Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Baking Day!

I love baking day, I don’t think anything can beat the smell of fresh bread baking!  When I worked I had a breadmaker, I used to set it with the timer so that I had fresh bread on a Saturday morning.   I found it was only OK though.  A lot of the recipes were too sweet for my taste and I hated having a hole in the middle of the loaf where the paddle used to be.  After a while I stopped baking in it and only used it to get the dough to the ready-to-bake stage. Eventually, I even stopped doing that and now make it part in my stand mixer and part by hand. 

I use my Mum’s foolproof recipe, she’s been using it for more years than I’ve been alive, and it was probably the one that her mother used before her!  She tells me that when she was growing up the housewives would make the bread dough in the morning and then send the kids off with the loaves in tins to the bakehouse for the baker to cook their bread after he’d cooked the shop bread.  Life is considerably easier today than in those days though!

The recipe I use couldn’t be easier :

·         1½ lbs strong plain flour (breadmaking flour)
·         1 good tsp salt mixed in with the flour 

·         1oz fresh yeast (I get it from the bakery in my local supermarket)
·         1tsp sugar 

·         Appx ¾ to 1 pint of blood-temperature water, which is to say water that is neither cold nor hot, you should be able to hold your finger in it without feeling cold or hot.

Mix the flour and sugar together and make a well in the mixing bowl. 

Put the yeast and sugar together in a small mixing bowl and cream by pushing the sugar and yeast together until the yeast liquefies.  Add to the flour bowl and rinse the bowl out with the water. 

I can only give an approximate amount of liquid as it depends on the make of flour you are using, and even different batches of flour will absorb different amounts of liquid.  You are looking for a dough consistency that is neither too dry nor too wet so either add more liquid, or more flour, until you get the desired consistency. 

I mix mine in my KitchenAid with the dough hook for around 10 minutes before turning out onto the worktop and kneeding by hand for about 5 minutes more.  I find this very relaxing, almost zen-like!   

Pop the dough into a large bowl, cover with a clean tea-towel and leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size.  The time this takes can vary considerably.  In the summer months it was taking less than an hour; this morning it was closer to two hours!  I use three tea-towels and a small hand-towel to cover the dough. 

When it has doubled in size turn back out onto your worktop and knock it back, i.e. kneed it some more.  I cut the dough into three similar sized pieces and kneed them separately, popping each batch into a loaf tin after kneeding.  Cover again with your tea-towel and leave until the dough has doubled in size again. 

Pre-heat your oven to 200o and bake the loaves for appx 35 minutes.  When you turn the loaves out of the tins tap the bottoms, they will sound hollow when they are cooked.

They freeze beautifully so I always pop two in the freezer.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Just like Grandma used to make!

We’ve been away in London for most of this week, Hubby was seeing a client for a few days’ training and I went along to keep him company.  Ahh, the blessings of being a full-time housewife!

I don’t know if it was because we’ve been away, or because it’s been quite cold over the last few days, but I woke up this morning with a real fancying for proper Welsh cawl.  When I was a child this was my favourite dinner; my grandparents lived in the same street as us and my grandmother, with whom I was incredibly close, used to make it quite often.  Hers was the best!  My mother used to make it from time to time as well, but hers was never quite as nice as my grandmother’s.

Well, today I cracked it!  I’ve been making it for 20+ years, but today’s batch was the closest I’ve ever gotten to my grandmother’s. 

After shopping for all the bits and pieces I needed, I worked out that it had cost no more than £3.62 for the meat and the veg.  Add on a couple of coppers for the stock cube and the flour and suet for the dumplings and you can see it really is a cheap meal!

It doesn’t take a lot of preparation, but it does need a good 2 or 3 hours in a very low oven.  I left mine for 3 so that it got good and thick.

Quantities will vary, depending on your pot size and how many people you want to feed – and are never fixed in stone anyway (!), but this was what I used : 

3 nice big carrots, peeled and cut into rough biggish chunks, rustic style

2 small and one biggish parsnip, peeled and cut into rough biggish chunks

about the same quantity of swede, again peeled and cut into biggish pieces

1 medium sized potato, again peeled and cut into biggish pieces

1 large leek, cut into big rings

Appx 1½ lb of diced casserole beef (skirt, shin, clod – whatever)

1 stock cube

Pour about 1tb of olive oil into a casserole and add the diced beef, stirring around to brown.  Remove to a dish and add the prepared carrot, parsnip and swede, turn the heat down as low as it will go and toss the veg around the pan for a few minutes to lightly brown them.  Return the meat and any drippings in the dish to the pan, add 1tb of flour and stir well into the contents of the pan.  Add as much hot water as is needed to cover all the vegetables and meat and then season to taste, add a stock cube and the leek and potato.  Cover and pop in a low oven for 3 hours.  I cooked mine at 130o.  Towards the end of the cooking time you can make the dumpling mix – I used 2tb flour, same of suet and a pinch of salt, adding enough water to make a very thick mixture.  Spoon tablespoonfuls into the pan and pop back in the oven for half an hour. 

Best served to a cold and hungry husband on a cold, wet and windy day!.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Frugal Housewife

According to recent press reports energy firms have seen profits increase by some 700% since June; plunging more and more households into fuel poverty at a time when incomes are facing the biggest squeeze since the 70’s.

I remember the 70’s well.  I remember the ‘Save-It’ campaign that encouraged people to, among other things, turn off lights in rooms that are not being used; not just households, but businesses too. I remember being urged not to fill the kettle to capacity, but only to boil as much as you needed.  I remember my mum making her own bread instead of buying it (something which she continues to do to this day – at nearly 80 years of age!)   

My mind returned to all those frugal tips a few years ago when the recession first loomed upon the horizon.  I had long had a hankering for a Rayburn/Aga type cooker; maybe it’s an age thing, but how much more sensible would it be to have one of those running the central heating system in the home.  Then, since the oven would already be hot, you could be simmering a casserole or a stew virtually for free.  My grandmother used to have one when I was growing up, and there was always a kettle of water heating on there, with the amount of tea I drink I’m sure that would save me at least one mortgage payment a year!    

While I can’t take advantage of dovetailing my central heating with making our dinner, I am very frugal when it comes to cooking.  For example, any casserole that cooks for 2 or 3 hours has to provide at least four portions – two for now and two for the freezer.  In addition, I won’t contemplate having the oven on for any length of time and then cooking the accompanying vegetables on the hob – I usually either make a tray of roast root vegetables, a creamy potato gratin or boulangerie potatoes.  I always pop the peas in the microwave to cook, just as they are, as they only take 2 minutes. 

Unfortunately, we are coming at this recession on the back of 20 years of plenty when we didn’t have to think about being frugal.  Our homes today are not designed to help us live frugally.  All new-build houses are fitted with ovens with a combi-grill.  Why can’t they be fitted with double ovens, where the small oven doubles as a grill? That would be far more economical for cooking than heating up one large cavernous oven to cook a shepherd’s pie for two. 

How many new-build homes today come with a fireplace fitted as standard?  Yet on those chilly autumn and spring evenings how much more economical would it be just to turn the fire on for a few hours instead of heating up the whole house. 

We’ve also lost the skills to stretch a penny to two like older generations used to take for granted.  In those days the fire wasn’t lit as a matter of course like it is today.  People dressed warmly indoors during the daytime instead of having the heating on.  Until my husband started working from home our heating was only on for half an hour in the morning (to take the chill off the house first thing in the morning) and then for around 4 hours in the evening, always going off at around 8.30 pm – partly for economic grounds but mainly to allow the bedroom to cool down for me to sleep ...... it’s an age/stage of life thing!  Now that he works from home, as he’s deskbound all day he needs the heating on.  It’s something of a culture shock for me though, I spent all last winter in skirts and t-shirts as I was so warm!   

We’ve also lost the skills, or the will, to make the most of the more economical cuts of meat.  Oxtails, offal, skirt, clod or shin beef.  They all make the most delicious stews and casseroles.  Kidneys alone make a delicious dish that cooks in half an hour – how easy is that. 

I guess I’m lucky, I learned frugality at first-hand from a grandmother who kept house through the last depression and with the rationing of war-time.  I’m well equipped to deal with this one in my stride.  

What about the younger generation though?  Are they equipped to deal with leaner times?  Have they got the skill set to see them through?

What about businesses?  Are prices higher because we, the consumer, are paying the price for their profligacy in having lights burning all night long and stores heated to the degree that staff are wearing sleeveless blouses in December while the poor shopper is sweltering in her outdoor coat?

I don't know what the answer is; but sadly I foresee lean times for quite a while yet.

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Grateful Housewife

I woke up yesterday to one of those horrible, dank, windy, driving-drizzle days.  The sort of day that just makes you want to retreat back under the duvet with a mug of tea and a pile of magazines.

Looking out of the bedroom window I thought back to when I was working and having to drive to work in the rain.   No day starts well when the first challenge is trying to make headway among speeding traffic while peering through a rain-splattered windscreen!  It didn’t get any better when I’d arrived as I’d invariably have to deal with the insanity of a boss who truly thought I really ought to be able to read his mind and that knowledge could be transmitted by osmosis.  Then there was his wife who thought I could see through walls and could tell her what any particular piece of paper she waved around related to without actually having to see it!

As a happy housewife, my greatest challenge was stripping and changing our bed, cleaning through upstairs, trying to dry some laundry and making dinner!!

Financially, we may not be as well off as we were then; but we really live like kings now.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Make one ...... freeze one

I always think that if you are going to take the time to make something that needs a bit of slow cooking then you might as well make a big batch of it.  Make one, freeze one! 

I made a shepherd’s pie a few weeks ago and stashed a couple of extra portions in the freezer ready for another day.  The Teviotdale topping takes no more than 10 minutes of your time and involves nothing more than spooning dry ingredients (flour and suet) into a bowl, adding some milk and stirring!  35 minutes in the oven and you have a delicious meal on the table with next to no washing up. 

This was a one-person serve as hubby is out this evening; but for two people all you need is 8oz of self-raising flour, 3oz of suet, ½ pint of milk and some seasoning.  Mix the flour and suet together and season, add the milk and stir to a thick batter.  Scoop over the pie filling and even it out with the back of a spoon and then just bake at 180o for 35 minutes. 

I don’t like it terribly greasy so I usually blot up the oil from the suet with kitchen roll a few times as its cooking.  It’s not an everyday dish, not with those calories (!); but as a very occasional treat it’s delicious. 

You can, of course, top with mashed potato if you don’t like or don’t want to use the suet topping.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Autumn returns to the valley!

After a brief return of summery weather, this afternoon saw Autumn return to the valley.  It has been incredibly surreal to see leaves falling from the tree when the temperature has been routinely somewhere around 25o!   Somewhere around 4pm this afternoon the skies darkened and the unmistakable smell of rain hitting dried ground wafted through my windows.

Yet, far from feeling sad at the passing of summer and the return autumn and wintry weather as I did when I was younger, I find myself oddly welcoming it this year.  Perhaps it’s because summer was such a disappointment, especially after such a glorious spring but as I sit here today watching the rain fall and the wind lashing the leaves from the trees I find it oddly comforting.  Already my thoughts are turning to happy evenings at home with the cosy welcoming glow of lamplight and a fire.  My appetite is craving shepherd’s pie and soups. 

All the signs this year are pointing to a particularly cold winter, which I find myself looking forward to – even eagerly anticipating!  There was something so comforting about the cold winter evenings last year.  I thoroughly enjoyed being cosied up at home whilst the elements did their worst outside.  After all the years of having to drive to work and fretting about being stuck in the snow, suddenly I was able to just enjoy the weather. 

If all the signs are indeed correct, then we’re all going to need to stock up on some staples and get the freezer stocked.  With that in mind I am already working my way through it ready to restock with chops, steaks, casserole cut, pot-roast joints and mince so that when we’re snowbound we can eat like human beings!