  If folding the tart, then omit scoring the pastry, spread with the tomato paste, top with a mixture of bell peppers and chorizo, and place an egg yolk in the middle before folding(save the whites for something else - they do freeze) then cook for the total time given.

Chorizo, Egg and Pepper Tarts: makes 4
1 x 375g pack ready-rolled puff pastry
2 tsp sun-dried tomato paste 
4 roasted red bell peppers
8 slices chorizo, torn into shreds
4 eggs
Cut the pastry into four rectangles and score a border a finger's width around the sides (you don't need to do this if folding the pastry).
Lay the pastry on a baking sheet and spread the tomato paste within the scored lines. Cover with the peppers and bake for 10 minutes at 200C gas 6, to allow the pastry to rise and turn gold (but not cook through). Tuck the chorizo into the peppers and break a (whole) egg into the middle of each, then return to the oven and bake for 5 or more minutes until the yolk is set but still runny (if you prefer the yolk firmer, cook it for a further 3 - 5 minutes.   Can be eaten hot or cold.

That's it for today.  Weather still cold and they've had snow in Cumbria and further north.  Tucked up warm indoors it looks much more like a proper spring day here in Morecambe now that so many of the spring flowers are in bloom.  But who knows what we'll wake up to. 
A nice day to look out but spoiled slightly by the electric company doing some road work to try and sort out the breakdown that happened last week (fortunately not our house but many surrounding us had no power for quite a long time).  Once the repairs had been done, this set off several burglar alarms in the road,  all seemed to have a set time to run (like half an hour) before stopping, but would shortly all start off again, and I had to stay in the kitchen to get away from the noise, and even then could still hear it.  Now that the residents have returned home from work all is quiet again.

It always seems, on a really lovely day when we can sit out in the garden, someone is using a drill or a chain-saw (sawing down trees, or through paving slabs), and we can't just sit and enjoy some peace. Oh for those days when all we would hear was the sound of birds and the church bells in the far distance across the fields.  Even the push-me pull-me lawn mowers and the hand-held hedge clippers gave a much more pleasant sound than the motorised/electric implements used today. 
With all the technology today, life should be easier (and quieter), but all it seems to have given us is more stress, and a life that is nothing more than a rat-race it seems.  At least I have my memories of times when life was worth living.  Must be thankful for that.

It's now Tuesday, so time for me to toddle off (or rather stagger off) to bed, reading for 'dream-time' and have to say I'm having really lovely dreams these days.  Often about food (mostly about food). Wonder why?  TTFN.

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.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Picture Perfect...

It's been an interesting day.  Spent a couple or so hours this morning watching TV: a chat show, and then Rip off Britain: Food.  Both very interesting.

Quite a lot said about food poverty with the first show, Jack Monroe being one of the panellists.  Do admire that girl even though am now getting bewildered as she tends to forget what she's said before (some weeks ago) and today heard a different story.  Not that it matters.  All power to her elbow.

Had to smile (twice) when we had to guess how much more it would cost to eat healthily, and it was said that this would add over £1,400 a year to our average food bills.  What nonsense is this?  Of course it wouldn't.  In fact we can eat a lot more healthily if we didn't spend so much on the not-quite-so-healthy foods.  We really don't need to eat a lot to keep ourselves fit and well.

Second smile came when another panellist - talking about her personal childhood poverty and how her mother was a good cook and able to make a chicken last four meals (believe for four people).  This should not be difficult at all (unless the chicken was mighty scrawny).

In the paper today there was a article about the shrinking size of chickens, and it is now difficult to buy large ones.  Think we all know that the larger the bird the ratio of flesh to bone is more than a smaller one.   Think I must do a trial and buy the largest bird on sale, then a smaller one, carve it up, then cook and weigh the flesh - see which works out the best buy.

Enjoyed the bit in Rip off B... about the photos on the packs of ready-meals on sale.  We were shown the tricks of the trade used by food stylists, and remember them well as - for several years - I too worked as a food stylist ( that's another story which you may wish to hear about some time, although have mentioned bits of it from time to time during my blog-life).

Would like to thank all who sent in comments, and so pleased that Grub-lover gives the correct name for our traditional Mothering Sunday, as for some reason we seem now to have copied the US and call it Mother's Day (which is not the same thing at all).

With Margie mentioning that more snow is expected (Canada), am not surprised as we too could be having some, although probably only in Scotland and Pennines.  It has turned very cold, and frost is forecast, and with a bumper crop of fruit expected due to the mild climate, and the early blossom, frost could do a lot of damage.  It was ever thus.

Do occasionally look at Frugal Queen's site jane, and it really is a very good one.  Trouble is, those lovely photos make me green with envy, and I feel my own blog is sadly lacking in that department. I've tried to get a photo up from my files - and succeeded - but couldn't it in the right place on the page and the printing kept starting in the middle of the page, so it made me cross!  Will have to have another go.
Steve has had to order a new part for my camera from China, and so am still waiting for it to be returned and then - hopefully - I will be able to take photos of the food I cook and publish them on this blog.  Meanwhile, just have to make do with the written word.  Sorreee.

Yes Suzi, I did write for Home and Freezer Digest magazine, but can't recall the 'Chicken Fantastic' recipe you mentioned.  Was it one of mine?  Am pretty sure I didn't begin writing for them as early as 1976, but might well have done.  I've written literally thousands of articles for newspapers and magazines over the years, and although used to keep the first ones in a 'cuttings book' (because being new to the game didn't think it would last very long) but after I'd filled three huge books (that I still have), gave up.  Think I must have written for nearly every woman's magazine (and some others) that were around at the time, even Good Housekeeping (feather in my cap there).

Thanks Carol for giving us the link re the rising price of food in the US.  I took a look and some of the foods are cheaper than in the UK, even if the price is more than it used to be.  Some things, such as milk seem cheaper here. 
Am pretty sure the price of fuel in the US is much lower than in Britain.  We've given up pricing it by the gallon, and it is now sold in litres.  The price can vary from garage to garage by a few pence (think petrol on motorways is more expensive due the motorists being a captive audience so to speak), but B tells me he pays around £1.30p litre.   He says that is around £6 a gallon (he could be wrong and I can't be bothered to work it out), but our gallon is not the same capacity as the US gallon. Still 8 pints but our pint is 20 fl.oz, the US is 16 fl oz.

Am pleased that the recipes for reduced meat meals and the vegetarian are useful, but it worth reminding everyone that when it comes to the amount of meat we use, we should 'cut our coat according to our cloth' and use only the amount of meat we can afford.  In many recipes (such as casseroles, spag.bol, chilli con carne, Cottage Pie, meat pies....) even using a small amount of meat still has 'mouth appeal' and flavour, and any shortfall is easily made up by adding extra veggies (or carbohydrates). 

To make sure a 'reduced-meat' recipe still will be enough to feed the number of people, all we have to do is to work out the total weight of  the main components in the recipe given (meat/veggies, and also rice/pasta etc - ignoring any flavourings such as spices...), and by ending up with the same (even if using different veggies and NO meat) there will be enough to feed the same number.

In the old days recipes used to suggest serving a large helping of meat per person.  At least 8 oz, and often more.  Nutritionists today suggest 4 oz/100g, and I've often seen recipes using only 2 oz/50g. We can add extra protein by including a vegetable protein in the dish - such as beans.  Or serve a pudding that contains animal protein such as eggs/milk.
This is one reason why I always use the Beanfeast spag.bol or Mexican Chilli (dry mix using TVP as the meat substitute).  One pack (99p) with a very little (say 4 oz) added mince beef (or beef and pork), onion, plus a can of chopped tomatoes (with the chilli I add a can of red beans) will make enough for four good helpings, and probably enough for six if we add a few diced carrots and celery as well. Having 'real meat' in these meals gives the texture that makes us feel that it's all meat (and no TVP).  Having said that, I can happily eat the above without adding any meat at all.  Just love them.
(They cook in only 15 minutes once they've begun to simmer - just time to lay the table/cook pasta).

Giving the cost of a meal can often lead us to believe we don't need to spend any more than the price quoted in a recipe.  Jack Monroe today was asked what was the cheapest recipe in her new cook book and also the most expensive.  Only the cheapest was mentioned - this being 9p burgers, but as the presenter said to her, 'to make these we would have to buy a whole packet or can of certain ingredients, and the total cost would be more'.  Jack explained that the price quoted was when the book was written and costs have since risen, but 'if you have a pound in your pocket you would have enough to buy everything to make the burgers'.   Don't know how many it made, but it still sounds economical, although if eaten in a burger-bun, or with salad that would knock the total meal price up.

Seems we always need to look at the wider picture when we begin costing things out.  However much I like to challenge myself to 'make a meal for £1' for four (or for 50p, 25p, or costs nothing at all), this all depends on other things.   There is plenty of 'free food' that can be gathered in the country, but unless we live there, it costs money to travel.
If we have a plot of land we can grow food, but not everyone has a garden (or even a window box), and the only way that we can economise is by building up a store-cupboard with long-keeping foods.
Working with a very small budget this can still be done, but admittedly slowly.  Even having just £10 a week (per person), we can still manage to have some food left over that can be used the following week (porridge oats for instance), leaving a little more money to spend the next time we shop, buying more to use and store.

It may seem false economy to buy food we don't eat within a few days, but with fridges, freezers and all the 'dry goods' in the larder, once we have them it really IS possible to make meals that are very cheap indeed.  Of course we've had to pay for the ingredients in the first place, but for some reason it just works out much less expensive when we have built up a variety (preferably all bought when on offer/half price/reduced) and by putting some together we can make a dish that really can taste great.

You would laugh at me when I'm preparing a salad.  I save the core of cauliflower and white cabbage, even lettuce, and these get grated to add to the next salad.  The 'ribs' of cabbage leaves, and the stalks of broccoli all get saved and are then used for B's stir-fries.  Cauliflower leaves, stalks and core are chopped up, cooked in milk, then whizzed together to make soup - this tastes really good, especially when cooked with the hard rind of some old Stilton!

The celery stump is kept to add to the pan (with carrots and onions) when making chicken stock.  Avocado stones are planted (grow into big houseplants and make good gifts).  The seeds from ripening (bought) bell peppers are saved and sown where they grow and produce more peppers. 
The peelings from washed carrots, parsnips, potatoes, are put into a pan with the outer skins of onions, and a celery stump and simmered to make vegetable stock, and it goes without saying that the seeds in butternut squash and pumpkins are washed and dried, roasted and then stored to be nibbled or to add to 'things'.
Think I get more fun using up what other people would normally throw away than I do with the actual cooking of meals.

Anyone with a small garden (or just a balcony that will hold a few plant pots) will be interested in 'small-scale' composting as a good way of using waste kitchen veg/fruit.  Take a strong plastic sack and place a layer of spent compost at the bottom - this could be from an old grow-bag or a plant container.  Then spread a layer of raw fruit and vegetable waste over this, with a sprinkle of QI compost activator on top, then continue building up the layers until the sack is full.  Tie the top and put it somewhere out of the way.  After six winter months it should be ready for use.  The time it takes depends on the temperature of the place where it is stored - the warmer it is, the faster.
For full description of how to compost in a bag visit

A word of warning (although perhaps not applicable), when vegetation rots it begins to heat up.  We once composted the hutch cleanings when we kept cavies (aka guinea pigs),  we tied up the sacks and left them outdoors, but when we sold our house in Leicestershire, for some reason the sacks were put together under cover and they began to heat up and eventually burst into flames - nearly burning our garage down.
Anyone who has a large lawn and ends up with a big pile of grass cuttings may have discovered that - if they stuck their hand inside the pile a few days later, the centre was very warm indeed. 

This is not the time of year for home-grown tomatoes, and even if it was the ones in the supermarkets would never be cheap.  However, this recipe will end up less expensive than one that contains meat, so if meatless is what you want, then give this one a go.
I'd like to suggest alternatives to almost all the ingredients that go towards the filling, but it is a pity to spoil the lovely flavours that work well together.  We could use bulgar wheat instead of couscous (or even cooked rice), sultanas instead of raisins (or even dates), finely chopped walnuts, almonds or brazil nuts instead of pine nuts, basil or parsley instead of mint.  With lemon, apricots, passata and the big beef tomatoes, don't think we'd notice too much difference from the original.  You may wish to think up other variations.
The advantage with this dish is that it can be prepared the day before to keep kept chilled overnight in the fridge before baking.

Baked Tomatoes with Couscous: serves 4
thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled/grated
2 - 3 cloves garlic, crushed
4 oz (100g) couscous
5 fl oz (150ml) water
3 tblsp olive oil (pref. extra virgin)
2 oz (50g) raisins
2 oz (50g) pine nuts
2 oz (50g) no-soak dried apricots, chopped
zest and juice of 1 lemon
small handful mint leaves
salt and pepper
4 large beef tomatoes, stalks left on
14 fl oz (400ml) passata
Put the ginger and half the garlic into a small pan and add the water.  Bring to the boil then take off the heat and immediately stir in the couscous and the oil.   Cover and leave to stand for 3 - 4 minutes, then add the raisins, apricots, lemon zest and juice and the mint.  Stir well, adding seasoning to taste.
Slice the tops of the tomatoes (keeping these as lids). Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds, then fill the tomatoes with the couscous mixture, piling it in so it rises above the tomatoes slightly, then perch the lids on top.
Mix the passata with the remaining garlic, and add a little more seasoning, then pour this into a shallow ovenproof dish then place in the tomatoes.   Cover and chill for up to 24 hours.
To cook, uncover the tomatoes and bake for 25 - 30 minutes at 190C, gas 5 or until soft.

This next recipe contains plenty of protein without containing any meat.  To keep the flavours as authentic as possible use all the ingredients, but - like most omelettes/tortillas of this type, we can use different ones (Spanish omelettes use eggs, onions and potatoes).

Greek Omelette: serves 4
8 eggs
handful fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
2 tblsp olive oil
1 large red onion, cut into wedges
3 tomatoes, chopped into chunks
handful of pitted black olives
4 oz (100g) feta cheese, crumbled
Whisk the eggs in a large bowl, then stir in the parsley, adding seasoning to taste.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan, then fry the onion wedges over high heat until they start to char at the edges. Add the tomatoes and olives and cook for a further couple of minutes until the tomatoes begin to soften.
Reduce the heat to medium, then pour in the eggs.  Give the pan a good shake so the eggs settle into the pan contents, then when these begin to set, give them a stir so that all the egg becomes half-cooked but still runny in places (this takes about 2 mins).
Scatter the cheese on top, then place the pan under a pre-heated grill and cook for a further 5 - 6 minutes until the omelette has puffed up and golden brown. 
To serve, cut into wedges, serving it straight from the pan.

Final recipe today is again vegetarian, but would happily accept strips of cooked ham (or even chicken) if you wish to include some meat.  I'd love to suggest using canned chopped tomatoes instead of using fresh toms, but as the appearance of this dish is part of its charm we don't want to spoil it.  But as my Beloved says "it all goes down the same way" so once in the mouth I suppose whether we use fresh or canned it would probably taste the same.  Maybe not cost the same though. As ever, personal choice.
Tagliatelle is the ribbon pasta that are sometimes (erroneously)  called noodles.  If you make your own pasta, then once rolled out thinly and dusted with flour, roll up into a sausage and cut into fairly narrow strips to make our own tagliatelle - and remember that this will cook in 2 - 3 minutes.  The bought (dried) pasta will take longer to cook.
Instead of ricotta we could use cottage cheese.

Tricolour Tagliatelle: serves 4
14 oz (400g) tagliatelle
6 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
1 x 100g bag rocket, roughly chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 tblsp capers, rinsed
4 tblsp olive oil (pref extra virgin)
salt and pepper
1 x 250g tub ricotta cheese
Boil the pasta for 8 - 10 minutes until just cooked (aka 'al dente').  Meanwhile, mix together the tomatoes, rocket, onion and capers.  Drain the pasta and return to the pan (off the heat), add the olive oil and toss well, then tip in the tomato mixture and toss again, adding seasoning to taste.  Finish by dotting small spoonfuls of the ricotta into the mixture, gently mixing it through before serving.

That's it for today.  It's now nearly 2.00am and am well into Saturday.  As per usual I'll be taking a day off, so although you will have this Saturday blog to read, there won't be one on Sunday, although I will blog late that night ready to publish for the Monday.  And then the week will continue as usual unless anything gets in the way.  Hope you all have a good weekend, and keep those comments coming.  TTFN.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Keeping Watch.

Have not seen Frugal Queen's blog you mentioned Margie, hope to take a look at it tomorrow.  Am in agreement with what was said as although I am buying organic veggies, this us mainly to support local (British) farmers, (and when so very fresh - as those that are delivered are - really do taste better).  Same reason I buy quality meat for this too is always British, and properly reared.  But am not so picky that I wouldn't buy lesser quality if I couldn't afford it.   Also do buy vegetables that are grown abroad if I am needing them (and Riverford don't supply them).

Am sure all readers are of the 'live and let live' community.  Even though we may feel that someone shouldn't do something, it is not for us to say.  Maybe we could give advice (and hope that is how my blog comes across with no finger wagging), but then leave it to the individual to make their own choice.
Hope you pointed out to your friends Margie, that the books you were shown on Vegan living were almost certainly held together with the use of animal glue.  And you are quite right that those who restrict their diets to avoid meat and animal products will need to take supplements to keep healthy.  Alone that should prove we are meant to eat a wide variety of foods if we want a long life. 

A good friend of mine - from a family of life-long vegetarians, so has never eaten meat products in his life - has to take iron supplements or he becomes anaemic.  Maybe others don't, but we all differ in what our body needs to keep well.   This week have read of another U turn re nutrition, and allegedly it's now OK to eat saturated fat, it doesn't do us as much harm as was first thought.  Seems that sugar is the one that causes the most problems.

Don't know if anyone has been watching Rip off Britain: Food each morning.  This has been most enlightening, and today (still Thursday as I write), much was said about the cost of vegetarian meals compared with similar ones containing meat, and in many cases the veggie ones were more expensive.
The excuse for this (in restaurants) was that it took longer for the chef to make (say) vegetarian burgers, as the beef-burgers were bought ready-made-to-cook.  It is true that some vegetarian meals do take longer to prepare (called 'labour intensive'), but when the same excuse is given, plus 'cost of overheads' etc, this really shouldn't cause higher prices.  Whatever foods are served/prepared etc, the chef is not going to be paid more or less, he has a set wage.  The same goes for the overheads. Same whatever food is served. 

There is definitely a rip-off when it comes to the soft drinks served in pubs.  Ask for a pint of Cola and it seems we would have to pay well over £3 for it (about the price of a pint of beer?  When I was a barmaid beer was 11d a pint - just under a shilling!).  But the cola served starts off as a small amount (15p worth) of cola concentrate drawn from a big carton, the glass then topped up with sparkling water.  At over £3 a glass profit, bet the landlords are laughing all the way to the bank.
It was suggested to the innkeeper that as a large proportion of the cost of beer was paid to the state by way of taxes, and that soft drinks were not taxed, he/she was then asked why were they so expensive?  Same old excuses.  Customers pay for the 'ambience' (and overheads).  And why not? All of this can be very expensive,  but when it comes to paying for food/drinks in restaurants/pubs, then we do need to be sure we are getting good value for our money.

There was an email today from Morrison's showing lots of reductions.  My eye was caught by one for a certain meat pie that B loves.  Offered at half price: 99p.  It was only the other week that these were on sale for full price at £1.50p (reduced to £1).  Makes me feel that stores might start upping the prices of some products, then in a very short time reduce them to make us think we are getting a bargain, when really we are not.  If the food prices are supposedly going to go down by 25%, then this should be on the full price. 
We should all watch and see what happens.  If we are fortunate, then maybe we will get more for our money, with the stores (maybe) not being quite so generous with their offers.

Despite me asking B to give me a list of the meals he would like me to make over two weeks, this 'menu' idea isn't really any different to how it was before, even though then it was more a not-sure-until-the-day what B would ask for, but he's getting the same meals.  In fact, working to a plan I'm finding a bit boring. But then if I had to go out to work each day, it certainly would help me to plan ahead, now I have all the time in the world to do the cooking.  Even then try and keep it as short as possible (I can make most of the dishes with my eyes shut, have made them hundreds of times - apart from those devilled kidneys, so worth trying something new now and again).

At least today was a bit different (for my meal).  As I had some cooked beef left over from B's Tuesday meal of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, gravy (shade 5), suggested B made himself a stir-fry.  As always, laid a tray with the necessary ingredients: two cloves garlic, one chunk ginger, piece of red bell pepper, couple of mushrooms, an onion (these ready for B to chop - he likes playing with the cleaver and garlic press), and in a shallow container put the carrot matchsticks, the tiny cauliflower florets and the sugar snap peas that I'd partially cooked/drained.
To the latter I added the stalks from the 'springs greens' that came in the veggie box.  The leafy part I shredded and steamed over the stir-fry veggies.   These leaves were for me.

Maybe because - as a child and always told to 'eat your greens', and because in those days cabbage was cooked to within an inch of its life - I've always hated dark green cabbage. However, not one to throw away anything, gritted my teeth and decided to eat these with some Heinz Five Beanz.  To make the greens more palatable, sprinkled them with some caraway seeds, and these did make the cabbage taste really good.   From now on I'll be eating more dark green leaves.

Instead of a savoury recipe, today am giving a couple of sweet ones (and yes, they do contain sugar, so I'm now the wicked witch of the west).
Although the Fork biscuits are my favourite to make (because they are so easy), the recipe below comes a close second.  Traditionally made with plain flour, I've several times mistakenly made them with self-raising and this didn't harm them at all - in fact, at the time, thought they turned out fractionally better.

Lemon Butter Biscuits: makes 4 dozen
4 oz (100g) softened butter
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
few drops of vanilla extract
6 oz (175g) plain (or s.r.) flour, sifted
4 oz (100g) cornflour, sifted
Cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the egg, lemon rind and juice, and the vanilla. Blend in the flour and cornflour then knead lightly to form a smooth dough.  Roll into the shape of a tube, then wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least a couple of hours.
There are two ways to turn the dough into biscuits.  Either cut the tube into thin slices, or roll the dough out thinly on a floured board, then cut into shapes desired.  Place on to ungreased baking sheets and bake at  180C, gas 4 for 5 - 7 minutes or until just beginning to colour.   Cool on a wire rack and then store in an air-tight container.
Tip: these cook well in 10 minutes if you use the residual heat in a just-turned-off oven that had been set at 200C gas 6.

Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter (yes I know this is a few weeks away), and the tradition on this day is to serve a dish containing figs. Now this fruit is another food neither B nor I care for, yet - when made into Fig Rolls (my dad's favourite biscuit), they really do taste good - at least my version does, maybe because of the chocolate included (and believe me - this really is worth including). 
There are two parts to this recipe, first comes the filling (as this can be made ahead as it keeps for up to two weeks in the fridge), then the pastry (slightly different to normal short-crust).

Baking these biscuits in long uncut rolls works well as cutting after baking prevents the filling from oozing out and gives a neater effect. 
Use the larger dried fruits (apples, pears, dates, apricots, figs of course), and if lucky you may find these sold in mixed bags (but make sure they contain figs - otherwise change the name of this recipe).
Fig Rolls: makes 26
8 oz (225g) mixed large fruits (see above)
2 oz (50g) candied peel
4 tblsp runny honey
2 oz (50g) grated chocolate
1 tsp cinnamon
Mince or process the dried fruits and candied peel. Blend in the honey, chocolate, and cinnamon. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours.  This mixture will keep well for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
2 oz (50g) softened butter
1 oz (25g) caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp grated lemon rind
6 oz (175g) self-raising flour
Cream together the butter and sugar, beat in the egg and lemon rind, then stir in the flour. Knead lightly until a smooth dough.  Cover and chill for at least an hour.
Divide both the pastry and the filling in half.  Roll out one of the pieces of pastry into an oblong measuring 13" x 6" (33 x 16cm).  Take half the filling and form it into a tube to the same length of the pastry and place it in the centre, then roll up as though making sausage rolls.
Repeat with the second piece of pastry and filling.  Then gently flatten the top of each using the rolling pin.
Place both rolls onto a greased and floured baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes at 190C, gas 5 or until the pastry is golden.  Remove from the oven and leave on the baking sheet for a few minutes to cool slightly, but while still warm slice into 1" (2.5cm) portions (or larger if you wish). Then remove to a wire rack and leave until cold. 

It's now half an hour after midnight which makes it Friday.  Must make sure I am up in time to watch 'The Wright Stuff' (9.15am Channel 5) as Les has told us Jack Monroe will be a guest.  Then later will watch 'Rip off Britain' (the following programme 'Watchdog' also deals with consumer affairs and also worth watching).

Weather has turned very cold and am hoping we don't get frosts as next door's magnolia is just starting to flower, the tree is covered in blossom, lovely to see at this time of the year.  Our forsythia is also flowering, and it won't be long before we see the wisteria and lilac in bloom, although no sight of any buds yet.  
Today is the spring equinox (does that mean the clocks go forward this weekend?).  Read the other day that although we think of the four seasons beginning around the 21st of March, June, September, and December, it is also accepted that these really begin on the first day of the above months.   I've always thought that December was a winter month, so it seems to make sense that this should start at the beginning.   Just over a week and it will be April.  Doesn't time fly?

Must go or I'll not get a good night's sleep (writing at night tends to keep my mind active and it takes me longer to nod off). So TTFN and back again this time tomorrow.