Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Mean Cuisine starts here.

Xmas Eve we had a lighter than normal supper with the knowledge we would be stuffing ourselves the following day. So my usual Chunky Vegetable Soup was made. Nothing clever, just diced carrot, celery, onion, parsnip, sauteed in a little butter, then home-made chicken stock plus water added, some pearl barley thrown in and left to simmer until the barley was cooked. Took about an hour.
Tip: To shorten cooking time soak pearl barley in water for an hour before simmering.

Not wanting to miss a certain TV prog., some soup was put into my largest mug, a spoon added and carried to the couch in front of the goggle box. At the side of me was a half-full, small glass of sherry as the festive season had begun early in our house - my philosophy being what's good enough for the toffs is good(e) enough for us.
As the soup was too hot to eat, I decided to tip the bit of sherry (all of 5p worth) into the mug to cool it down. At that time, not even sure it would work ( with beef stock yes, but vegetables and chicken stock ???)
After one taste (and if I shut my eyes) I could believe I was supping soup in a superior restaurant.
Tip: However basic a dish, just adding a 'little something' can turn it into a 'Little Something Special'.

On Xmas Eve I sliced the turkey and the ham which had been cooked the previous day, then chilled. Amazingly I got 33 slices from the ham (all because I used my electric slicer), making 11 packs of ham to freeze. A smaller amount from the mini turkey joint, which stated on the pack to serve 2 to 3 people, but assuredly there was enough for both of us plus seconds, and a third of the pack still left to eat this week or maybe I will freeze that too.
Tip: Although the other week those chicken breasts were sliced with a kitchen knife, I have now proved (calculator in one hand, pen in the other) that using an electric slicing machine (£29.99p from Lakeland) will more than pay for itself after only a couple or three outings.. Why one earth I even bothered to buy ready-sliced, pre-packaged meat is beyond me when I have a kitchen aid as money-saving as this. Must now put it where I can see it, and not push it to the back of the cupboard.

So we come to today and the first of the recipes for dishes that will be eaten over the ten weeks starting January 1st. Today's offering is Minestrone Soup, substantial enough to be eaten as a main course, with a pudding to follow. This soup uses ingredients recently bought. Only the dried beans come from store, the cost of these will be accounted for. Even so, the recipe is very flexible as, according to season, we can chop and change accordingly. Amounts are very approximate.
Minestrone Soup: serves four
1 pint stock, beef, chicken or vegetable
2 oz dried beans, soaked then cooked
1 lb mixed vegetables, diced : carrot, celery, onion, potato, shredded cabbage
1 small can chopped tomatoes, or 2 tsp tomato puree
1 rounded tblsp. long grain rice OR broken spaghetti
fresh herbs (bay leaf, chopped parsle), OR 1 tsp. dried herbs
2 tblsp oil for, pref. olive oil
Parmesan cheese
Put the oil in a pan and saute the vegetables for about 5 minutes. Add the stock, tomatoes, and herbs, cover and simmer for an hour (half an hour if in a hurry). Add the cooked beans, the rice or pasta and simmer for a further 15 minutes. Season to taste. Serve hot with grated Parmesan.
Tips:for stock, use a beef stock cube or some Bovril (even Marmite would make a change of flavour), or use Marigold vegetable granules, or - when you can - home-made chicken stock.
Canned beans can be used ( not baked beans), and the tomatoes can be optional.
Save any bits of broken pasta for this, crush to make smaller.
For that 'something special' - if you have any chorizo or ham left over, chop a few ounces and add to the soup along with the rice or pasta.

Canary Pudding: serves four
To save fuel and time, this pudding is cooked in four teacups.
4 oz each (or metric equivalents) of caster sugar, soft margarine, self-raising flour: plus 2 eggs and 1 tsp baking powder. Grated rind and juice of one lemon. 1 tbsp of tepid water.
Tip: The traditional way is to cream the sugar and margarine, beat in the eggs, lemon and water, then fold in the flour and raising agent. It still works if you just throw the lot in the bowl and beat all the ingredients together.
Spoon the mixture into four greased tea-cups, cover with greaseproof paper/foil and secure with string (or a rubber band). Stand in a pan of boiling water, cover and steam for 20 minutes. Turn out and serve with custard.
Tip: If you haven't a trivet or steamer, place an upturned saucer in the bottom of the pan and on this stand a flat plate or disc (the base of a loose-bottomed cake tin?) before adding the teacups. The teacups can even stand alone in the water as long as it reaches no more than a third of the way up the cups.

A Sweet Tip: Boxes of chocs. always contain those few you don't like. If soft centered, collect and keep the strawberry, orange and coffee centres, but don't mix flavours when using. Melt down and pour over ice-cream as a hot chocolate sauce. They are also good stirred into hot semolina pudding. Try also melting down and spread onto bread and butter to make a gooey B & B pudding.
Save empty plastic (glass are too heavy) sweet jars to use as containers for dry goods.