Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lazy Housewife Roast Chicken Recipe

This is now one of my fail-safe recipes. I start on this at 5.30pm by turning the oven on to 220C, prep the ingredients, and put the dish in at 5.45pm when the oven is up to temperature. At 6.15pm I remove the lid and let the chicken continue to brown and crispen up for 15-20 minutes, hoping that husband gets home by 6.40pm or whenever to eat it with us.

The important thing is to cover for the first two-thirds of cooking to prevent meat from drying out.

I used to cook this in a roasting tray and cover with tin foil. I thought this was wasteful of tin foil. I tried buying a lid to fit the tray, but failed. Then while trying to bake sourdough bread discovered my husband's father's mother's enamel roasting tin that is rather ancient, hidden and forgotten in a dark corner in the cupboard.

It looks like this, and I am borrowing an image and link from a well-known retailer for which I am not paid:

It's a one-dish meal, which means that once the roaster goes in the oven I can sit back and relax.

What do you expect from this "Lazy Housewife"?

Ingredients (to feed three):

4 organic chicken thighs
3-4 organic potatoes (use more or less as required)
3 organic carrots (about 250g)
Olive oil [NB. I've switched to peanut oil.]
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 220C (fan).
  2. Wash and chop carrots to about 1/2 inch discs. Put in roaster.
  3. Peel, wash and cut potatoes into chunks about 1and 1/2 inches. Add to roaster.
  4. Drizzle olive oil over carrots and tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Put lid on, give it a good shake. The vegetables act as a draining rack for the meat.
  5. Lay out the chicken on top of the vegetables skin side up. Brush skin with olive oil, add salt and pepper to taste. Cover with lid and place in oven which should be up to temperature by now for 30 mins.
  6. Remove lid and return roaster to over for another 15 to 20 minutes. The skin should crispen up nicely. Make sure that it does not burn, unless you like it quite black.
If you have other fruit and vegetables handy or left over: tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, lemons, even apples, you could throw these into the vegetable layer. The juices would make the dish even tastier.

You can also change the seasoning, adding honey and mustard or something else. Do note that if any sugar is used, the skin would turn black rather quickly.

On occasion we cook for a larger group and we found the larger oval roaster very useful.


Sunday, December 02, 2012

Baking Bread -- is easier than you think

This is based on a post I put up earlier for friends in Singapore. After baking my bread today I came across this article.

It does not take all that long to knead, but you must be patient with waiting for the dough to rise. I now gather all the ingredients together before starting and can get a lump of dough ready for first proofing within 20 minutes.
It's cheaper to buy a packet of yeast rather than the 7g sachets. In the UK and if you have room, you could also have bigger bags of flour delivered. Better still if you could get locally-grown and/or milled flour.

You need STRONG flour. White, wholemeal, granary, whatever, or a combination.

I now regularly use 1 kg of flour, usually a mix of wholemeal and white and/or granary. I normally make one loaf (about 950g wet weight) and turn the rest into rolls of about 70g (wet weight), some of which I take into the advice charity on Mondays just in case we get clients who have gone hungry or are homeless.
For Basic Bread
• 1000g strong flour
• 20g salt (you might use 15-18g instead)
• 4 tablespoons sunflower oil (optional)
• 10g quick action yeast
• 600 ml of warm water (200ml in my 1000W microwave for a minute, make up with cold water to 600ml)

  1. Add all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Give it a good quick stir (with fork, knife, hand, whatever, doesn’t matter).
  2. Add the oil if using. (At this point I normally let the oil left on the measuring spoon to drip slowly onto my ceramic board which I use for kneading the dough. I found that oil on the board is better than flour to stop it sticking.)
  3. “Rub in” the bits of flour that will now stick to the oil.
  4. Add the water.
  5. Mix the ingredients by hand in the bowl until a dough is formed. Have fun! This is when it gets gooey. Make sure flour on the bottom and sides are incorporated. Dough is ready when it all sticks together quite nicely.
  6. Lift the dough out and knead it on the work surface for 10 minutes. The dough might be very sticky for the first couple of minutes. If it continues to be difficult to knead, a little extra flour can dry the dough up a bit. Usually by the end of kneading, whatever dough is stuck to your fingers would also be incorporated.
  7. KNEADING: (Source: the bread book by Sara Lewis, 2003, page 16) – This is essential to mix and activate the dried yeast and to help stretch the gluten in the flour so that the bread can rise fully. Begin by turning the dough out on to lightly floured surface. Stretch the dough by turning the front half away with the heel of one hand while holding the back of the dough with the other hand. Fold the stretched part of the dough back on itself, give it a quarter turn and repeat for five more minutes, until the dough has been turned full circle several times and is a smooth and elastic ball.
  8. Once kneaded return the dough to the bowl and leave it to rise in a warm. Most recipes tell you to cover with oiled cling film. Being anti-plastic I use wet tea towels. Let the dough rise to twice its size (or at least one and a half times). It could take, for me, more than an hour. I normally set the clock and concentrate on doing something else.
  9. When the dough has doubled in size,  take it out of the bowl and put it back on the oiled surface. Make sure you scrape the sides if necessary.
  10. At this stage I would normally divide the dough into two lots. 950g is kneaded very quickly, and rolled into a roll that fits into an oiled 2 lb loaf tin. If you do not have a loaf tin, just make one big “cob” and put it on a lined baking tray. The rest is divided into nine rolls of about 70g each. Again kneaded quickly, shape into a roll and place on a lined baking tray. I use a baking tray liner to stop it sticking.
  11. Cover with tea towel as before and leave to rise a second time, this time for a much shorter period. This is usually 30 minutes for me. At the 10-minute mark, it’s time to put the oven on: 220 deg C (fan).
  12. Once the bread has doubled in size, or reach the top of the loaf tin, remove the cloth and place straight into pre-heated oven for 15 minutes.
  13. Cover loaf tin with foil and return to over for another 20-25 minutes. You might wish to turn the oven down to 200 deg. (You will know what to do after baking a few times.) Usually the smaller rolls are cooked by now. When you tap the bottom of the bread it should sound 'hollow'. Leave on wire rack to cool.
  14. Then remove loaf and tap on bottom to check if it sounds hollow. Cool on wire rack.
Slice the loaves before freezing and you would find that they are perfect for making sandwiches (when thawed in time) and for toasting.

I cannot stress enough how it is not difficult to bake bread at all. There are many advantages to baking your own bread.

You know what goes in it. You can choose and vary the ingredients. Add cheese, herbs, reduce salt, add honey, etc.

Homemade bread might get stale, but it does not get mouldy, which used to be a problem for us and we just had to throw it away. My mum used to steam stale bread to revive it. We just tend to toast it.

If you must turn on the oven to do one loaf you might as well do a few loaves. Share the extra ones with a neighbour or take turns to bake.

In the long run it is cheaper especially if you are able to buy the ingredients in bulk.

If you find it takes too much effort, you could bake less and eat less, which is not a bad thing if you wish to lose weight!

Please do tell me how you get on.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Escape FROM the Country

My husband and I had been thinking of moving to the country when he retires and we dream of keeping honeybees and chickens and growing our own vegetables, etc.

Last night we were in Devon to celebrate his mum's 80th birthday. We had a great time but I was nervous about travelling knowing how treacherous the weather promised to be.

Thankfully husband drove well (as usual) and I suspect given the weather warnings, only those who needed to travel, did, and the roads were pretty clear. Still the rain beat down.

We checked into a riverside inn in Bovey Tracey, rested, and met up at the pub restaurant for the party.

When we were leaving after the party the staff told us that the road we arrived by was flooded and traffic was not getting through. So husband, who knew that area well, chose a different route.

Once we got into the car the local radio notified us of various flood spots and, of course, that the river had burst its banks at Bovey Tracey. Ah! What do we do?

Son in the back was panicking. We managed to calm him down.

But we reached the point where Police closed the road and husband was shown what the road looked like: a river! We were told to park up and walk.

So we did, in our party clothes! Thankfully I had opted to wear boots to keep me warm.

"County Rangers" were putting out sandbags and we were told, "You don't want to go that way. The water is waist high."

That frightened me a bit.

Thankfully after wading about 70-80 yards in not quite knee-deep water, we got to the bit of the road which was actually a bridge over the river and surprisingly our pub/restaurant/inn was quite dry considering that the river runs under it! We got back to our room.

Son was petrified that the flood waters would rise even further. He was just very tired and began to imagine the worst. So I comforted and reassured him that with the police down the road, the worst that could happen was they would evacuate us. He soon fell asleep.

This morning we found that it was "just another day in Bovey Tracey" (after Phil Collins) and people were out and about walking their dogs and getting their newspapers. The river level had fallen although the road was still 'puddley' right outside our room (which was in a dip).

Husband returned his abandoned car to the inn, and we packed up and left without even stopping for breakfast, keen to get out before the next rains appeared.

That first squelch (is that the right word?) of water inside one's shoes took a bit getting used to.

Mighty strange to think how instead of an 'Escape to the Country' we literally escaped from it.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

What a stupid, stupid statement!

A certain man made this statement: Team GB chief: dominance of public schools is unacceptable.

But of course, he must have been quoted out of context.

I had to go out to buy some ginger to put into my slow cooker where the glorious aroma of cinnamon and star anise means the belly pork must surely taste wonderful come dinner time.

There was a steel band made up of young people (black and white) performing at the town centre. In the sunshine.

I found myself thinking: now how would the lives of our young people be different if they are required to be in a steel band, a marching band, a school cadet corp, a competitive sport, etc. for all the years that they are at school.

This goes back to my own school days when I spent so much time playing in the school band and orchestra I had no time to get up to any mischief (or pregnant).

Every year we had a marching band competition. We had a concert band competition. We played in concerts from the presidential residence to public parks.

Yes, we competed against other schools. There were winners and losers.

My friends in the police cadet corps, the national cadet corps, Red Cross, etc. all had drill competitions. We missed lessons to attend drill practices. We also had to keep up with lessons because if we didn't, we'd be dropped from the competition squads.

There was also one other distraction from my band days: air rifle shooting. I loved it. I loved being about to hit the mark. I liked being able to analyze where I had gone wrong, and I liked being about to adjust my shooting so that I could hit nearer the mark.

My friends in the cadet corps also had their own shooting competitions.

We played sport. Inter-house, inter-class, inter-school, inter-district, etc.

We (the school) entered dance competitions, choir competitions, debating competitions, you name it. Every time, there were winners and losers.

Fast forward several years and in this country: My friends tell me that 'sports days' at their children's schools are a misnomer. The children sort of stand around in circles and dance. No one loses, clearly. No one wins prizes.

No child is allowed to have his feelings hurt, you see.

And then you get this minister who tells us that it is not good that Olympians are drawn mostly from the private/independent/public school sector.

He knows full well that only outside the state sector are pupils allowed to take part in any form of competition, including spelling bees. We teach them that in real life there are always winners and losers.

Some choose to do sport seriously. Some do not. But at least they have a choice.

I did not go to a private school. I went to a school that made a real difference to my life and the lives of many others. It was a school that taught us that the sky's the limit. Go, reach for the stars.

How did I get into such a school?

I sat an exam called the Primary School Leaving Examination. In other words, I competed for a place there.

Ah! I suppose this is where we get unstuck.

Meanwhile not enough young people are playing in steel drum bands.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Banana leaves - natural packaging

My cousin and her husband passed through Heathrow early this morning. My husband met them to collect a package of food for me.

I was delighted that she had brought fresh food.

My son watched me eat a strange red thing which we call "ang koo kueh", or "red tortoise".

He watched me tear off the banana leaves from the bottom of this "cake" and said, "Banana leaves."

I said, "Yes, banana leaves, completely biodegradable."

Son also chose to buy me a large basket of flowers for "Yummy Mummy" this Mothering Sunday. I really appreciated it.

However, it came wrapped in yards of a plasticized clear wrap. It is very difficult to find real cellophane these days, the crinkly variety that actually biodegrades when exposed to light and air.

I look forward to a week of eating dumplings wrapped and steamed in banana leaves. Yumm!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Liar, liar

Some weeks ago I dealt with a young man from the Horn of Africa. I came this close to throttling him.

He slumped into my office and started off straightaway with "I want to know what benefits I am entitled to".

[Why should he be "entitled" to anything? He has not contributed a penny to the British economy.]

He told me he was being given some benefits in another part of the country and so clearly he was "entitled" to those benefits. But his JSA (JobSeekers Allowance) was stopped because the woman at the Job Centre said as a student he is not looking for a job and should not be entitled to JSA.

This woman is right. Otherwise every college student would be claiming JSA but these students are not really prepared to leave their courses to work.

The point is without his JSA his Housing Benefit (paying rent) and Council Tax Benefit (paying council tax) were also stopped. So this poor chap had to move in with his sister. Previously he had "his" own little flat.

[It is not YOUR flat. We the taxpayers are paying for that flat.]

I was distressed because every time I followed a line of inquiry (having gone outside to seek help from my supervisor, and returned to ask further questions) this young man changed his story.

Time and time again he changed his story until I felt that he had been telling me nothing but lies, wasting my time.

First he was receiving JSA in Yorkshire. Then he was not receiving JSA in Yorkshire. [We wanted to establish why a benefit approved in Yorkshire was withdrawn where we are.]

First he put in an appeal for a decision to strip him of his benefits. Then he did not put in an appeal, "but something was submitted at the Job Centre". [We could help in advising on the appeal procedure, hold his hand a bit, if he did appeal.]

First he said his college had "given them everything" to prove that he was attending class for less than 16 hours a week. Then his college merely told him to photocopy information in the college prospectus. [Previously I've seen letters written by colleges on headed paper to support their students. Why did his college not do the same?]

Throughout the interview he was also going, "But I am entitled to this," "I should be entitled to that." At one point he asked for a lawyer to help him fight his case.

And who would pay for the lawyer?

In the end we decided that we would help him if he would do steps 1,2,3, etc. and gave him a slot to see an adviser.

Then the pièce de résistance (for want of a better phrase but I think you get my drift). Just before he left my office I passed on my manager's advice, "Well, if you are only studying for 14 hours, there's nothing to stop you looking for a part-time job." [This is what most foreign students do. They are allowed to work up to 20 hours a week, and most do.]

His reply was, "There are no part-time jobs out there. They are all full-time jobs."

Liar. Complete liar.

Everyone else tells us that there are only part-time jobs, offering a few hours here and there, but far fewer full-time ones.

And he just shot himself in the foot: If there are full-time jobs and he cannot, or refuses to, take up a full-time job, then he is NOT a JobSeeker by definition and therefore should not be given JSA. Simple.

My young friends at church work for minimum wage at bars, restaurants, cleaning, etc. for pocket money whenever they can. (They also have parents who pay tax, unlike this young man.) This young man could do the same but refuses to.

He much prefers to "sign on", pretend to look for a job or two to fulfil his "job-seeking" obligation under JSA, continue to complete his course at college, and expect the taxpayer to give him a nice little flat meanwhile. [It is pretence because he has clearly stated that he was not going to give up his college course even he was offered a job.]

What makes him think he is entitled to certain benefits in the first place?

He is "entitled" to money if he is being owed money. By insisting that he was "entitled" to benefits suggests that he was being owed benefits. The taxpayer pays these benefits. He is in effect saying that taxpayers (yes, people like me) owe him these benefits.

As a taxpayer and volunteer, I really resented his arrogance in saying that I owed him these benefits. I do not owe him money and do not feel obliged to help someone like him. So his stance that he was "entitled" to something for doing nothing, worse, by pretending to be a jobseeker, does not help his case.

Claiming benefits fraudulently is a crime. Perhaps I should have warned him.

Today I checked. This young man did not bother to show up for his appointment. Why was I not surprised?

He wasted an advice slot that could have gone to someone else needing urgent help.

20/1/12 Update: Out of curiosity I looked up the college at which this young man said he was doing a diploma in engineering. The only engineering diploma courses on their website require full-time study. So how he could argue that it is for 14 hours a week is quite beyond me.