Thursday, November 23, 2006

Helps and Hindrances

On the news this morning was a piece about school meals. Seems no-one will eat a dish containing broccoli, however disguised, so thought I'd look it up in my Food Bible, and it did show that cauliflower is a worthy substitute. My husband doesn't like broccoli, but he will eat a lot of cauli, in cauliflower cheese, in a stir-fry, made into a curry, also fried in batter as a side dish to curry, and raw cauliflower as part of crudites with dips.
Tip: Remove florets from a head of cauliflower, and put into a plastic bag. No need to add water. Lay flat with the side open and microwave for about four to five minutes at full heat. The cauliflower will then be tender and full of flavour. Take care when removing because the bag will be full of steam.
Trim the discarded stalks and slice these to use in stir-fries.

My main topic for the day is the non-food side of the kitchen. Utensils, gadgets, and useful tips.
This week I tried opening a can of the more expensive chopped tomatoes which had a ring-pull - that broke off even before it got properly started. So had to open it with a tin-opener.
I do have one of those plastic gadgets which aid opening cans like these, but as ever, it got mislaid.
Tip: An extra couple or so pence is added to the price of a ring-pull can to cover the cost of the convenience. As we don't eat the ring, then don't pay the price. (For once, don't do as I do, do as I say!)

Then we come to corned beef tins. Time and again I have bought a couple or three of these and find that one of the keys has dropped off. So do check. I now keep a spare key (unwound after opening), so that I have one in emergency. These tins are not easily opened with a tin-opener.
Tip always chill cans of meat before opening, this makes the contents easier to remove.

When you don't have the right size baking tin - improvise. I have baked cakes in greased and lined large sweet tins, once cleaned the cooled cake can be stored by standing it on the lid with the base used as a cover (just remember not to turn it up the right way). When short of baking trays, cover one with several thicknesses of foil, then remove the tray and fold over excess foil at the sides to give extra strength. This works well. For extra bottom strength, interleave the bottom sheets of foil with cardboard.

If you have a good can-opener, this will remove a lid without leaving a sharp edge. These tins can then be cleaned and used either for baking small cakes, or with the base removed, for using to make ring-stacks of all sorts of thing as we see so often prepared by TV chefs.

A lot of things get throw out when houses get sold and the elderly pass on. In my own kitchen I have two breadboards and two mincing machines, belonging to my mother and mother-in-law. Likewise rolling pins and pastry board and hand graters. Who needs new things when the old are perfectly adequate?
The shallow baking tins of old seem fine, but the ones bought more recently do tend to warp. This is a common problem and it does seem to happens when the temperature is over 200C. The round tins (for baking pizzas etc) don't warp. I asked my husband why, and he said because they don't have any corners. That sounded silly to me, but I could be true.
Tip: Bake vol-au-vents on round tins so they rise evenly. Remove the lids and any uncooked pastry from inside of the case. To keep crisp for a couple or so days, put a layer of salt over the base of a large air-tight container, cover this with a piece of kitchen paper, then fill the tin with the baked cases. Put on the lid. The salt will absorb any excess moisture.

Tip: When baking something that might break when removing from a shallow-sided baking sheet, (a quiche baked in just a ring-with-no-base for instance) then turn the baking sheet over and stand the item on the up-turned bas eand it can then, after baking, easily slide off onto an airer or plate.

For many years I used a pressure cooker, but have always maintained they save time, fuel, but are short on flavour especially where meat is concerned. Slow-cookers are far superior as long as you remember to switch them on early in the day.
Microwaves - great for vegetables, esp. jacket potatoes in a hurry, for making custard, melting jellies (using a small amount of water), for de-frosting and also for re-heating ready-made, by this I mean HOMECOOKED meals. but I don't use it for much else. Perhaps I should. Somehow I prefer the aroma in the kitchen of food cooked in an oven.
Tip: When baking, moving to another room after setting the timer, once I begin to smell whatever it is I am cooking (particularly cakes), I have found it is just about ready to take out of the oven. With meat, I am aware of it when it is at the not-quite-medium stage, which is how some people like it. Perhaps this is the way it has always been and we don't have to worry too much about what is the required time as ovens do vary. Anyone else found this tip works?

Like most people, I have the usual sandwich toasters and ice-cream machines tucked away at the back of the cupboard along with an electric slicing machine which more than pays its way. Using this I am able to slice so much more thinly, which makes the meat go much further. At this time of the year it will be brought out to use again when I cook ham and beef. It will also cut bread. There are many times I wish I had more counter space then everything would be ready and waiting for me.
Tip: Anything visible is more likely to be used. So keep those food-processors, breadmakers and the large mixers-with-bowl-and-blender right there in your face.
A final tip: next time a bottle of wine is opened, save an inch at the bottom of the bottle and pour into an ice-cube tray. Freeze, bag up (label of course), and use in casseroles or jellies or what you will. The flavour adds immensely to a dish and - if you look at it the way I do - it's virtually free.