Monday, June 30, 2014


Just have an hour to spare this Monday early mid-afternoon so thought I'd sit down and have a 'chat'.

For some reason the scones I made this weekend for the sailing club were 'the best ever' (as told me by their organiser).  Even I thought they were lighter than usual.  Might have been because I used a slightly larger scone cutter (didn't realise it at the time), and maybe because I made the scone mix a bet wetter, or even because I'd used a new tub of baking powder (old baking powder loses its power).

The Saturday (larger) scones were not a very good shape, they rose well enough but also spread and had domed tops.  For the Sunday scones the proper (size smaller) cutter, and also pricked the tops of the scones (because I'd seen Paul Hollywood do this recently on TV), and these rose up with flatter tops but not quite flat.  The same mixture was used, but they were slightly dryer than the previous batch, and maybe - because slightly smaller - they could have done with half a minute less cooking. I probably will never know, but the larger scones (despite their shape) were the favourites.

A thanks to Carol for her suggestions as how to use Chard.  I will try these next time we get a delivery. .

A welcome to Julee Gray (or is it welcome back?), thanks to her and also all other readers who have sent their best wishes/congrats on our 60th wedding anniversary this coming week.

Hope the weather stayed fair for the Open Garden weekend buttercup.  It's been lovely weather here, esp. Sunday (and today), although it is raining at Wimbledon as I write.  Thankfully they now have a roof over the Centre Court so Andy Murray can still play his match later this afternoon.
How lovely to be able to plan a small cottage garden.  It's one of the things I fantasise about when trying to go to sleep (also cleaning and deaorating the dilapidated cottage as well).

My choice of cottage garden plants would be:  roses round the door (of course), hollyhocks, Canterbury bells, lavender, Sweet Williams, marigolds, lupins, sweet peas, delphiniums/larkspur, iris, phlox and Michaelmas daisies, because these were some of the flowers I remember my dad growing in our garden when I was a teenager (he grew a lot of others as well, but these were my favourites).

Hope your dog outfit went down well at the Bury show Kathryn.  Would you have been accompanied by Dolly? Am enjoying hearing about your allotment.  Did you say you had rasperries growing?  If not, worth planting some as they spread quite rapidly and within a couple of years or so you will be picking loads.  I prefer the summer raspberries to the autumn ones.

Believe the original arrangement was that we would be using the social club for our anniversary 'do' and I'd be doing the catering, but very soon this was changed (thank goodness) and now we will be eating at a restaurant, so I'll be able to enjoy every minute of it.

Am not sure if I'll be blogging again until next Monday (possibly late Sunday evening) as am not sure what I'll be doing in the run-up to Thursday (the big day).  Gill will be staying with me from mid-week onwards, returning Sunday, and I want to prepare as much advance food as possible for the meals when she is here.  So - as I suggested - please keep sending comments, for it would be lovely for all regular readers to 'chat' amongst yourselves while I'm busy doing other things. 
But I will return, maybe sooner than later, but am sure you will forgive me taking more time off than usual as this is a very special occasion.  Thanks. xxxx  See you soon.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Next Milestone?

Life seems to consist of milestones.  First day at school, becoming a teenager, coming of age, marriage, children, first grandchild, then second followed by 7 more, then adding up the years.  My Beloved and I just hoped we'd live long enough to see the Millennium.  That was over 14 years ago!  Then it was reaching 70. Hoping to reach 75, then 80. Next milestone next week is our BIG anniversary and a congratulatory telegram from the Queen (if someone has remembered to let her know).  So what is after that?  Reaching 85, 90....and who knows, one of us might reach 100!!!  Bound to be B, I'm not that lucky.

It rained last night.  Typical British to find that worthy of a mention, but we have had several weeks of no rain here in Morecambe, so it was really needed, I was fed up of watering the plants twice a day.

It is exactly midnight as I write, and hear B come in (from the Friday social at the sailing club, I heard him locking the back door.  Hope he decides to watch some telly before I go to bed or he will keep me awake with all the constant singing, talking and other and noises he makes in his sleep after his 'pleasant' evening (he always does), if I go to bed first I will be asleep and unlikely to hear him.

Need to get up a bit earlier tomorrow morning as need to make a big batch of scones for B to take to the sailing club by 9.30am.  He has offered to come and pick them up later in the afternoon, but I want to get them out of the way so I have the rest of the day doing what I want without having to stop and make scones.   I'll have more to make on Sunday so have asked Gill not to phone me (she'll be coming to stay with me several days next week anyway). 

Because of our large family gathering, I'll be taking more than one day off blogging this weekend, and also several more towards the end of next week.  Still much I need to do, and if I have two breaks rather than take the whole week off, it will give me a chance to catch up and reply to any comments that have been sent in.   The plan is this.  I won't blog tomorrow OR Sunday, probably will sometime during the day on Monday rather than wait until the evening, ditto Tuesday.  Then that will be the last blog until late the following Sunday (or maybe even Monday - depends on whether we still have family or guests around). 

What I would hope to happen is that regular readers will still send in comments, not necessarily to me, but this time to each other.  A virtual chat round the communal coffee table.  Just remember to always use the last posting to send in comments as if an early post is used, the comment will only appear below that one so will not be seen. 

As still having the organic veggies delivered once a month.  This time there was Chard, as well as a big bag of spring greens.  My Beloved is not that fond of 'greens' much at all, although enjoys the hard white cabbage when finely shredded and then tossed in bacon fat (to accompany liver gougons, bacon and potatoes). 
So decided I'd eat the kale.  I removed the whites stalks and put these in a pan of water, then shredded the leaves and put those in a steamer over the stalks and left them to cook.  Turned out really well.  I drained the stalks and left those to get cold, then chopped them into chunks to add to salad leaves as part of my supper.   The steamed leaves I added to a frying pan in which I'd just fried some chopped onions, then when these were heated through I poured over some beaten eggs, stirring the lot round to 'scramble' the eggs, and have to say, with a good squirt of Fiery Chill ketchup on top, it really did taste good.  For that matter so did the chard stalks, nice and tender, although not much flavour, they worked well in the salad.

One recipe today,  chosen because it shows how one chicken breast - with other ingredients - will be enough to make a meal to serve four people.  Proving also we DON'T always need to use the normal amount of meat (approx. 1lb/450g) that recipes usually expect to use for four portions.

If you have a chicken breast in the freezer (then thaw it), also frozen veggies, and a can of chickpeas and one of tomatoes in the larder (the other ingredients are basic ones we all have - or I hope so), then this is an easy dish to assemble.
The chilli powder turns this into a variation of a chilli con whatever, but if you don't care for too much heat, use far less or instead use a little sweet paprika.
If using frozen veg., these should include carrot, cauliflower, and broccoli. Or use fresh and cook them lightly before using.

 Spicy Chicken and Chickpeas: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 boneless/skinless chicken breast, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed or finely chopped
1 tblsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 x 400g chopped tomatoes
16fl oz (450ml) chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp sugar
1 x 400g chickpeas, drained
10 oz (300g) frozen veg (see above)
salt and pepper
additional extras:
soured cream or Greek yogurt
grated cheese
tortilla chips
Heat the oil in a large deep frying pan (or saucepan), and fry the onion for about 5 minutes until just turning golden, then stir in the chicken, frying this until it browns.  Add the garlic and spices, and stir-fry for a further minute.
Add the tomatoes, stock, and sugar to the pan, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 25 minutes, then add the chickpeas and frozen veggies.  Bring back to the boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add seasoning to taste.
Serve in individual bowls with a dollop of soured cream (or yogurt) on top, a sprinkle of the cheese, and a handful of tortilla chips to dip in and dunk.

That is it for the weekend.  As B will be out both Sat/Sun I may even find time to 'have a chat' with you late Sunday if only just to reply to comments.  Otherwise it will be Monday before I'm blogging again.  Just hope you don't move to pastures new while I'm not blogging.  Memories of years of me listening to the Archers, then - when I went into hospital for a couple of weeks - never listended again (until recently).  When we moved here, previously I watched 'Neighbours' every weekday since it had begun, but as we couldn't get Channel 5 in Morecambe for a couple or so months, when we could get it, I just didn't bother to watch.  Just wish this worked with eating.  Fast for a few days, drink only water, and then maybe I wouldn't want to eat ever again.  Trouble is we have to eat to live.  Other additions can be broken,  but not the intake of food it seems. 

It's turned so chilly that I'm sitting here with a crochet blanket round my shoulders.  Nearly went to get a hot-water bottle to cuddle whilst I watched Andy Murray play.  Temperature down to 10C or below tonight, but said to rise to as much as 18C in some parts of the country during the daytime over the weekend (more in the south than our area).

The solstice has been and gone, so the nights are now drawing in again, and it only seems a very few weeks since we were waiting for winter to arrive (which it never really did - at least where we live).  Should be glad we live in a fairly moderate climate considering how far north the British Isles are.  The Gulf Stream is the cause of that.  Let's hope that doesn't decide to wander elsewhere and cause havoc like its cousin the Jet Stream way above us.   Believe the Pacific has the El Nino (or similar name) that does strange things to the climate and the continents it reaches.

Whatever the weather, do hope you all enjoy your weekend.  But before I lave (nearly forgot) here are replies to your comments.

Hadn't taken too much notice of the difference in price between quick-cook pasta and the normal Hazel.  So checked the Tesco site, and yes, it is fairly expensive, but there are similar (quality) pastas that are even dearer.  Noted also that their 'value range' has cheaper pasta, so the quick-cook is middle of the road.

You said you'd noticed the glass storage jars Pam, so am assuming you had seen the TV series 'The Goode Kitchen' while living in this country?   Yes, they did originally hold orange juice, and like you said, were tall and square, so fitted well together.  I wish a lot more storage jars and other containers were square so there would be less wasted space in cupboards and on shelves.  I now use Nescafe jars for storage, pref those that held 300g instant coffee (but the 200g also useful),  and place them on the shelves sideways as the sides are narrower than across the front, so I can fit more onto a shelf.
I write the contents on the glass using a marker pen, then when empty, if I wish to use the jar for something else, just wash off the writing and re-mark with the new name.

A welcome to Ray.  What a splendid idea to make a Summer Pudding, but heat it up in the microwave. Really must try that. I bet this gave the fruit an even more intense flavour.  Lovely with custard or cream.

It really is time for me to say 'goodnight, God bless'.  Back with you again, soon as I find time. TTFN.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Behind Closed Doors

However lovely those kitchens look in magazines and advertisements, nearly always the food is kept hidden behind closed doors.  If I had my way there were be few cupboards with doors, but lots and lots of open shelves.

When we lived in Leeds, most of my 'dry goods' could be seen, shelves full of glass jars (contents of packets usually decanted into recycled orange juice jars (now I use coffee jars).  We are far more likely to use our stores when we are constantly reminded that we have them.

Here in Morecambe I have a walk-in larder, shelves round the three sides, all full.  At least two long shelves full of glass jars, on the other side are canned foods and those in glass jars.  Packets are kept towards the back of the larder.  All very visible but only when I go into the larder.  One reason why I keep the larder door open, and the light on inside - this way I'm much more inclined to trot in and see what takes my fancy that day.

However, have noticed I'm far less inclined to bake, or use what is in the larder, just because the products are not 'in my face'.  Even though the frozen food and contents of the fridge ARE behind closed doors, somehow I tend to move in that direction rather than any other. 

So today's recipes are based on store-cupboard ingredients, which do include some fresh (or frozen) foods that would be kept in the fridge/freezer, as that seems to be the 21st century way of storing.

Having read how things could be in the not so distant future, am inclined to think that if we don't put our foot down now, the supermarkets will end up having complete control over us.  Even now there are fridges that let us know when we have run out (or running out) of regularly bought products.  Supermarkets are planning to have trolleys that will display details of  'items of interest' as soon as we start pushing them round the aisles.  Tesco send me money-off and points-off vouchers on foods I regularly buy, so I buy them (well I can use them). Once supermarkets have regular customers, all the details of what they buy are computerised, they know exactly what will appeal to us and probably get their trolleys to move in that direction and stop right in front so we will be more than tempted. 

Some people may like their shopping all worked out for them,  if they don't, then somehow the rest of us will be persuaded I'm sure.  If it has been so easy to wean us away from home-cooking ('let us do all the work for you') it is only one small step to them doing the shopping for us too.

First recipe is an easy dish to make, speedy too if you use 'quick cook penne' (as I always do - as it saves both time and fuel).  Eat as a warm supper dish, and any leftovers can be kept in the fridge and eaten cold the next day (at home or at work).

Hot Pasta Salad: serves 4
10 oz (300g) pasta penne (see above)
4 tblsp mayonnaise
juice of 1 lemon
1 x 200g can of tuna in oil
2 red bell peppers, seeded/thinly sliced
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
handful of rocket leaves or watercress
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions. Meanwhile, put the mayonnaise into a bowl and add 1tblsp of the tuna oil, and the lemon juice, and mix until blended. 
Drain the rest of the oil from the tuna, then flake the fish into the mayonnaise dressing and gently fold together.   Drain the pasta and add this, with the peppers and onions also to the mayo mixture. Serve immediately (or it can be left to get cold), and garnish with the rocket or watercress.

Next recipe also uses pasta and not a million miles away from the above dish, but this time uses frozen or canned veg.  Fromage frais is similar to crème fraiche, but lighter.  Yogurt could be used instead.  Or a little cream cheese - this when heated melts down to make a creamy sauce.
We are not fond of runner beans, so I use frozen long 'string' beans and snap them into short lengths while still frozen..  Defrost the prawns before using.

Prawn, Sweetcorn, and Green Bean Pasta: serves 4
10 oz (300g) pasta tubes (penne or macaroni)
7 oz (200g) fresh or frozen runner beans, sliced
1 x 400g can sweetcorn (or use frozen)
5 tblsp fromage frais (see above)
5 tblsp green pesto
7 oz (200g) frozen cooked/peeled prawns
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions, adding the runner beans and sweetcorn for the final 4 minutes of cooking. Drain well, tip into a bowl and set aside.  Keep the pan (still warm) ready to use again.
Meanwhile, mix the fromage frais and pesto together and put into the warm pan with the prawns, warm through over a low heat, then return the pasta and veg to the pan.  Remove from heat, toss everything together, and serve immediately.

With overcast skies, the weather has been a great deal cooler today, and not improving much up to and over the weekend.  However, if lucky, we could get warmer weather again, maybe even hot, so here is a speedy chilled soup, perfect for a scorching day. 
This recipe makes just one serving, but easy enough to double, treble or quadruple if you wish to.
Either char the bell pepper under a grill or on the hob, then place in a plastic bag until cool and the skin will then easily be peeled off.  Alternatively, remove the skin from the pepper using a vegetable peeler.
It is the membrane in a chilli pepper that has most of the heat, not the seeds, so keep this soup mild by scraping the inside cut surface of the pepper to remove the membrane before using.

Speedy Gazpacho: serves 1
1 red bell pepper, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 red chilli, cut in half, seeds/membrane removed
8 fl oz (250ml) passata
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp sherry vinegar
juice of half a lime
salt and pepper
Prepare the bell pepper and the chilli (see above), and chop both into chunks, then put into a blender or food processor with the passata, garlic, vinegar and lime juice, and whizz until smooth.  Alternatively, put the lot into a bowl and use a stick blender.  Add seasoning to taste, then chill until cold.  Traditionally served in soup bowls poured over a few ice cubes.

Do agree with you Jane, there is nothing nicer than seeing a shelf full of home-made preserves.  The ones I made yesterday filled a small (card) table I'd set up in the kitchen, but now they have been packed away in the boxes the jars came in.  They look very professional with different coloured lids to make it easy to find the different flavours.  B will take them to the club this Friday evening, then he has less to carry on Saturday (gingerbread and scones).  Only scones on Sunday thank goodness, so a fairly easy weekend for me as regards 'catering'.

Enjoyed hearing about the Australian deserts Kate.  What we tend to take for granted (our environment), is usually completely different to other countries, so the more readers tell us about their own habitat, the more we want to hear more (at least I do).
Cannot for the life of me remember the name of a film (it might have been called 'Walkabout') that starred a young Jenny Agutter, who - with her young brother - was in a car crash (think her father was killed) and they were a long way from civilisation in Australia.  They set of walking across the desert, and met up with an Aborigine boy who looked after them and led them a great distance.  This was one of the films I can watch again and again, and it does give a good idea of the Australian wilderness.

Thanks to Kate and Sairy who mentioned the reason why we can't now feed our chickens/pigs on household waste.  Am sure there are thousands of people who do what we they shouldn't, as long as it is behind closed doors (or at least within their own property).  It was once considered that every man's home was his castle, and we were entitled to pull up our drawbridge (or shut the gare) and do what we wish within our own confines.  At least it used to be like that.  Now I'm beginning to wonder.

Bedtime again (comes round so quickly often wonder if it's worth getting up in the morning). Back gain blogging in 24 hours.  TTFN.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Weighing up the Possibilities

As so often happens when someone sends in a query, this gets my little brain cells working again.  So a bit of further info re fishcakes and for that matter all bought prepared foods. 

Due to being an old(er) lady, I still tend to use imperial measurements when cooking, but have to say that the metric system really does make it easier for me when calculating the costs of small amounts as everything now is sold by gram weight. 

So, when looking again at the ingredient details of the fishcakes mentioned recently, it gave 33% as the amount of fish used for the pack of (4 x 100g) fishcakes.  The same percentage of fish should be in each fish cake, so 33% of 100g is about 1/3rd,  and this works out at approx. one and a half ounces.

So - if we plan to make fishcakes of the quality (!) and weight of the fishcakes bought, then the cost of the fish used could be really quite low.   Easy to work out as whatever the price per can, the price per 100g is also shown. 
Here are some examples of the lower price range of canned fish (taken from Tesco website), the cost shown is per 100g, but as each tin would contain enough fish to make 3 fishcakes, it is easy enough to work out the cost of the fish used for each 'cake'.   Value Tuna Chunks in brine: 67p per 100g;  Oriental and Pacific Tuna chunks 49p per 100g;  Pilchards 36p per 100g.
We have to take into account the difference between the pack weight and the 'drained weight' (usually shown on the tin. 

Although I don't now go to the supermarkets due to mobility probs, preferring to order on-line and have the food delivered, it really is useful - when tempted - to read the ingredient list on the back of packs of ready-meals or meat products (even soups and sausages), as the percentage of meat used will be shown, and this is a percentage of the weight of the complete meal (or product).   You will be amazed at how little meat there is in some casseroles, meat pies, even in some sausages.  Yet we expect so much more when we consider the price charged.

Much is written about the amount of food thrown away over a year, and how much it costs the average family a week when they do this, yet very little is said about the packaging, and when it comes to buying ready-prepared meals, the price charged covers not just the ingredients (on average these work out about one fifth of the total cost), the rest of the money goes on providing the packaging, the advertising, the transport, and all the other overheads.  Why pay money for something we can't eat?

A welcome to Julie Gray, who keeps chickens and due to this has no waste food (given to the hens?).  As she calls them 'chooks' am wondering if she lives in Australia (or the US?), in this country we don't use that name, and anyway it is now illegal in the UK to give kitchen waste to hens.   The same with pigs.  Don't know why as in war-time all waste food (and there wasn't that much due to rationing) was always saved for the street collection to be given to pigs.
I've got a Penguin war-time book (re-print) on how to feed rabbits and chickens on scraps, and think my mother probably had the same book when she kept chickens during the war, I certainly remember her boiling up potato peelings and mixing these with special chicken 'mash' to feed the hens.

Wish I was like you Margie, you seem able to cook properly for yourself.  Maybe if I did end up living alone I probably would. I do enjoy cooking, especially for B.  It's just years (and years, and years) of cooking for others putting myself last I suppose.

Most canned foods and packets in this country still have b/b dates, although (I looked specially) one jar of honey had a date, another didn't.  Some 'foreign' foods (those that are packed abroad, mainly for the people of that country, words not always in English) don't have dates (or at least not recognisable).
Several years ago I was giving a demonstration to a bee-keeping society (so every food shown had honey in it),  and was told by one man that he had been asked by the people - who decide the b/b dates) as to how long honey will keep.  He told them it would keep forever, and honey had been found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, and it was still fit to eat (by now probably very crystallised).  They said it had to have a date, so they settled for 5 years after bottling. 
It just goes to show that with many things, dates are not necessary at all.  Certainly sugar products (of which honey is one), is said to keep indefinitely.
As I was making preserves today I looked on the 5kg bag of sugar I had bought (a few pence cheaper per 100g at that weight),  and there was no date on it, so someone had some sense.

Know what you mean Hazel about lack of space in a small freezer.  When we lived in Leeds we had a huge chest freezer, and it was usually full, but with a little room to spare when needed.  When B decided to get rid of it (and our old retro fridge also still working), just because he fancied a large American style fridge freezer, although the fridge space was roomy enough, the freezer space was limited due to the cabinet motors fitted in that side.
Although there are only two of us, still found I needed to buy a smaller freezer,  it would fit under a unit, but doesn't, and it has three large roomy drawers, and one half size (as the motor is fitted behind that).  You can guess I've filled that up too!

For anyone thinking about buying a new freezer, it is worth thinking about what you said Hazel, as it is very true.  We store frozen meat, then once it has been cooked with other ingredients,  much of it is then returned to the freezer in individual portions, taking up more space than the meat did originally.
So we need to allow for more room than we think we need.

Have heard before Kate, that night falls in an instant in Australia.  Presumably dawn suddenly lights the sky as though someone has switched it on?   Do wish I could visit Australia, there have been several travel-type progs about Oz on the TV recently and it looks a wonderful place, even the deserted parts.   The ground in the 'out-back' and sandy areas always looks very red.  Is it the same in the cultivated parts (gardens etc), and why it is such a bright colour?

Today has been spent making marmalade and jam.  As I start with the cans of concentrate (bought from Lakeland),  it doesn't take too much time once the mixture is in the pan with added water.  As mentioned before, I use 2kg of sugar and 1 pint of water when making marmalade, this way I get an extra jar and it still sets well.  The strawberry conserve I use the measurements as recommended.

With the lemon marmalade I add the zest and juice of 3 or 4 limes (heating the limes in the microwave for a few seconds so they give out more juice.   To the thin cut orange marmalade I add finely chopped crystallised ginger.    To the strawberry conserve I add the juice of 1 lemon to give it a firmer set.

Because these are sold for charity, I have to buy new jars and lids (although I think now that for charity we are allowed to re-use jars that have been sterilised), so now have a table full of potted up preserves, all labelled, ready for B to take to the social club this Friday (they are having two days of activity, also serving meals and selling marmalade).  Tomorrow I will be making the gingerbread.

The preserve making took longer than I expected, due mainly to me having to find the jars I'd put away and forgotten where, needing to then put them in the oven to heat up and sterilise (even though they were new), also re-using old jars that needed washing, rinsing and heating. 
Then had to zest and collect the juice of the limes, measure out the water, and thankfully yesterday had measured out the sugar for all three batches or I'd have had to have done that as well.

Make the lemon and lime, washed out the preserving pan, ladle, jam funnel, wooden spoon, and then set to making the strawberry preserve.  When that was finished had to wash the pan, ladle, funnel, and spoon again.  All of a sudden it was time to go and watch Wimbledon because Andy Murray was playing, thankfully he won in short sets, so was able to return to the kitchen to make the orange marmalade, having to spend a bit of time chopping the ginger. 
When potted up, and labels on all the jars, set about the final wash of pan and utensils as B returned from 'helping' his sailing mate.  It was 4.30 and for no real reason I felt exhausted. 

Was cross with B this evening, as I went out to water the plants he had reversed the car down the drive as he usually does, but closer to the end of the conservatory as normal, so I had to squeeze past and as I did so tripped over a broken slab that laid on top of the path and the end of it was sticking out.  I fell over, but luckily the wheelbarrow was in the right place, so I fell on that, so no real harm done, although now my back has begun to hurt, and I think I must have twisted it slightly when I fell.
( I couldn't go round the other side of the car as 'upstair's park their car at the side of ours, B reversing sort of diagonally back, so the front end of our car is further away from the house than the back end).

My face also seems to have swelled up slightly, perhaps there was something in those fishcakes I was allergic to.  It was due to have an allergic reaction (it happens fairly regularly), and I took 3 anti-histamines yesterday in time to stop it really puffing out my face.   Took 3 more this evening and my face seems to have returned to normal. 
I'm very glad it has happened for my worst fear is that I would have a full-blown reaction the day of our anniversary meal, and surrounded by family and friends with a face that looks like a puffer fish is not how I wish to look. 

My Beloved brought in another 'bargain' today, this being chicken gougons (reduced from £2 to £1), so he had them for his supper with oven chips and a can of mushy peas (my suggestion as he was perfectly able to prepare/cook his supper all by himself).  Asked him what the gougons were like. He said "much the same as the fishcakes, no flavour at all".    It will take time, but he will learn.

Myself had my usual salad, adding some grated cheese for the protein content.  Normally I use a reduced fat salad cream, but had run out so used some very low fat Heinz mayo, and - like all mayonnaise - this was very 'gloopy'.  Much prefer my salads to have a dressing that coats most of the food, rather than in 'dollops'.
So, having some vinegar in a jar (left over after I'd eaten the pickled onions), plus the dregs left in the small plastic bottle of Heinz Fiery Chilli Ketchup, I poured some vinegar into the bottle of ketchup, gave it a good shake, the poured this into a dish where I'd put a heaped tablespoon of the mayo.  Took a bit of beating with a fork to get it combined, and it still needed a bit more vinegar to make it thin enough for my liking, but it made a lovely flavoured spicy dressing, not a million miles away from the Marie Rose one I make when serving Prawn Cocktail. 

Although I prefer to use salad cream rather than mayonnaise, and the low-fat/low calorie version due to me trying to cut calories and still eat the same amount of dressing (because I like it), probably would not make my own salad cream, at least not for myself, but certainly would if I had guests.
So here is a lovely recipe for this that will keep for up to a week in the fridge, so perfect for those salad days of summer.

Home-made Salad Cream: serves 10
1 tblsp plain flour
1 tblsp caster sugar
2 tsp mustard powder
salt and pepper
2 eggs
4 fl oz (100ml) white wine vinegar
5 fl oz (150ml) double cream
squeeze lemon juice
Mix together the flour, sugar, mustard, and seasoning to taste.  Put the eggs and vinegar into a bowl and beat together, then place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (base not touching the water), and stir continuously until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon (this takes from 5 - 10 minutes).
Remove from heat and leave to cool, the add the cream and lemon juice to taste.  Cover and chill until ready to serve.  This will keep well, covered as long as it is kept chilled in the fridge, so remove only the amount you wish to use at any one time.

Watched a bit more of Jamie today (on Food Network).  He is one of those cooks that are worth watching.  Not everything he makes is economical, for when making 15 minute meals, often he has to use some ready-prepared foods.  Even so, he is a delight to watch, so enthusiastic, and I always end up wanting to make what he has just prepared (sadly, never have done so far), but there are always hints and tips to learn.
Noticed that a repeat of 'Delia through the Decades' is being shown again on Sunday's, can't remember when it is at 3.00pm, or 8.00pm.  Have seen it before, and as B will be out that day/evening, will probably watch it again.

That's it for today.  A cloudy day, and when I went out to water the plants almost felt as though it was trying to spit with rain, but only just.  Do hope we get a shower as I am fed up of carrying the watering cans around, not easy to pour when I have my walking stick in my other hand.  Can't leave the job to B, he is hopeless in the garden, he would probably drown them, or not give them enough, or flatten the plants by pouring the water on top instead of under the leaves into the pots.

Off to bed then up in the morning to make the gingerbread and anything else I can think of.  Should be back blogging again later in the evening.  See you then. 

Open the Box!

Hardly a day goes by without some comment being made about food in the media.  In today's newspaper there was an article headed by "Quarter of the food binned each year has not even been opened."

One comment surprised me: "experts warn that we are victims o a culture in which we feel we haven't provided properly for our family unless they leave some food on their plate."   At one time it was considered good manners to leave a little food on the plate, usually only the upper classes did that. Everyone else was expected to clean their plates, and considering today's obesity problem, it seems that everyone eats everything and all of it.

This food binned refers to food that is still edible and fit to eat.  Much of this is due to people still sticking to the 'use-by' dates and treating 'best-before' dates in the same way.  Almost half of this avoidable waste was thrown away because it was 'not used in time'.

Supermarkets are blamed because their 'buy one, get one free' (aka BOGOFS), mean people are tempted to buy more than they need. Myself feel that most people would find these do save money and use (or freeze) the product that is 'free'. 

Potatoes make up almost a quarter of the untouched food waste, and expect this is to do with the fact they tend to sprout quite rapidly, despite being kept in the dark and as cool as possible.  When they begin to sprout, just rub the tiny sprouts off and they should be fine for a week or so longer.  As long as the spuds are still firm, they can be peeled and cooked.  
Myself am fed up with the way the larger potatoes - this year - seem to have sprouted quickly.  We now hardly ever eat jacket potatoes, or even roasted, so not surprising they stay in their special cloth bag longer than they should.  Their only use to me is when wishing to make mashed potato (not often).
My favourite potatoes for cooking are the small (sometimes called 'baby') potatoes, and as these are always kept in the fridge they never do sprout.    It is said they shouldn't be kept chilled, but I find they never seem to come to any harm.  Cooked always in their skins they can then be served whole or 'crushed' and then fried. 

A list was given of the 4 million tons we waste a year, and it's worth giving these foods a mention (percentage only shown), so that we can prevent ourselves throwing any of these away in the future. Why chocolates and sweets are binned is a bit of a puzzle.  Surely these are unlikely to be kept too long, anyway they would have a b.b. date which means they can be kept for months longer.

Many of the fresh fruit, veg and salads that are binned remain in unopened packets when binned, but some are sold loose.  Here is the list with the most binned items shown first, working down to the least.
Mushrooms 65%; Tomatoes 63%; Yogurts 50%; Carrots 33%; Fresh veg. and salads 30%; Fresh fruit 26%; Chocolate and sweets 22%; Bread and bakery goods 13%; Cheese 10%; Apples 9%; Dairy and eggs 8%; Meat and fish 6%.

Myself can never understand why bagged fresh produce has a use-by (or b/b) date on the packaging, yet when sold loose we don't get given any information as to how long it will last.  I normally buy a large bag of carrots that last me weeks longer than the date given on the bag - but these keep verywell only when kept in the fridge, in their original bag, for weeks AS LONG AS THE BAG HAS BEEN SPLIT TO ALLOW THE AIR IN, otherwise the carrots would end up going soggy.  Same with baby 'new' potatoes, parsnips etc.  Kept in bags with air allowed in, and they keep fresh for much longer.
It makes sense to 'open the box' in more ways than one. 

Before I start replying to comments, must first pose a question.  Realised that we have now reached and passed the summer solstice when we had the longest days (shortest nights).  Now here in the northwest of the UK our longest days is about 20 hours - at least of visibility where we can walk outside and still see where we are going.  On a clear night it barely seems to get dark.
Yet in six months you would expect the opposite, four hours of daylight and the rest of the time dark, but it isn't like that.  When it is our shortest day, it is light enough by 8.00am, and then by 4.00pm it is time to draw the curtains and put on the lights.  So that's roughly 8 hours of usable daylight, twice more than would be expected.  Anyone know why this happens?

Quite a few comment came in, for which I thank all of you.  Seems that most of us feel that £1 a portion is about right, although we all know we can make meals even cheaper than this.  But it is all to do with averages,  one meal may be very economical, the next day's meal cost twice as much. As long as we can keep within our monthly budget, then we shouldn't need to be too concerned how much a portion costs (unless - like me - it is worth checking now and again). 

Welcome to Karen Lizzie, who points out that Jamies' 'cheap' meals aren't that cheap.  To us they do seem more expensive that we would like them to be,  but to many people they probably do see economical.  It all depends on which side of the fence we stand.   Even so, I do enjoy watching him cook, especially his 15 minute meals, and certainly glean a lot of cookery info each time. 
Usually it does work out affordable to buy the occasional roast, then use this up in several dishes during the following week, but only if there is a family to feed.  Feeding just one or two and a joint worth roasting (and they need to be large to get the best flavour) would never be bought.
Having said that, about twice a year I do buy a large piece of beef (topside or silverside), and roast it with extra fat (given me by the butcher), so that I have plenty of meat to slice when cold and then freeze, with or without gravy, and also have a lovely pot of proper beef dripping that my Beloved adores and eats spread on toast with a sprinkle of salt.  Unhealthy I know, but it never seems to do him any harm (he doesn't have it THAT often), as his medical checks show.

Good to hear from both Eileen and Pam there memories of living happily with a large family in a small home.  Maybe it's to do with 'how it was then', but people seemed to be content with their lot, proving that we don't need money to have a happy home.   Not that there is anything wrong in aiming to improve our lives, but money really does not bring happiness, or at least not the right kind.

Do remember 'passing the balloon' (not an orange) was in the Good Life Hazel, but maybe it wasn't during the Christmas episode.  This series is often repeated, so I'll make a note next time I see the balloon game and give it a mention.
You mentioned using 1lb mince to make spag. bol, but you didn't say how many individual servings you ended up with. 

Had to smile at your memories of  your dad's family Alison, and although I cannot top the preparing meal, giving birth, then going back down to serve the pud, can say that I was in labour with my first child for less than 3 hours, and by the time I had my fourth, she was born in 20 minutes from start to finish.  After the third child was born, about an hour later had to get up and go downstairs to make B a bacon sandwich because he said I could make them better than he could!!!  In those days I was still living in the time when the man was master of the house and the wife always did as she was told. 
Things are slightly different now.   B did take me to the church today and collected me, despite him being phoned by someone at the sailing club to go and open the doors for someone who was doing repairs.  I told B that I didn't HAVE to go this afternoon, but he stood there, feet astride, arms akimbo and said ' No - YOU have priority', with the underlying tone of 'Yes, you are a nuisance but I suppose you have to be taken'.  Or was I just imagining it?

A welcome to Floss, who is wondering how fishcakes can be made for £1 when fish is so expensive (incidentally the ones bought were £2 for four - 50 pence each). 
Not all fish is expensive,  Jamie was saying that frozen fish can cost half the price of the same thing when bought fresh.  The Tesco 'value' pack of (anonymous) 'white fish' fillets I find worth buying.
But fish cakes don't always have to be made using fresh fish,  myself often used canned fish, pilchards and sardines being especially economical.  I'll have to make up a batch, see how many fishcakes can be made, and how much they cost in total, and individually.

Having recently bought a very large whole fresh salmon (filleted by the fishmonger), costing me £12, this portioned out into 14 'steaks' (7 from each side), plus the side trimmings and both tail ends, these oddments very good for fish risotto, and fishcakes.  This only because I bought the whole fish in the first place,  buying it in small pieces it is always much more expensive.   Salmon freezes beautifully, so worth it in the long run.

Learn something new every day.  Thanks to Barbara for letting us know that potato puree is a traditional Italian dish.  At least with the menu described, it wasn't served with a mushroom sauce, so I suppose eats well within a 'balanced' meal.    Not quite sure what 'potato puree' is, the version shown on TV was really soft, a bit like a 'drop from the spoon' sauce.  'Creamed' potatoes sound similar but thicker,  normally potatoes that have had extra butter and cream added when mashing.
These I do enjoy eating (but they are carbos and I shouldn't).

Having mentioned fishcakes, am repeating a recipe I gave some months ago, so new readers will have missed it.  Canned salmon is not the cheapest of tinned fish, and although tuna can also be expensive, the 'value' cans are really worth buying, especially when making fishcakes.
Beetroot is one of those 'super-foods' always worth including wherever possible, and because it adds a pretty pink colour to whatever it touches, these fishcakes will be loved by children.  Choose the most suitable canned fish within your budget range.
It could be that using instant potato works out cheaper than cooking and mashing fresh spuds.  Canned potatoes also mash up well, and these are proved to be (sometimes) cheaper than fresh.

Although the recipe below does not coat the fishcakes before cooking, if we flour, egg, and crumb them this will increase their size slightly, and if we 'double dip' (giving a thicker coating), we could make 10 from the original mix, as we've increased their visual appearance by using this trick.  Anyone who worked out the percentage of the fishcakes as given yesterday will realise that at least a quarter of the weight came from the crumb coating.  Deceiving the eye often helps when it comes to economical presentation.

Salmon and Beetroot Fishcakes:  makes 8
1lb 2 oz (500g) mashed potato
1 small onion or shallot, finely chopped
7 oz (200g) cooked beetroot, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 x 170g can salmon, drained (see above)
1 tblsp sunflower oil
Mix the mashed potato, onion, and beetroot together, adding seasoning to taste, then flake the fish and fold that into the mixture.  Divide into eight, and - using clean hands - form into 8 fishcakes.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over fairly high heat, and fry the fishcakes in batches until the undersides are brown and crispy, then flip over to cook the other side. Keep the first cooked fishcakes warm while you finish cooking the rest.  Good served with salad.

Still no rain, but the sun found it difficult to break through as the sky was overcast most of the day. Still very warm, and a bit muggy.  A feeling that thunder may not be too far away.  We really could do with some rain, gentle showers to bring life back to the garden, and preferably during the night.

A busy week ahead of me,  the 'water sports' weekend in a few days has brought me orders for marmalade and jam, gingerbread, and a fresh scones, the latter baked fresh for each of the two days.  I've already weighed out the sugar, so tomorrow will make a start with the preserves and on Thursday will make the gingerbread (as it improves with a few days keeping).

The church meeting this afternoon was very pleasant.  I have joined the church and paid my fee, so am an 'associate member' for 6 months, then - if I've been a good girl - will be asked if I'd like to become a full member. 
There were only six of us there today (maybe the others were watching Wimbledon?) and we did some meditating, and some of the mediums had a few messages to pass on (but not for me this time).
Not sure if I'll be there next week as that will be our anniversary week, so I'll be fairly busy getting the house straight, Gill will be staying with me, and no doubt members of the family will be popping in from time to time.   I'll also be taking a few days off blogging so that I can concentrate on what has to take priority.  But should be blogging until mid-week, so will remind readers closer to the time.

That's it for now.  Already Wednesday - doesn't the time fly by when we get old?  After a few hours sleep, back into the kitchen to start making the preserves.  Might even find time to make the gingerbread too.  Then can relax until early Saturday when I have to get up early to make the scones, ditto Sunday (they are always best eaten fresh, on the day they are made).  TTFN.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Men from Mars, Women from Venus?

Was not really surprised when I heard on the news today that there is 20% more domestic abuse after a sporting contest (partic. football) when England have lost.   Mentioned this to B and asked why? He replied that men always get upset and over emotional when their home team lose (presumably only men who follow sport). 
Brought back memories when I used to work in the local pub, and prayed that Leicester would win their Saturday match, for is so the landlord was on cloud nine, nice as pie.  When they lost he was always in a foul temper.  Not abusive, but not nice to be near.

Now that women are expected to be equal with men, perhaps we should also allow ourselves some 'sporty emotion) and said to B that perhaps he should keep out of my way as I could be wielding my rolling pin if Andy Murray doesn't win Wimbledon!  Just joking!  After all it's only a sport.  There are worse things happening in the world to get emotional about, but in a controlled way.  Harsh words (and deeds) butter no parsnips as the saying goes.

One thing I forgot to mention about those chicken meatballs at 'Hey Meatball' (in Toronto) was that they were served on bed of pureed potatoes.  Very definitely a puree, the spuds looked very sloppy, and not a lot different in texture to the mushroom sauce (aka 'gravy'), served on top of the meatballs.  Pasta would have been a much better (more traditional) way to accompany the chicken 'balls' and the mushroom sauce would then be perfect, but probably this 'diner' wanted to serve things differently, and as the customers really liked the dish, then who am I to criticise?

Yes, do remember 'pass the orange' game Hazel.  Think, during the war we did the same game using small balloons (as then no oranges due to rationing).  If I remember they did 'passing the balloon' as one of the games in the Christmas episode of 'The Good Life'

One game I remember, suitable more for keeping one or two children occupied rather than at a party, was to fill a matchbox with as many different things as possible.  Surprisingly it can be hundreds. Start with a grain of rice, a crystal of sugar, on split red get the idea.  Keeps them occupied for hours.

Had a vision of you hiding under the piano Granny G.  Let us hope it was a baby grand, the space under an upright is mighty small.   A good place to hid is in a wardrobe, behind all the clothes, especially long ones so legs can'[t be seen.  When I hid there the children never found me, even though they slid the doors open and moved a few clothes (I was tucked in the corner - and a lot thinner in those days - or should I say 'slimmer', I was never thin).

Watched two interesting programmes this evening.  The first was Jamie's Money Saving Meals,  the second was Benefits Britain - life on the dole.
Jamie's cookery prog was - as ever - very good, but not would I would call 'money-saving', although could see how it worked that way.  Problem with me is that I would have to see a meal demonstrated that would cost less than £1 to consider it thrifty.  Generally Jamie didn't go much lower than £1.50 for a portion, and often quite a lot more.

Maybe that IS low cost by todays standards, and I'm still living in the past when people didn't eat quite so much and not so many ingredients were used.  I'd like to hear from as many readers as possible as to what they think merits being called 'money-saving', not necessarily an actual dish, just how much they feel it should cost.   Even if not commented before (and never again), the more readers that are kind enough to let me know what they think would really help me to give recipes that would fit into today's cookery world.

The second programme was depressing.  This episode mainly about families that had several children.  One man fathered a LOT (by 10 different women I believe), and seemed to be claiming benefits for all.
There seemed to be only one lady - who had six children all fathered by the same man, but he never made an appearance - seemed to have a fairly stable family life.  All the children seemed happy enough and well cared for.  In all the cases it seemed the accommodation was too small, as two or more children had to share a room.  The parents were demanding larger council houses with more bedrooms to accommodate the family - and many were getting them.

Reminded me of my Beloved's childhood home.  A terrace house where you walked into the front room from the street (no hall).  This room was used by his grandma.  The back room was lived in by the rest of the family - two parents (father working), five boys and one girl.  A tiny kitchen (more a scullery, and no bathroom (they bathed in a tin bath in front of the fire).  The loo was outside, next to the coal shed. 
The oldest boys slept in the upstairs front bedroom that held two double beds, so the boys slept two to a bed.  The youngest son (my B) slept in the smallest bedroom with his older sister.  The parents slept in the middle bedroom.
Yet, from what B said, this was common in those days, and they had a reasonably happy childhood. When I first met B and later was taken to meet his family I really enjoyed it, even though the room was full to bursting once the table was laid for tea and we all sat round to eat (and later played cards).  Much more fun than my own home which was large, had all the amenities, and a miserable atmosphere as my mum and dad always seemed to be having 'words' and much of the time never spoke to each other - I was the messenger boy sometimes taking written notes from on to t'other and waiting for a reply.

It was noticeable that several of the houses had large plasma TVs, and some of the bedrooms also had a TV for the older children.  Also it seemed that they were able to afford cars.  Yet many of them had been on benefits most of their married life.   From snippets seen from another episode, several of the people said they were better off living on the dole, and had no intention of giving up benefits.
Maybe the benefit system makes things a little too easy for some.  Not all - for often people have become unemployed through no fault of their own and have to rely on benefits until they can get more work. It is just those that abuse the system that is of concern.  And there are many.

As I've mentioned before, my Beloved can't resist a bargain when he shops at Morrison's, and the other day he came home with a pack of four fish cakes 'because they looked good value'.  They cost £1, and the weight was 400g (just under 4 oz each).  We ate them for supper today, with oven chips and peas.

Not worth the money I thought.   Cooked in the oven at the same temperature and time as the chips, the coating of the fishcakes was nice and crispy, but the filling was very 'mushy'.  Definitely a taste of fish (and not sure I liked that), but it was more like a thick puree, no definable flakes of fish.

Decided to read the label, and although the name was given as "Alaskan Pollock and Bacon Fishcakes" there was no flavour of bacon that I could find (and I do have a sensitive palate).  The amount of fish (33%) was not bad, considering the mashed potato (22%) and bacon (7%) made up the other half (fishcakes should be made from equal quantities of fish and potato, better still more fish than potato). But what made up the remaining 38%?  It had to be the 'batter' (aka the crumb coating), and reading the ingredient list this contained so many additives and preservatives that it made me realise that home-made fishcakes (cooked fish, mashed potatoes, with the addition of chopped fresh parsley and sometimes lemon zest/juice, plus salt and pepper) contains very few ingredients compared to the bought.  Better and healthier to eat and cheaper to make. 

I was going to write out the full list of ingredients, but written in total it would fill as many lines (9) as the above paragraph.

When I spoke to Gill at the weekend she told me that she had made a cake in the new oven that her son had bought her for mother's day.  It turned out well.  Then she admitted it was made using a cake mix.  She couldn't remember the make, but it was Lemon Drizzle.  "Well" I said "at least you were able to use a real lemon and sugar to flavour the cake and make the drizzle topping".  But Gill said that wasn't necessary, the lemon drizzle was included in the pack, and just needed water adding to it.

Really, this is what can happen when we eventually have to live alone.  Gill has four children (no grown up of course), and was a wonderful home-cook, I loved her meals when I stayed with them. Now she lives alone (her family live in the same town - she sees them all the time), she tends to eat out a lot.  Driving friends around, they pay for her lunch (so she is a real 'lady that lunches'), and has little need to cook for herself, just eating salads, sandwiches, and sometimes a chilli con carne or spag bol that she has made in bulk then frozen away in single portions to reheat in the microwave when she feels like having a hot meal.

I have to admit, that when I have been on my own (when B has been on one of his four-week sailing trips some years ago), that I never bothered to cook a meal for myself, other than perhaps fry an omelette.  Possibly making up chilli and spag bol for freezing, but I'd be like Gill, probably end up going out on Norris to the local pub or café and eating there.  Or making sarnies and salad, and opening can after can of fish, soups, baked beans, and certainly would make my daily tomato soup using canned tomatoes.  Possibly ordering ready-meals from Tesco to store in the freezer.
During the winter I'd probably have those Wiltshire Farm Foods meals (frozen, for us older folk), delivered, and just reheat in the microwave. 

So it would be good to hear from readers who live alone whether they too prefer the 'readies', rather than spend time cooking a proper meal for themselves.
It could be that mothers who have always cooked for at least three or four, and often more, do enjoy cooking for the family, and taking a lot of care with what they make.  As is always said, this is the way mothers show their love, cooking for THEM, not necessarily for themselves.

Am reminded of serving up meals for our four children plus B.  By the time they had all been served, I had very little time (if any) to sit down to my own meal as they were just about ready for their 'pud'. So I always ate in haste, sometimes not eating until the meal was finished - and then, due to economy - usually the left-overs.  So once the family had flown the nest, the joy of cooking with love was over, and it seemed nonsense to carry on cooking just for ME. 

People who prefer to live alone, or who have had no children, probably are used to cooking a meal for themselves.  Or maybe not.  I would be good to know, and the only way I can find out is if you can tell me.

Just one recipe today, a storecupboard one if you use frozen broccoli.  Use a cheese sauce and grated Parmesan (sold in packets) and omit the broccoli and substitute canned peas and quite possibly this dish could be made from the foods allocated by the foodbanks.  Instead of potato crisps we could use cornflakes.
Instead of using the condensed soup (plus milk) we could use ordinary canned soup (mushroom or a creamy tomato soup).

Tuna and Broccoli Pasta Bake: serves 4
10 oz (300g) pasta penne
14 oz (400g) broccoli, small florets
1 x 200g can tuna, drained and flaked
1 can condensed mushroom soup
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
4 oz (100g) cheddar cheese, grated
1 small packet potato crisps, lightly crushed
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions until almost cooked (it will cook further when mixed with the other ingredients). Add the broccoli for the last 3 minutes of cooking.   Drain well, then tip into an ovenproof dish.  Scatter the tuna over.  Mix the soup and milk together, then pour this over the pasta/broccoli and tuna, tossing it or stirring gently together.
Sprinkle two-thirds of the cheese on top, then top this with the crushed crisps, scattering over the remaining cheese.  Bake at 200C, gas 6 for 15 minutes until the topping is golden.  Serve immediately.

That's it for today.  Weather still holding, and should remain so for the next few days give or take a light shower in a few small areas of the country (we need these for the garden). 
Am going to the church meeting this Tuesday afternoon, more on that when I write my next blog later that evening.  See you then.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Make the Most of It...

For the moment we are blessed with good weather.  Almost a heatwave.  With Wimbledon starting next week I have much to look forward to, although will be fairly busy part of the time.  A big weekend next week as Morecambe has a two day 'water festival', so my Beloved will be busy with the sailing, and I've been asked to bake scones, desserts etc, for the two days.   B is also helping out his upholstery mate all next week as well, although I have twisted his arm and requested he take me to the church meeting on Tuesday (and bring me home later).

The following week I will be taking the end of the week off due to having Gill to stay, and family members and friends are coming to our anniversary meal (that thankfully is at a restaurant, and I - for once - am not expected to cook).  But more about that later.

Although quite a bit of today was spent outdoors, tidying up the garden, pruning some overgrown bushes etc, I did switch on to the Food Network (don't ask me why, I just needed an excuse to sit down I suppose), and it was Guy Fieri with his 'three D's', but as the first was in Toronto, Canada (where Margie lives), thought I'd watch, and he went to 'Hey Meatball' (or was it 'hen', can't even read my writing).  It showed the preparation of some chicken meatballs, and what they called 'the gravy' (that we in the UK would call mushroom sauce).  Have you eaten there Margie, and it is a good as Guy F said?  One thing I did notice was that all the eggs used had almost red yolks.  Guy F remarked on this.   The next place visited was back in the states, so didn't watch.

Not many comments at the moment, and am not surprised as very few people would want to waste the lovely summer days/evenings sitting at the computer.  Even thought I had planned to write my blog earlier today, the weather tempted me back outside.

If the weather is bad for your grandchildren's party Granny G, then it could still be fun held indoors, especially if they were allowed to make/cook/decorated a lot of the food they would eat.  My mind went back to indoor games such as 'Hunt the Thimble'.  Do children play this these days?  Musical chairs was fun for younger children.

Because tennis rules OK over the next two weeks (at least for some of us), today am giving the recipe for Tennis Cake that was in the Harmsworth's Household Encyclopedia.  Because these six huge books were published well over 100 years ago, the recipes are written old style, and this is the way it will be shown today.  It's pretty obvious they expected ladies knew how to cook as some of the details that are always given in today's cookbooks are missing.  But in those days meals/cakes etc were always home-cooked.   The weights and measurements are given in lbs and oz, and only because I was able to look at a page showing coloured sketches of some of the recipes in the book was I able to see that an oblong tin was used for baking, and the marzipan covered not just the top but also the sides (not the base) of the cake.  The icing covered the marzipan. 
The temperature of a moderate oven would be about 170C, gas 3 in today's ovens, but as no time is given, best to do the skewer test to make sure the cake is cooked, and cover the cake with a tent of foil if browning too quickly.

Tennis Cake:
This cake can be made in the following way:  Beat together 5 oz of sugar and 1/2 a pound of butter or margarine until they are like cream; then add 3 eggs, one by one, beating all the time.
When they are well mixed, stir in 1lb of flour, 3/4 lb of sultanas, 2 oz of peel, a little milk, and a few drops of essence of lemon.
Turn the mixture into a greased tin and bake it in a moderate oven until it is lightly browned, then let it cool on a sieve.   When cold cover the top with almond paste or marzipan, and over this put some fondant or royal icing.  Decorate the borders of the cake according to taste, writing the word 'Tennis' using pink icing and complete it with a design of two tennis racquets.

These household encylopedias cover just about everything to do with domestic life, and even more. Such a wide range that includes games (both indoors and out), craftwork, carpentry, dressmaking, cookery, gardening, metal work, animal husbandry etc, etc., and everything comes in alphabetical order, so 'Tennis Cake' follows 'tennis ball', but comes before 'tennis court'.  And yes, instructions on how to make a tennis court are given, beginning by saying:  'Where space is available in the garden a tennis court makes a charming addition  to the amenities of the house.' then five and a half pages are taken over telling us how to make one.  With diagrams and photos. 

Myself find the descriptions of many things quite strange by today's standards.  I will really have to read through some of the books so that I can give a few more examples.  Especially interesting when they talk about fashion (clothes/hair etc).

There are several sketches and some photographs of houses built in those days, with architects ground plans to show the layout of the rooms.  Some addresses were given, and I'm wondering if these houses are still standing.  Maybe I can look them up on Google Earth.

Two recipes today, one based on cous-cous, the other uses sweet potatoes (because I have a bag of those I want to use).  We need to make the most of what we have, or perhaps better put as 'make the best of what we have' and these two dishes are that little bit different.

First meal is fritters made with couscous, and as this is something I often make too much of, it is a good way to use the left-overs.  The word 'fritter' means something flat and fried (my versions anyway), same as fish-cakes, patties, or rissoles (although those are usually sausage shaped).

Couscous Fritters with Feta: serves 2
6 oz (175g) couscous
7 fl oz (200ml) hot vegetable stock
1 egg, beaten
3 tblsp natural yogurt
salt and pepper to taste
3 oz (75g) feta cheese, cut into 1cm cubes
2 oz (50g) semi-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
3 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tblsp sunflower oil
Put the couscous into a bowl and pour in the hot stock.  Cover with a plate or clingfilm, and leave to stand for 5 minutes or until the stock has been absorbed.  Add the egg and yogurt and mix well, then fold in seasoning, cheese, tomatoes, and onions.  Divide into four and shape into patties.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the fritters for 5 minutes on each side until golden.
Serve with a crisp green salad and chutney of your choice.

Second recipe is for soup, and when you have sweet potatoes it is worth making this in bulk as it freezes well.  As neither B nor I like the taste of fresh coriander, I would leave it out,  choosing another fresh herb.  As the coriander stalks are used for flavouring the soup (leaves for garnish), then watercress could serve the same purpose, also parsley.

Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup: serves 6
2 tsp medium curry powder
3 tblsp olive oil
2 onions, grated
1 eating apple, peeled, cored, grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 x 20g pack coriander
one inch piece root ginger, peeled/grated
salt and pepper
1lb 12oz (800g) sweet potatoes, peeled/grated
2 pts (1.2ltrs) vegetable stock
4 oz (100g) red lentils
half pint (300ml) milk
juice 1 lime
Sprinkle the curry powder into a large dry pan, and toast for 2 minutes, then stir in the olive oil, adding the onions, apple, garlic, chopped coriander stalks, and the ginger, plus seasoning to taste. Stir-fry for 5 minutes, then add the sweet potatoes, stock, lentils and milk.  Bring to the boil, cover pan, and simmer for 20 minutes.  Blend until smooth, then stir in the lime juice and serve with a sprinkling of chopped coriander leaves.

That's it for now, back again this time tomorrow.  Hope you've all had a wonderful weekend and maybe even been able to eat outdoors, either a barbecue or picnic, or just sandwiches sitting on a blanket on the lawn.  TTFN.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

So We Think it's All Over....?

So England is now out of the world football series.   Was expecting B to not bother watching the remaining matches, but he tells me he will be.  Not that footie is THAT important, he missed one this evening as he was going to the social, and missing another at this very moment as he has still not returned (and it is after midnight).

Was hoping B would now find time to do all the necessary bits and bobs around our house, but still there is work to finish at 'the shed', and also working again next week for his friend AGAIN!.  Told B that I want to go to the spiritualist meeting on Tuesday and asked him to take me, as a taxi costs too muc), and after much sighing and 'will then have to start work early to take the time off',  explained to B  that it would take no more than half a hour (his work is close to the church), and as he normally leaves work at 3.30pm, he could leave at 4.00pm, in time to collect me at 4.15.  A few shrugs later he agreed that it was OK.  I mean, he's only helping out his friend, not as an employed assistant, so don't see why he can't give me half an hour of his time.  The rest of the week he does exactly what he wants.

The morning began with the sky covered with heavy black clouds.  Looked as though we would be getting a downpour, but although remaining overcast for most of the morning, it stayed dry, and my neighbour and I had coffee sitting in the garden, it was lovely now that we had lots of flowers to look at, and tubs of lavender close by to brush against as we walked past.
By noon most of the clouds had rolled away and the sun came out, hot as ever, and it was 1.30pm before we broke ranks and went our separate ways.  Sad to say my neighbour has decided to sell her flat and move to Shropshire where her sister lives.  It could be some months before the flat is sold, or she might strike lucky and sell it sooner, but I will miss our coffee mornings and her company very much.

Even  if England have not been lucky with the football, we still have tennis to look forward to, Wimbledon starting on Monday, and do hope that Andy Murray gets through to the final. 
At one time I used to watch all the tennis, but that was in the days of Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors etc, and names/faces I could even recognise as well as pronounce correctly.  In those days the ladies didn't grunt each time they hit the ball, and the balls themselves didn't seem to be hit as hard as they are now. 

Even up to a few years ago I used to settle down to watch the matches, and during the second week would make sure I had those traditional bowls of strawberries and cream to eat while sitting in front of the TV, and also swigging down some BabyCham.  Is BabyCham still sold?  I so, will do it again.

In the Harmsworth Encyclopedia (c.1910) that belonged to my grandparents, there is a recipe for 'Tennis Cake', to be served at those garden parties (or clubs) where posh people played tennis.  I'll hunt it out tomorrow and include it in my (late Sunday) blog this weekend, and then it can be made to be eaten during Wimbledon fortnight by those who like to return to those good old days and eat cake 'like grandma used to make' (or perhaps great-grandma, or even great-great grandma).

When the weather is warm we don't feel like eating much more than salads, maybe with cold meats/pork pies.  Sometimes though we prefer something cooked, and so today's recipes are both suitable for hot summer days.

First recipe is a cross between a risotto and a savoury omelette.  Ideally serve with a rich home-made (or bought) tomato sauce/relish, and even better with the addition of cool, crispy green salad.
Ideally used a non-stick frying pan for the final frying.

Pesto Rice Cake: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
1 large leek, finely chopped
12 oz (350g) risotto rice (Arborio)
1.75pts (1 ltr) hot vegetable stock
4 oz (100g) green pesto
2 eggs, beaten
ground black pepper, to taste
5 oz (150g) ball mozzarella, thinly sliced
tomato sauce for serving
Melt the butter in a large frying pan and fry the leek for about 5 minutes, until softened. Stir in the rice then pour in a ladleful of the stock.  Simmer until almost all has been  absorbed, then keep adding more stock, a ladleful at a time, simmering and continuously stirring, for about 20 minutes or until the rice is tender and creamy.
Remove from heat and leave to cool for a few minutes, then spoon the rice into a bowl and add the pesto, eggs and black pepper.  Return half this mixture to a non-stick 9"/23cm frying pan (omelette pan size), and flatten the surface.  Arrange the mozzarella slices on top and cover with the remaining eggy rice.  Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, then put a plate over the frying pan and carefully turn it over so the rice cake sits on the plate, cooked side facing up, then slide the cake from the plate back into the pan to cook the underside. If necessary, press down using a fish slice to reshape the rice cake, and cook for a further 5 minutes until golden.  Serve with tomato sauce and salad.

Next recipe is a good one for eating al fresco, or even sitting in front of the TV watching the sport of the moment.   Although the recipe suggests using pizza-base mixes, we could use home-made bread dough that has been thinly rolled (I sometimes save surplus unbaked bread dough and freeze it in small bags ready to thaw and bake later as rolls/pizzas etc).  Note that the recipe requires a small can of chopped tomatoes, I have yet to find these, most cans seem to hold 400g, but we always find a use for the surplus (but never leave it in the can, always place in a not-metallic dish and chill for a couple or so days, or freezer for several weeks),.Although intending to make four portions (called 'squares' but if cooked in the size tin suggested they would turn out as oblongs)., Served as part of a buffet or TV eating, this could be cut into 8 or even 12 pieces to eat as 'finger food'.

Tuna Pizza Squares: serves 4
2 x 145g packs pizza-base mix
9 fl oz (250ml) warm water
3 tblsp olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 x 200g can chopped tomatoes
pinch dried oregano
salt and pepper
1 x 200g can tuna, drained
2oz (50g) black olives, pitted then sliced
2 oz (50g) cheddar cheese, grated
Put the pizza-base mixes into a bowl and mix in the water to make a smooth dough. Knead for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a floured board and roll to the size to fit into a greased Swiss-roll tin (13" x 11"/ 33 x 28cm).  Place the dough in the tin and brush with a tablespoon of the oil (you may need less).
Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan and fry the onions until golden, then set aside.  Spread the tomatoes over the dough and scatter the oregano on top, also adding seasoning to taste.
Flake the tuna and spread this over the pizza base, tucking in the sliced olives evenly.  Cover with the fried onions, and finally scattering the grated cheese over everything.
Bake at 200C, gas 6 for 15 - 20 minutes or until dough is risen, cooked through and golden. Cut into four and serve with a salad.

Final recipe today is an easy dessert.  I say 'easy' because most of the ingredients we would probably already have in our larder.  At the moment I don't have meringues, but as I was planning to make some lemon curd tomorrow (in the microwave), I will have saved two egg whites, and would use these to make meringues. Once made, these will store well in an airtight tin for weeks (even months).
My Beloved loves ice-cream, he also loves ginger, so am sure he will REALLY love eating this.
Instead of kirsch we could use a little limoncello, or Cointreau (if using the latter use orange zest not lemon). Or just a little rum - enough to taste but not overtake).

Although the suggestion is to serve this as one solid 'cake', to be cut into wedges, that's fine if intending it to be eaten all up.  As my Beloved will only want one piece at a time, I'll be potting it up in individual containers (with lids) that I've saved once empty (yogurt pots, half-pint cream cartons, tubs that held bought hummous or glace cherries etc).  Then freeze so that just one can be taken out to be eaten as and when required.

When lining tins with clingfilm, it clings better (with less creases) if first the surface of the tin has been wetted with cold water.  Or grease the tin first using oil.

Ginger Ice-Cream: serves 6
6 ready-made meringues
half-pint carton double cream
grated zest of 1 lemon
3 tblsp kirsch or other liqueur
2 tlblsp caster sugar
4 pieces stem ginger in syrup, finely chopped
Break the meringues into chunks.   Whisk the cream until just stiff, then fold in the lemon zest, chosen liqueur, sugar, ginger, and the meringue pieces.
Spoon into a 7" (18cm) round cake tin that has been lined with clingfilm (see above tip), level the top and place in the freezer for at least 4 hours.
When ready to serve, turn out of the tin and leave for 10 minutes before cutting into wedges. Drizzle each portion with the syrup from the jar of ginger.

Nearly 2.00am, so time for bed.  B returned home about an hour ago and is now watching a football match.  What is it about men and football?  For goodness sake, it's only a game, and not that interesting to watch anyway. If I had to make a choice, give me Rugby anytime.  That's played by real men who take the rough and tumble in their stride, and don't lie there whimpering if they've suddenly been kicked in the shin or tripped up as the soccer lads do.

As usual, I won' be writing a blog tomorrow, probably returning some time on Sunday, maybe during the day or later in the evening.
Just time to give a reply to the one comment sent in by Granny G.  Why not include cup-cakes along with the other treats you will be making for and with your grandchildren? Not what I would sever at a coffee morning, but youngsters love them and have a lot of fun decorating them.

Enjoy your weekend all my lovely readers, the weather still set fair for the next few days, so hoping it keeps dry for longer, at least until the tennis has finished. Yet we need the rain for the garden, it takes ages to water the containers using watering cans (silly me, I should get B to attach the hose-pipe to the outside tap and then I can just sit in the middle and just turn around pointing the hose in the right direction).  TTFN

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Flavour of the Month.

There I was spending quite a long time trying to find a recipe to be worthy of today's football match, but as I write, knowing England lost the match, am wondering if it is worth including the recipe after all.  Well, why not?  It's got canned tomatoes as one of the ingredients, and these are my favourite food of the month/year, knowing how good they are for us, forget the football and make it anyway.
Six chicken breasts seems expensive, and so my suggestion is to buy three reasonably large ones, then split each in half to make six. 

Brazilian Chicken with Spicy Sauce: serves 6
2 onions, roughly chopped
small chunk of root ginger, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped
2 tblsp olive oil
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper
1 x 200ml can/carton coconut cream
chopped coriander for garnish
wedges of lime for garnish
Put the prepared onions, ginger, garlic, and chilli into a food processor and whizz to a paste.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the chicken, frying lightly until browned on both sides, then remove from the pan and set aside.
Stir the spicy paste into the pan juices and stir-fry for 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes and seasoning to taste.  Bring to the boil, then add the chicken.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, then stir in the coconut cream, cooking for a further 5 minutes or until the chicken is tender and cooked through.
At this point the chicken can be cooled and chilled, or frozen for up to 3 months (defrost before reheating).
Serve hot, sprinkled with coriander and garnish with wedges of lime, accompanied by a bowl of basmati rice and a green salad.

Another good-weather day, cloudy at times but plenty of sun.  Most of the containers are now in place and just a few of the heavier ones waiting for B to move them for me.  As my neighbour will be coming for coffee tomorrow morning, we can sit outside and enjoy looking at the flowers (last week she was away and before that we had no flowers - so she will see a difference).

My knees seem to be as painful when the weather is warm as when it is cold Jane.  Maybe if I could lose some weight it would help, for some reason I'm finding it difficult to lose those pounds, even though I've been working hard all week (far more active than previously), my weight stubbornly refuses to drop, even though it is too warm to eat more than salads.
Had to smile when you called me 'a famous TV cook and author'.  Don't I wish!  Have never thought of myself other than 'just a housewife' interested in the cost-cutting side of domesticity.  When I used to go to the rehearsal studios in London (when I was in 'Bazaar'), for a while I used to enjoy meeting all the really famous people I recognised (other actors were also rehearsing on those days - I remember the Howard's Way team there).  When eating in the canteen with everyone there, I very soon realised that this - to all of them - was just 'work'.  They accepted me as one of them, and I got to feel the same.  We were just ordinary people doing a job.

A welcome to Lynne (Australia) who originated from Bradford, West Yorkshire.  Fairly close to where we used to live in Leeds, so I know the area well (or should say 'knew' as now we live in Lancashire).

It does seem that some taxi-drivers are really good company, jane, and others just want to drive and not chat at all.  I don't mind short distances, but having to keep my mouth shut over several miles I would find very difficult.  I'd probably have to end up going to sleep.

Like you Ali (Shropshire), today I felt sluggish, but put this down to the heat, it has felt more sultry today, and I've got a bit of a thunder headache.  Not yet humid, but moving in that direction.  We could do with a cool shower of rain to clear the air a bit, but hope that will be during the night, not tomorrow morning.

Am quite envious of the Australian winter Kate,  (in the Sydney area at least) as it seems much milder that we have in the UK, even though we really didn't have much of a cold winter this year.  However, don't think we could stand the extremes of heat you get during your summer.
The tomatoes on sale here have fairly thin skins, but generally have little flavour.  The tiny plum tomatoes have more taste, but nowhere as good as the ones my dad used to grow.  I've never tasted any as good since I was in my early teens.  Even my home-grown didn't taste as good as my dad's.

Problem with all fruits on sale (and tomatoes are a fruit), is that they are picked before they are fully ripe.  Only when really ripe do fruits have the flavour that us older folk remember.  But to pick them when they are ready to eat, by the time they have reached the shops, they will have 'gone over', and not be fit to sell.  So we end up with varieties of fruits that keep longer when picked early, and none of these are really worth eating.  
Seems that all fruits and veg are now bred for appearance and keeping quality, and to reach this level they breed out all the flavour.   This doesn't make sense when this fresh produce is bought to eat (not to look at), so we want those that have the best flavour.  But where are they?

This is the month for strawberries.  Yet the ones from the supermarket - sold as British - still haven't that full flavour.  Again it is the varieties on sale.  One tip (we probably all know it anyway) is to eat strawberries at room temperature, preferable when they have been sitting in the sun for an hour. Eating straight from the fridge takes away most of the flavour.  Same thing happens to cheese, always bring that to room temperature before eating. 

That Food Historical Group sounds interesting Margie.  I'd love to join something like that.  Am assuming the fuel used for cooking food over the hearth was wood?  This gives quite a different flavour to what is being cooked, coal smoke is best kept away from food (and why barbecued food is supposed not to be so good for us, especially when charred).

Oh yes, Granny G., you can be sure that Fork biscuits would be served at our communal coffee morning, along with scones, jam and cream; gingerbread; and possibly shortbread.  Profiteroles and macaroons as well on a good day.  Probably invite you all to stay for lunch as well (wine chilled in the fridge waiting), and we can make a day of it. 
As I would find it difficult to stop talking, just jump in when I take a breath, and then you'll find I can also be a good listener.  What fun we could all have.

That's is for today, expect me back again this time tomorrow.  Fingers crossed the weather holds for over the weekend so that we can all get out and enjoy it.  TTFN.


Is It Worth It?

Do agree with you Hazel, libraries are the best place to find cook books.  It is said that only 2% of the recipes in a cook book will ever be used, and as most books have 50 - 100 recipes, then that's only one or two at most.  Have to say I do agree with this.  Over the years I have bought countless cookbooks, and with some have never used any of the recipes, the books mainly of interest as they give a lot of background info about the writer.  Or at least a bit more than just recipes.
Have to ask whether most of the cook books on sale ARE worth the money.  Am sure some are, and I am a sucker for buying cook books that LOOK useful, but have now enough and busy getting rid of most of them to the charity shops. 

It has taken me years to realise that there are no new recipes, everyone we read is just a variation of the original, and when the original was 'invented' can be anyone's guess.  Could be centuries ago. and having read the 'Food and Drink in Britain' (over 1,000 years of development in cooking), we still make today what the Romans used to enjoy, and also our early ancestors.  And still these appear in cookery books/mags as though they are something new and special.  Perhaps to the youngsters of today they could appear so, but then that is what the publishing companies wish everyone to believe.

Just for interest I looked up my books on Amazon, and do not know why this should be, but sold as new the BBC books in the 'Goode...' range can cost up to £100 (Have a Goode Year, a lot more).  The Penguin 'More for Your Money' shown as new £599.00p.  Only pence if sold as used, which could be any condition.  It does seem that some people are prepared to pay the larger amount.   If I'd known that was going to happen I'd have bought 10 copies at author's discount and kept them until now to sell 'as new' (and signed by the author). 

Although trying to keep up with food news Granny G,  I missed hearing about the Jersey Royals, discarded because they were too large. The amount of fruits and vegetables that are thrown away by growers because they are the wrong size/shape and so the supermarkets won't buy them is truly criminal.  In the old days (like when I was a teenager) greengrocers sold all sorts of shapes and sizes, and it was the flavour we wanted, not perfection of appearance.   Considering most vegetables are peeled and cut before being eaten, then does it matter if they started out a bit misshapen?

Considering we are close to mid-summers day, as assuming in Sydney you are experiencing mid-winter Kate, so surprised you are getting such warm temperatures.  Do you ever get get snow in your area?   Here in the UK at the moment it is even hotter - think it was 27C in Scotland, and not much less elsewhere, although said to cool down over the next few days, in the low 20's or even less, with isolated showers (the garden could do with some rain, I am fed up of watering the containers twice a day).   It doesn't matter how much watering I do, just one spell of rain makes the plants look tons better within very few hours.

Although have given this tip before, it must be some months back and probably is not now shown in 'archives' due to a lot having to be edited out to leave space for recipes.
When watering pots that have just about dried out, to avoid the water being wasted as it drips down between the soil and the inside of the pot,  and out through the holes at the base, none of it being soaked up by the soil, first add one drop of washing up liquid (I use Fairy), to the water.  The detergent breaks the surface tension of the water and then is absorbed instantly by the soil rather than just running off.

Can imagine that slugs/snails hate crawling over sawdust.  It would stick to them.  They also hate going over hair, so anyone plagued by slugs could ask their local hairdressers to give them their 'sweepings' of cut hair, then spread this around the veggie patch. 
Not sure if curry powder and other hot spices would deter slugs, but these are said to prevent cats fouling the ground, so any old spices could be sifted over the soil when the weather is dry, not sure if they would work after rain.

Haven't managed to keep shrivelled apples for a number of years Alison, but had a pomander I made for my mother some 20 or so years previously.  What began as a normal sized orange, then studded with cloves, ended up as much smaller, very hard (like a cricket ball) with the cloves tightly fixed and impossible to remove. 
Did once read about a place where a hot-cross bun was saved to give a sailor son on his return, and he never did return, so the bun was placed on a shelf and it just dried out, each year another was made, and never eaten, and every year since a new bun was made and saved in the same way and added to the rest.  It was said the buns had magical curative properties if eaten (although doubt any were).
With this in mind I began saving a home-made hot cross bun each Easter, and ended up with about a dozen or so.  These all dried out, none went mouldy, and were kept in a basket on the shelf.  Threw them away eventually.

Silly me made a mistake with the appointment time this morning, so B was then able to go off to work at usual time, and I then had to take a taxi to the health centre and then back again.  Two different drivers, and neither really in the mood for chatting, so spent most of the journeys keeping my mouth shut (and how difficult THAT was). 

One of the foods that we are encouraged to eat is tomatoes.  Especially when cooked as they do us a lot of good.  Have even seen it suggested we eat them every day.  In fact I usually do, as I make my lunchtime 'soup' from a can of chopped tomatoes, with a good squirt of Fiery Chilli Ketchup. That's all it is, and I love it. 

Here is a recipe that makes good use of those cheaper bacon rashers that can often be bought.  Canned tomatoes (of course), with butter beans making the dish more filling.  If the topping had been made with suet, flour, and water this would be more like dumplings.  But made with butter and milk (as per recipe) it tastes more like savoury scones.
As I write I can see that we could cut down on the bacon (maybe leave it out altogether) and use grated cheese or cheese slices instead.  Or perhaps leave the filling as it is and include grated cheese in the 'cobblers'. 

Bacon and Tomato Cobblers: serves 4
8 rashers streak or back bacon
1 large onion, chopped
1 tblsp olive oil
4 ribs celery, thickly sliced
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
5 fl oz (150ml) chicken stock
1 x 400g can butter beans, drained
salt and pepper
cobbler topping:
3 oz (150g) butter
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
2 tsp dried mixed herbs
pinch salt
6 fl oz (175ml) milk
Cut half the bacon rashers into small pieces, then cut the rest into 3 pieces.
Fry the onion in the oil for a couple of minutes, then add the larger bacon pieces and continue frying for five minutes, then add the celery and fry for 3 minutes longer.  Pour in the chopped tomatoes and stock, bring to the boil, cover and reduce heat.  Simmer for 20 minutes, then add the beans and seasoning to taste.  Then spoon the mixture into an ovenproof dish (approx. 3pt size).
Make the topping by rubbing the butter into the flour, then stir in the herbs, with a pinch of salt and the milk. Using a tablespoon, dollop this over the tomato mixture in the dish, covering as much as possible (the topping will spread slightly as it cooks), and scatter the chopped bacon over the surface.
Bake at 200C, gas 6 for 25-30 minutes until golden.

Was listening to a man on the radio today talking about the 'social networks'. Apparently he tweets a lot.  How good it is that we can 'socialise' so easily, was how he thought about this 21st century technology.  He can sit in his garden and see a moth he didn't recognise and tweet about it (even sending a photo) and within a very few moments he got several replies telling him what it was.  Saves going to the library he said.

Well, maybe something like that can be useful, but to me this sitting alone in the garden having to rely on a smart-phone or whatever it was to have what you need, is more like being anti-social.  Never having to be in real contact with anyone, never having to speak face to face.  Just press a few buttons and you have instant 'friends', instant information.

Thinking about it, I dare say we could now go through most of our life without even needing to be in contact with anyone.  Our bills can be paid through direct debit, our food and clothes ordered on-line and paid for by credit card.  We can have 'company' via our TV and radio, 'tweeting' and Face-book, and even educate ourselves via the computer.  And do you know, I'm getting a bit that way myself, as hardly leaving the house for months (until recently), know it can be done.

Although I don't normally read other blogs, have noticed in most cases that the popular ones do receive a lot of comments, but usually these are not replied to by the author of the blog, the people who have commented then tend to reply to each other. 
When I get comments, each is treated individually and given a reply (by me) as my aim is to keep this blog as personal as possible.  Suppose in a way, what began as a cost-cutting cookery blog has developed more into a sort of diary plus having a virtual coffee morning together, with a few recipe suggestions thrown in.
We can never get together and have that coffee and proper chat together in my kitchen, but at least am having a good try to keep as close a contact to you all as is possible via the computer, and make our virtual meetings seem as real as possible.  Do hope you feel that way too.  Hearing about your way of life, especially in other countries, widens all our horizons and makes for the most interesting reading.  So keep those comments coming.  Many thanks in advance.

Late again, so off to bed.  Hope you are all able to enjoy the good weather while we have it. Long may it continue (but I bet it rains by the weekend).  TTFN.