Sunday, December 31, 2006

Recipe requests - and more

Thanks for your comments Heather and Mary. Both gladly received for I discovered, on scrolling back, that my ice-cream recipe posted a couple of months ago was missing some vital details - a whole gap of the posting had disappeared(will be corrected at a later date). So will be giving the recipe again today.
Mary requested the recipe for my Cheese 'n Chicken Pancakes and here I was puzzled. Couldn't even remember the dish, but discovered it in 'The (Shirley) Goode Kitchen' book (p43). Just shows I don't make them often, if at all. Now I will, for - memory serves me right - they do make good(e) eating.

Firstly, an update on yesterday's beans. With all three varieties, 100g of dried beans weighed 250g after an overnight soak. When cooked and drained, they still weighed 250g plus maybe a gram or two more. As with all beans, I boiled over a highish heat for 10 minutes then reduced each to a simmer to cook on. The butter beans took a maxium of 40 minutes total before ready, the other two (pinto and red beans) took about1 hour total. But always check, the older the bean the longer it takes to cook. Once drained and rinsed in cold water, I drizzled a little oil over the beans and divided each in half and put into small polybags for freezing. Normally I would cook the whole 500g bag and spread the cooked and oiled beans on a baking sheet to freeze, so that they could be broken up to free-flow before bagging up. A good tip is to just bang a bag of frozen beans (that have stuck together) on a table or unit top and they will separate themselves.
Tip: Home-cooked beans means fewer tins to throw out and more space in the cupboard. Plus keeping an assortment of beans in the freezer, including chick-peas (which are VERY versatile), means they are always to hand to add to casseroles or salads, or for making dips or even your own Boston Baked Beans.

Bananas. Why? Well, a couple or so deliveries ago I had put a bag of bananas on a kitchen chair and inadvertently pushed it under the table and forgot about them until a day or two later. As I buy the 'eat some, keep some' pack, normally 5 yellow bananas, and 5 green ones, these are normally kept in the hall either in or by the bowl of fruit and they do tend to ripen quite quickly. Under the kitchen table in the not-quite-dark and rather cooler temperature they seem to keep longer. The bananas in my last delivery over two weeks ago, were - this time deliberately - put on the chair, and left there. Yesterday I noticed the yellow ones have only just got to showing a brown spot or two, and still very firm. The green ones are just turning yellow. They are still in the bag which had been opened, but not sure if this protects them or not. Maybe it is the lack of light and/or the cool temperature that is keeping them so well. Whatever, this is something I will be doing in the future. If you have a problem with bananas ripening too quickly, then try finding somewhere cooler and darker to keep them. If it works for you too, let us all know.

Heather is having fun melting down her unwanted chocolates and is desperate for a good ice-cream over which she can pour her 'caramel' sauce. Although I do have an ice-cream maker (pushed at the back of the cupboard for the moment), this 'soft-scoop' version I sort of invented is really rather good, my husband loves it and so I make it often. Also, it uses up those 'free' egg whites. Today I will be making chicken pate, using the yolks in that and the whites for the following:

Soft Scoop Ice Cream:
Put 8 oz gran. sugar and 8 dessertspoons of water in a small pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then boil rapidly for 2 - 3 minutes when it should have reached the 'soft ball' stage. Test for this by dropping a little of the syrup into a saucer of cold water. As soon as it can be gathered up into a soft ball it will be ready. Remove from the heat.
Beat 3 - 4 egg whites until stiff (adding a pinch of salt or cream of tartar helps them to grow to a thick cloud). Put the sugar back over the heat and bring to the boil then immediately begin pouring a thin stream over the whites and keep beating until all the sugar has been used and the whites have turned into a very thick, almost set, meringue.
Tip: Wrap a damp teatowel (chilled in the freezer) around the bowl to help cool the meringue.
When cool, fold into the meringue 5 fl.oz whipped cream and 5 fl oz yoghurt. Spoon this mixture into ice-cream tubs or cover and freeze the bowl it is has been made in. No need to beat further, this will scoop out perfectly.
Tip: Using all cream makes it far too rich, adding yoghurt makes it perfect. The reason why it stays 'soft-scoop' is because of the amount of sugar used. The more sugar, the softer the ice-cream.

Basic flavour: beat a little vanilla extract into the cream, and use plain yoghurt.
Mint choc chip: add a few drops of green food colouring to the sugar and water, and a few drops of peppermint flavouring to the cream. The colour will lighten as it is beaten in, so add more green if needed. Finally stir in grated chocolate.
Ginger: add half ginger syrup to the sugar/water syrup, and fold in finely chopped preserved ginger into the basic recipe.
Rum and Raisin: Soak raisins in rum overnight, then fold this into the basic mix. Note: because of the alcohol, you could keep the sugar down to 2 oz per egg white.
Yoghurt and Honey: Omit the cream and fold in thick Greek yoghurt. Drizzle over runny honey to taste and fold in lightly. Some flaked almonds could also be added.
Strawberries and Cream: In season, puree around 5 oz strawberries and fold into the meringue with whipped cream (or a strawberry yogurt).
Tip: when making ice-cream the recommended way using custard, and beating it in an ice-cream machine, will make a hard ice-cream which needs thawing slightly before serving. This hard ice-cream is the best to use for Baked Alaska, or to be wrapped in pancakes and briefly fried. The addition of alcohol when beating will help soften the ice-cream, too much and it will never freeze solid at all.

Chicken 'n Cheese Pancakes:
8 ready-made pancakes
2 oz (50g) butter
2 oz (50g) flour
1 teaspoon dry (or made mustard)
1 pint (570ml) milk
4 oa (110g) Cheddar cheese, grated
1 onion, finely chopped and fried
8 - 12 oz (225-350g) cooked chicken, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato (pizza) sauce OR ketchup
Put the butter, milk, flour and mustard into a pan and heat slowly, stirring all the time until the mixture has thickened. Boil for 2 minutes. Add half the cheese. Put half this sauce into a jug and stir the chicken and onion.
Spread each pancake thinly with the tomato sauce, and divide the chicken mixture between the pancakes and roll them up. Place in a shallow baking dish and pour over the reserved sauce, topping with the remaining cheese. Bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 30 minutes or until the cheese is golden. Serve with a salad.
Tip: This is the perfect recipe to use up those cooked chicken scraps taken from the carcase after making chicken stock. Always worth picking over the bones (making sure you remove all of them) and then freezein small quantities (say 4 - 8 oz).

Before I leave you, I hope you have a good evening of festivities and see the New Year in with gusto. May I wish you all, in advance, a very Happy and Prosperous New Year.
See you in 2007!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Matter of Choice

Reading through umpteen recipes, it is amazing how many contain the same ingredients, give or take a few, yet will still turn out a completely different dish. The other week I mentioned serving salmon with small (newish) potatoes and peas, plus a wonderful sauce I had 'invented' using mayonnaise, yoghurt and a small amount of horseradish sauce. Yesterday I saw a recipe using the same ingredients (sans sauce) in a different guise, but infinitely more interesting and one that I will be serving next week as all the ingredients will be to hand.
Within this recipe there are choices as to which way to cook the potatoes, if at all, and also an alternative fish. Which means this dish can be served in several different ways, especially if you start playing around with it by adding other ingredients such as herbs.

Potato, Salmon and Pea Grill: serves four
approx 1 1/2 lb small potatoes, or use canned potatoes
4 oz (100g) frozen peas,
200g piece of fresh salmon*, or can of salmon, or tuna
200ml creme fraiche or yoghurt/mayo
4 oz (100g) cheddar cheese, grated
Note:*If using fresh salmon, poach then flake.
With potatoes, cook whole until just tender (either boil or microwave, leaving the skins on)
or use canned potatoes which can be heated with the peas. Cool only enough to handle and then slice. Whichever way you cook the peas (alone in water, or with the canned potatoes, or in the microwave, they need about 4 minutes cooking). Drain everything well.
Put the flaked salmon and peas in a dish and bind with a very little creme fraiche or the alternative. Add most of the potatoes and toss gently. Season to taste and turn out into a shallow ovenproof dish.
Scatter the last of the potatoes over the top and cover with the rest of the creme fraiche or a blend of yoghurt and mayo, then sprinkle over the cheese. Place under a preheated grill and cook until bubbling and golden.
Tip: Never discard the bones from a can of salmon (or sardines) as they contain a lot of calcium, just crush and mix in with the fish.

As ever, I give quantities for four people. Please remember that as my budget is for two people, the ingredients for some recipes will normally be halved for us (although my husband has such an appetite he can eat enough for two on his own). Throughout the Challenge all foods used will be accounted for so - at the end of ten weeks -we will all know exactly how much the meals have cost, how much food is left over (if any) and how much I have had to over-spend to get there. Or maybe not.

Yesterday evening I put 100g each of butter beans, red kidney beans and pinto beans in separate bowls to soak in plenty of water. As expected the red beans took up the most water.
Today, before cooking , I will drain, weigh and see if there is any difference between them, then do the same again after cooking. 100g of dry beans is said to be one serving, but looking at them this morning, I can promise you these beans should go further. Once cooked I will spread the beans on a baking tin and open-freeze them. Then bag them up. for 'free-flow'. It is possible to buy several varieties of canned beans quite cheaply, but home-cooked will always remain very much cheaper. It's up to us to choose how much we want (or need) to do to penny-pinch.

Tomorrow sees the advance preparation for the start of the Mean Cuisine Challenge. Bread will be baked (being easier to slice the following day). Ice-cream will be made, enough to last a week or more if I can keep my husband away from it. A further fruit cake, (the last one not even being given the chance to mellow, it's all gone sob, sob). Maybe a batch of tomato (pizza type) sauce to pot up and freeze. Oh, yes - how about some chicken liver pate? Looks like a day of kitchen activity coming up and I can't wait. I really do enjoy rolling up my sleeves and getting on with it. You can just lie back and think about doing it if you wish, but as the recipes have all been given in previous postings, have you really got a good excuse not to try at least one?

Friday, December 29, 2006

A Little Goes a Long Way

For more years than I can remember, I've collected 'useful' recipes - many of them being given to me by friends overseas. With a little twiddle here and there, and adjusting the weights and measures to something I can understand, many are proving to be really economical. Any country that believes in home cooking (you have only to look at Italy and France for a start), will be far ahead of us with the knowledge of what you need (or rather DON'T need) to make a great and inexpensive dish. Great home-cooks seem to have learned (at their mother's knee no doubt) to use as much seasonal food as possible, love your family enough to cook with a passion, and all sit at the table to eat together. Let's make a start.

Country Vegetable and almost Beef Casserole: serves four
Older cooks knew they needed to use very little beef if they included dried and cooked beans in this family dish as it gives all the protein needed.
2 - 3 tblsp sunflower or olive oil
half a red and half a green bell pepper, de-seeded
2 onions, sliced
4 oz minced beef
1 lb butternut squash peeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
8 oz canned chopped tomatoes
10 oz cooked beans, any kind (but not baked beans)
10 oz cooked chick peas
1 heaped tblsp tomato puree
2 oz water
2 tsp brown sugar
salt and ground black pepper
In a frying pan, saute the onions and peppers until brown. Spoon into a casserole. Fry the beef in the juices left in the pan, when brown add the rest of the ingredients. Heat until boiling then pour into the casserole and mix with the ingredients already in there. Cover and bake for 1 hour at 180C, 350F, or until the vegetables are just tender. Season to taste. Serve with a green vegetable such as broccoli.
Tip: This is the type of dish where you can chop and change, within reason. Omit chickpeas and add potatoes, celery and garlic if you wish.

Tuna-Rice Creole: serves four
6 - 8 oz long-grain rice
2 tblsp butter or margarine
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 onion, diced
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp. brown sugar
salt and pepper
1 can (around 7oz) tuna, drained and flaked
8 fl oz water
Cook the rice as directed on packet. Drain and put aside.
In a frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the celery and onion. Saute until tender. Then, taking a 10"x 6" baking dish (or 1 1/4pt shallow casserole) mix together the cooked rice, onion and celery, canned tomatoes, the water, sugar and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Gently stir in the flakes of tuna. Bake the casserole, uncovered, for 25 mins. at 180C etc until well heated through. Serve, garnished with celery leaves.

Spaghetti with Eggs and Walnuts: serves 4
This is similar to Carbonara without the bacon. And you do gain those 'free' egg whites!
1 lb spaghetti, or less if you wish
3 oz butter, softened
4 egg yolks, the freshest you have
2 oz Parmesan, grated
7 fl. oz cream
4 oz walnuts, chopped
Put a large pan of water on to boil. Add a couple of teaspoons of salt and commence cooking the spaghetti. In a bowl, put the soft butter, egg yolks, grated cheese, cream and walnuts and mix well together with a wooden spoon. When the pasta is cooked and drained, return the pasta to the pan and, over a very low heat, immediately stir in the egg mixture. Tossing to make sure the eggs are cooked. This should only take a couple of minutes max. Serve with an offering of more grated Parmesan.
Tip: Buy Parmesan in a block if you can, well wrapped it will keep for months. Grate as you need, or spend half-an-hour grating and keeping this in the fridge ready to use. Do not discard Parmesan rinds. These can be added to certain dishes to give flavour as you will later discover.

You will have noticed that garlic is not often included in my recipes. This is because my husband really does not like the taste although he will eat them after roasting (sucks them out of their skins) as they then become much sweeter. So I leave it to you to add garlic to any dish that you wish.
A word about 'the brown stuff'. By this I mean wholewheat bread, rice, pasta. This is more expensive to buy, but so filling, not to mention nourishing, we discover that we eat less than the white equivalents, so price-wise it probably breaks even. Once we've got the ten week Mean Cuisine Challenge out of the way, we can then move on to looking at ways to improve the quality of some of the foods we've been buying. Between you and me, I can't wait for January 1st to come.
Not long now, see you tomorrow.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Feast from the East

Thanks for your comments, and good to hear from Mo again. Do hope she gets her computer sorted. Keep in touch Mo if you can (libraries now have computers which everyone can use).

Today I'm using ingredients 'wot I 'ave already got' - and the perfect use for these is a Chinese Meal. On its own a Stir-Fry is substantial in its own right, but I'm also giving a soup recipe, plus garnishes in case you wish to make more than a meal of it. A good menu for when you have guests. Follow the tips to make it easy to prepare.

First - the Sweet and Sour Sauce. This can be bought ready made, but useful to know how to make it. Indeed there are many versions, so I've cobbled one together which I know works. Cornflour is used for thickening, but if you wish for a really clear sauce, then use arrowroot.
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tblsp sherry*
4 tblsp tomato ketchup
2 tblsp white wine vinegar, or ordinary white vinegar
2 tblsp sugar
1 tblsp cornflour or arrowroot
7 fl. oz (200ml) water
1 -2 tblsp ginger syrup
Mix the cornflour with 3 tblsp water. Put all the other ingredients into a pan, heat to blend and then stir in the slaked cornflour. Stir until thickened. This can be made a day or two ahead of the meal.
Tip:* If you have no sherry, then use pineapple or orange juice or just water. How to make your own ginger syrup was mentioned in an earlier posting.
Do keep arrowroot in your storecupboard. It makes a wonderfully clear sauce that looks much better than when using cornflour. Toss sliced apple in arrowroot before putting in a pie and it will thickens the juice as it bakes.

Velvet Corn Soup: - serves 4
approx 8oz (225g) canned sweetcorn, including the liquid
1 pint chicken stock
2 tsp. cornflour
2 egg whites
5 tsp milk
In a saucepan, bring the chicken stock to the boil and add the sweetcorn.
Slake the cornflour with 4 tsp sweetcorn liquid/cold water. Beat the egg whites until frothy and stir in the milk.
Pour the cornflour into the soup and stir constantly until thick and clear. Turn out the heat and immediately pour in the egg-white/milk mixture, stirring only once. Pour into individual bowls and serve at once.
Tip: the left over yolks can be used to make fried rice, or the Egg Roll (both recipes given below).

Stir-Fried Vegetables:
A mixture of very thinly sliced carrot, strips of red and green peppers, some broccoli florets, broccoli stalks sliced thinly, a few cauliflower florets, onion chopped into strips, frozen (thawed) peas, sweetcorn (if not serving soup), sliced rib of celery, sliced mushrooms. Stir-fry the vegetables in a little hot oil, starting with those that need the longest cooking: celery, onion, cauliflower, carrot. Add the remainder. Shake in a little soy sauce and add a little chicken stock, cover and steam until vegetables are cooked .
If you have any of those scraps of cooked chicken taken from a 'free' carcase, then shred some and include these in the dish if you wish.
Tip: To make this more upmarket, serve mange tout peas instead of ordinary, also add cashew nuts or peanuts. Worth getting a can of pineapple, open and save/freeze the juice for sweet and sour sauce or to add to jellies. Freeze also pineapple rings, then cut up one to add to a stir fry or the sauce to give extra flavour.

Instead of using chicken scraps which are perfectly suitable for family and guests, push the boat out a bit more and serve a vegetablet Stir-Fry with:
Lemon Chicken: serves 2 - 4
One chicken breast cut into chunks or strips. Fry in a little oil until white. Pour over the juice and zest of one or two lemons. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes. Spoon in a tablespoon of honey, stir and cook on until thick and syrupy.

Egg Roll Garnish: serves 2 - 4
Beat one or two eggs. Heat a shallow frying pan and brush with a little butter or oil. Pour in just enough egg to make a thin coating in the pan. Cook until the top has set but do not turn. Remove pancake and keep warm by placing on a plate standing over a pan of hot water. Make another in the same way, put this on top of the first pancake. Use up all the egg in this way (one egg should make three pancakes).
Roll up the stack of pancakes like a swiss roll, starting at one end slice thinly to make what looks like noodles. Use to garnish the top of the stir-fry.
Tip: add the left over yolks from the soup to one whole egg plus 2 tsp water.

Egg Fried Rice:
1 pint measure of cold cooked (left-over) rice
1 small onion, finely chopped
few frozen peas, thawed
2 eggs, or 1 egg plus 2 yolks
Pour a little oil into a frying pan, first saute the onions, then add the rice and peas, heat through thoroughly then pour in the egg stirring with a fork so that it mixes and cooks with the heat of the rice.

Apart from the Lemon Chicken, and that is optional, you will have noticed that all the remaining ingredients are inexpensive. As the meal seems time consuming looking at it as a whole, do as much advance preparation as you can. Prepare the sauce a day or two ahead. Arrange to keep back some boiled rice if intending to make the Fried Rice. Slice and dice the vegetables in the morning, covering tightly with clingfilm. Carrots can discolour if left too long, so I blanch these for one minute then drain.
Have the other ingredients standing by ready to use. Very easy when you know how. All I can say now is - have a go!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Queries Answered and More Recipes

Thanks for your questions. Heather: not sure about caramel, but try melting down one in the microwave or low oven, you will probably need to add a little water or butter or both to get it to pouring consistency. Have a go, let me know! (Have a feeling that's a catchphrase I'll use again).
Karen asks for a quick economical spag.bol sauce recipe. This gives me the chance to explain more how I go about cutting costs, because in many cases it is not a recipe that is needed. Just a hard look at the one most used then adapted to suit the purse.

Almost all Spag.Bol (F) recipes contain the same ingredients: onion, minced meat, bacon,celery, carrot, garlic, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, herbs, stock, and - for the more upmarket eaters - wine.
So first look for the most expensive ingredient which - omitting wine - will be the meat. The classic spag. bol uses both minced beef and minced pork together, although normally I use beef. Once I did cook pork by mistake because the label had got lost, and that worked fine, normally I don't include bacon although with that pack of bacon offcuts I might reconsider. Either way, to cut costs use less meat and more of the vegetables (incidentally, it is only recently that I discovered that celery played a part, so that could be omitted, but it will help with the flavour).

To speed things up use only the best minced steak, as it takes far less time to cook, but as I said, use less of it. Probably much less of it. Using cheaper mince ends up weighing less because of the fat that comes from it, also it takes much longer to cook down to tender.
Put back any missing flavour by using one beef stock cube dissolved in 5 fl.oz hot water. This should be enough but add more depending upon how much you will be making.
Start by dicing plenty of onions, dice or grate plenty of carrots, finely chop a couple of ribs of celery and chuck in a squashed garlic clove - none of which are expensive - then saute these in a little oil or butter. In another pan, brown the minced meat you are using, including any bacon. draining off any fat that may have come from using cheaper mince. Then add the meat to the vegetables. Pour over the stock, add a can of chopped tomatoes, a spoon of tom.puree only if you have some to spare, fresh or dried herbs and simmer for about 20 minutes (over an hour if using cheaper mince).. If you have any mushrooms, slice these very thinly and add to the meat sauce. To give even more bulk, and especially if the sauce is too liquid, add a small handful of porridge oats (which are, relatively, protein packed). Then leave to simmer for a further 20 minutes. Season to taste.
Although not recipe ingredients, I always squirt in a blob of HP and a good dash of Worcestershire to give the zing to the meat sauce that my husband likes.
Spag. Bol sauce can be made in advance and reheated the next day. Any surplus will freeze so worth making in bulk.

Serving the sauce can also make a difference as to quantity needed. We in the UK tend to plonk a pile of spaghetti onto our plates and on top of that put a further pile of meat sauce. What we are supposed to do is cook and drain the spaghetti and toss that with a little butter and Parmesan cheese, and then spoon this over the meat sauce and toss again so that each piece of pasta has some of the sauce clinging to it - all this BEFORE dishing out. This way a little sauce goes a long way. Extra Parmesan to sprinkle over is good if not always affordable. For that matter it needn't be spaghetti. I would go so far as to say it should be Tagliatelli if I knew how to spell it. More often than not I use those cheapo quick cook pasta penne, and the ones shaped like shells (called conchi something) are even better as the sauce gets trapped in the hollows.
Another way to make a little meat sauce go a lot further is to layer it between pasta sheets, with a tomato, AND cheese sauce as a Lasagne. Cover the final layer with the cheese sauce and a final sprinkling of grated cheese before baking, and you have all the protein you need with just enough meat to know you've had some.
Karen. I do hope in some way I have given you an answer that works for YOU. Let me know. As a bonus, one further pasta recipe to follow - adjust ingredients accordingly now you know how.

Spicy Turkey Pasta: serves four
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 oz butter
1 dessp. curry powder, or 2 tsp. mild curry paste
1 oz. plain flour
1 can condensed mushroom soup
1 pint water
6 oz pasta shapes
2 -3 oz frozen peas
8 oz cooked turkey, diced
few sultanas
1 tblsp. mango chutney
3 fl oz plain yoghurt
Melt butter in a pan and fry the onion for 5 minutes. Stir in the curry powder or paste and the flour. Cook for 2 minutes then gradually stir in the soup and the water and bring to the simmer. Add the pasta and boil for 10 minutes.* Then stir in the peas, turkey, sultanas and chutney. Cover and simmer for a further 10 minutes.
Note: *if using quick cook pasta, then omit the first 10 minutes of cooking time and add the pasta at the same time as the remaining ingredients.
To serve, remove from heat and stir in the yoghurt. Season to taste, reheat very slowly to prevent the yoghurt splitting. Suggested serving with broccoli.

More questions please as the more explanations I can give, the easier it is for everyone (hopefully) to understand how cost-cutting works. See you tomorrow.

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.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Almost Ready...

Cooked the small turkey roast, and simmered the gammon on the hob, both taking the same time to cook - which helped. As you may remember, I bought the gammon joint (£4,19p) in the hope it would prove cheaper than my buying packs of ready-cooked and sliced ham. The great news is (like the chicken mentioned in a previous posting) I have made a monster saving of £6.53p as it worked out that I would have had to pay £10.72p for the ready-prepared, and that is comparing the price at the lower end of the range. As Cold Meat Platter is almost a weekly serving in this house (certainly in the summer months) this coming year I will now stop buying the packs and do more home preparation.

Whilst waiting for the meats to cook, I boiled the fruits, fat, sugar and water for the cake and sifted the dry ingredients. Then suddenly realising I hadn't any breadcrumbs in the freezer for the breadsauce went to the breadbin and found three sad crusts, so tore the crumbs out of those. I didn't even bother to blitz them as I know that once milk has been poured over them and left to stand, they can be mashed up with a fork. The bread is being left out to dry, the milk will be prepared with the onion today. Assembled tomorrow.
Once the turkey came out of the oven, the cake went in.

While the cake was baking, I decided to check the contents of the two small drawers in my deep freezer in which I keep meat and fish. Oddments of a variety of things - chicken livers, a small piece of belly pork, those 'free' chicken winglets and a few 'free' chicken portions. One small pheasant, some diced chicken, some minced beef (also the recent purchases of fish). With any luck I can use the meats up before the New Year to allow me room to spend the remainder of the 'Mean Cuisine Challenge meat budget.
Tip: When minced or diced meat is bought in bulk (say 2lbs worth), the way I measure it out is to get a small plastic bag, put my hand inside and just grab a handful of the meat, then turn the bag back over the meat, so that it has never been touched by human hand as the saying goes. One handful - probably about 4 to 6oz - gives enough meat for a dish for the two of us, and I do this until all the meat has been bagged up. These bags are tightly folded, frozen, then put into one larger bag with a note saying which meat it is. As I have said before, this labelling is important as many meats (minced beef/lamb/pork, or diced stewing beef/mutton look alike once frozen).

Wonders upon wonders, I unearthed a small bag of frozen cooked chestnuts unused from a Christmas past. These can be served this year with the sprouts.

Yesterday my husband came home earlier than expected, in a much happier mood. He had called in at the supermarket on the way and plonked two carrier bags (one was shiny gold) on the table containing 'things he thought I would need' all of which totted up to over £26!! The only thing I had asked for 'some time' was the smallest bottle of rum he could find, but he said he couldn't find one so had bought a big bottle instead (I only use it for cooking, so it should last me the rest of my life). He also brought a bottle of gin as he had noticed the milkman had delivered some bottles of bitter lemon, and he thought it would go well with those. Tip: Never let your husband loose in the supermarket at Xmas (or any other time for that matter) unless you have a strict understanding that you pay for only what you have asked for. I know I've given this advice before, sadly this time I broke my own rule.

But what the heck! It's Christmas. Will be back with you all on Boxing Day.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

First the Goode News..

Seasonal Tips:
Turkey: If the bird is very large, remove the legs and cook separately. Remember to adjust the timing for the rest of the bird as it will weigh less. But always check the juices run clear before removing from the oven. For a moister flesh, cook the bird breast side down for the first half of the cooking time, then turn it the right way up.
Xmas Pudding: If you have unexpected guests, extend a small pudding by removing it from its wrapper and container. Crumble into a bowl and add a few extra ingredients (these will be printed on the wrapper). Extra fruit, breadcrumbs, suet (if used), grated apple. Add a dash of orange juice or brandy/rum to moisten and put back into a larger bowl. Allow extra cooking time as it will now weigh more.
Steaming a pudding gives a much better texture than microwaving it, also as long as you give it at least the correct time (for its weight), it doesn't matter if you allow half an hour longer. Just keep an eye on the water in the pan, add more boiling water as it evaporates.
As the pudding is always well covered, I cook some vegetables in the water below. Might as well make use of it, and it saves using another burner.

Here's a recipe which is good in that you can make use of what you've got (within limitations of course), and one which I will be making and baking today. Can't do without fruit cake at this time of the year.
Odds and Ends Fruit Cake:
12 oz (350g) mixed dried fruit (which can include chopped glace cherries and candied peel)
4 oz (110g) butter (or any margarine, soft or hard)
4 oz (110g) brown sugar (demerara or soft brown or even white)
8 oz (125g) self-raising flour (white or brown)
5fl oz (1/4 pt or 150ml) water
2 eggs (medium or large)
1 level tsp mixed spice (or a blend of cinnamon and ginger)
Put the fruit, fats, sugar in a pan with the water. Heat to simmering and stir. Simmer for 20 minutes. Stir and check frequently that it remains moist.
Remove from heat and leave until cooled but not cold (about 30 minutes).
Sift the flour with the spice and add to the pan, stir and add the beaten eggs.
Mix well and pour into a greased and lined 7"-8" cake tin and bake at 170C, 325F, Gas 3 for half an hour then reduce heat to 150C, 300F, gas 2 and bake on for a further hour and a half. Test after one hour, cover with foil if browning too much (you can check this even earlier if you want) and bake on until the cake is cooked.
Leave to cool in the tin for half an hour before turning out onto a cake airer. When cold wrap in greaseproof/parchment paper and overwrap with foil. It will keep well given the chance.
For a boozy cake, spike the base with a skewer and drizzle over some rum or brandy.

Tips: If time to plan baking the above cake, soak the dried fruit in a little red wine, brandy, rum or port overnight to make the cake even more scrumptious.
Grate the last of the marzipan and fold this into the cake mixture at the end.
Chop some nuts and add these to the cake.
If using white sugar but prefer a dark cake, then add a couple of teaspoons of black treacle to the pan (and omit 1oz of the sugar).
If you haven't much dried fruit left, then finely chop some no-soak-dried apricots and dates and include these. Chopped preserved ginger would also be good.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Goode Enough to Eat - or not!

Tip: Our bodies will absorb more iron from food when taken with vitamin C. So drink a glass of orange juice at breakfast when planning to eat an egg.

Nearly had a panic attack yesterday when I was researching the best recipes to use for my forthcoming batch of Mean Cuisine dishes. Deep down inside me I was beginning to think I had bitten off more than I could chew, asking myself 'how long before the money runs out'? But suddenly realised that all the recipes served from four to six or even ten people. So with only two to feed, what had I got to worry about? Silly me.

Making the most of what you've got is always my aim. Here is a suggestion for a Posh Nosh Pudding that makes a little ice-cream go a long, long way.
Surprise, Surprise! (F)
Take an individual metal pudding container, or a tea-cup would do. Line with cling-film smoothing out creases. Get some slightly softened ice-cream and put a layer in the base and, using a knife, press a layer of ice-cream around the sides to leave a good gap in the middle. This you fill with grated chocolate and/or crushed meringue. Smooth over more ice-cream, and return to the freezer. Serve this Bombe (which is its correct name) unmoulded onto a plate or saucer, and peel away the cling-film. Fine as it is, but even better with chocolate sauce or whipped cream, or both. Rein me in somebody before I blow the budget!

Remember the Viennetta? (Does it have two 'n's? And does it even matter? - So easy to make your own. Lets call it -
The Evenbetta. (F)
When having egg whites to spare, make a meringue mix and spread this on parchment paper on a baking sheet, in strips (suggest 8" x 3"), about 1/4" thick. Dry out in a cooling oven and store in airtight tins until needed. Sandwich three strips together with layers of home-made ice-cream and softened ganache, or chocolate melted with a bit of butter. If a meringue layer has broken, use this for the middle bit. To serve, pipe with whipped cream and finish with a sprinkle of grated chocolate, or nuts, or both. Here I go again!
Tip: Ring the changes by using different flavoured ice-creams: mint, orange, coffee all go with chocolate. Or use a chocolate ice-cream with a white-chocolate sauce.

The Antarctic Roll: (F)
Make a shallow sponge cake in a swiss roll tin. Turn out and leave to cool. Pack some ice-cream into in a cylindrical tin (a clean baked bean tin with both ends removed?) and return to freezer until really solid. Cut a slice of cake the width of the tin and spread it with a thin layer of jam. Fetch the ice-cream, slightly warm the tin and slide out the ice-cream onto the front of the narrow end of the cake and immediately roll up until the cake meets itself. Cut the surplus cake away. Wrap the Roll tightly in cling-film and return to the freezer. Serve sliced.
Tip: Save any unused sponge cake to use in trifles etc. This can be frozen until needed.
Note: bread and plain (or jam-filled) sponge cake are probably the only foods that can be removed from the freezer, thawed and then re-frozen.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Experience is the best Teacher

Below this posting you will find the two lists of foods that were delivered last Saturday. The amount is slightly less than first thought as some would be eaten before New Year. As this conveniently starts on a Monday, further fresh fruit and vegetables will be delivered early that week, plus a few other necessaries (porridge oats and so on) with a trip to the butcher on the Wednesday to buy in bulk and freeze.

So many things not listed (chopped tomatoes, jellies, tuna, sugars, flours, lard, ketchup and other sauces, cocoa, tea, coffee, dried milk, dried beans, peas, lentils, pearl barley, nuts, dried herbs and spices etc.etc.etc.) I have already in my cupboard so it doesn't make sense to buy them all over again. When it comes to using them I then play the shopkeeper role and 'sell them to myself' . These will all be costed and details given to you.

Tip: Remember that not everything bought may be used up. Some could be left over, and probably will be. The 'left-overs' will be costed and the amount deducted from the final total.

Someone, somewhere is going to say - 'Ah, but you haven't mentioned bread'. Well, this I will be making myself (and will be costed), and, by making a slightly smaller loaf can then use the spare dough to make a pizza base and/or breadsticks AS WELL! I'm not just a pretty face you know. Well, not even that if truth be known.

Tip: My 'freebies' will be home-grown fresh herbs. Some I have had for years, others (basil and mint) rooted from cuttings taken from supermarket herbs. Not essential, but fresh herbs can turn a bland dish into something really tasty. The herbs I now keep in pots in the porch and on the kitchen window ledge are: sage, rosemary, thyme, and chives, all seem to keep growing year round, even the basil and mint (regularly cut back) are still thriving. I forgot to water the marjoram, but there are plenty of dried leaves on the plant and hopefully it will sprout again next spring.

Shopping List - part two

the first part may be above or below this posting.

1 x 3 pack tinned sweetcorn, 48p
8 cans baked beans £1.36 (o.b. @ 17p ea)
4 cans (340g) corned beef , £3.12p
7 tins sardines in oil, £2.45 (35p a tin)
500g long grain rice, 39p
500g quick cook penne pasta. 37p
500g " " pasta shells. 37p
1 ltr sunflower oil. 60p
500ml extra virgin olive oil, £3.19
1 tub Marigold Buillion Powder. £1.46
125g jar Bovril. 92p
500g jar Marmite. £3.95

1 jar Korma curry paste. £1.o9
1 jar Tikka Masala sauce, £1.99
1 jar Jalfrezi sauce, £1.37 - this was a large jar!
1 jar Branston Pickle £1.33
1 pk. chopped dates, 72p

Total for the two shopping lists comes to £58.97.

Shopping List - part one

Items bought as run-up to my 'Challenge'
1.2kg Frozen Peas. £1.49
1 kg Frozen Broccoli . 98p

1 pk Wensleydale Cheese. £1.00 (offer price)
2 pks Philadelphia Soft Cheese. £1.18 " "
1 chunk Regg. Parmesan. £2.28
259g Grated Mozzarella . 98p

500g pk cooking Bacon . 73p
200g pk Smoked streaky bacon. £1.79
750g piece raw Gammon . £4.19 (to cook for ham)
six Cumberland sausages. £2.12
seven Pork/apple " . £2.12

1 pk smoked kippers . 63p
1 pk smoked haddock. £2.81

4 kg value onions. £1.60
5 red " . 69p
1 stick celery. 69p
4 Bramley apples. £1.99
2kg carrots. 97p
1 pk (5) lemons. 48p
1 Butternut squash. £1.65
1 Cauliflower. 79p
1 White cabbage (1 kg +) . 46p
1 kg Parsnips. £1.57

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Coming together

My supermarket delivery arrived, was pleased to see (after Xmas food deducted) I had spent only £65 - so, referring to by budget (Nov. 19th posting ~ Contingency Plans) I still have plenty of money left.

There were some interesting purchases made. Smoked haddock at £2.81p, was expensive, so I opened the pack, cut the two large fillets in half, wrapped them singly and froze them. Likewise in the packet of kippers were three smaller fillets but they were only 63p total.
A 220g pack of smoked streaky Wiltshire bacon was £1.79, yet the purchase of a 500g pack of cooking bacon (what else would you do with it?) was only 73p. Said to contain a mixture of smoked and unsmoked bacon, I look forward to seeing what can be done with that.
The two packs of sausages bought were also unwrapped and the sausages re-wrapped singly so that once frozen I could use just one if one was all I needed.

A small gammon joint to boil, sliced thinly and then frozen (to go with the chicken mentioned in an earlier posting), and that - together with corned beef and sausages and some pork pie I intend making will fill several Cold Meat Platters that my husband so enjoys.
Some slight over-ordering with onions, but they do keep well and the value packs work out at 3p each, so look forward to plenty of onion dishes!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Xmas Leftovers and beyond

Today the topic is what to do with the festive left-overs.
Turkey and Walnut Pate:
This can also be made with those 'free' chicken scraps taken from a carcase.
4 oz (125g) cooked turkey
3 oz (75g) soft cheese eg Lymeswold
6 or more shelled walnuts
pinch celery salt
pinch paprika
3 tblsp sherry
Blitz everything together in a blender until smooth. Pour into individual or one larger dish. Smooth top and cover with melted butter. Chill until set. Serve with toast.

Turkey Waldorf:
Approximate amounts - just use according to what you have or to your taste.
1 lb (500g) cooked turkey, diced
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 large red eating apple, unpeeled, cored and chopped
2 oz (50g) walnut pieces, chopped
4 -6 tblsp mayonnaise
1 -2 tblsp cream or yogurt
Put the turkey, celery, apple and walnuts into a bowl. Mix together the mayo and cream or yogurt. Pour over the turkey mixture and toss well until all the ingredients are evenly coated.

1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 1/2lb (700g) cooked potatoes, diced
8 oz (225g) cooked turkey, diced
4 oz (110g) quality sausages, cooked and diced
1 small can (225g) baked beans
1 small can (98g) sweet corn
Fry the onion in a little oil until soft. Add the rest of the ingredients, including the liquid from the cans, and cook over a medium heat for about 10-12 minutes until heated through and some of the liquid has evaporated.

Turkey Burgers:
8 oz (225g) cooked turkey, minced or finely chopped
4 oz (110g) semi-dried breadcrumbs
1 small onion, grated
1 egg, freshly ground black pepper
2 tblsp. water
Mix all the ingredients together and form into four burgers. Fry in a little hot oil for 10 minutes, turning once. Serve in any way you wish.
Tip: experiment with adding additional flavours: dried or fresh herbs, a dash of tomato, brown or chilli sauce, maybe a smidgin of curry paste.

Farmhouse Pie:
If Cottage Pie is made with beef, and Shepherd's Pie made with Lamb, then how about a turkey version? I leave it to you to work out the refinements, but suggest minced cooked turkey in a rich gravy, topped with mashed carrots and parsnips (or butternut squash), and a final topping of mashed potato (maybe with a little grated cheese added?). Somewhere along the way some cranberry sauce could be incorporated. This suggestion I leave with you.

A Lavaly Dessert!
Some mincemeat to spare? Then make this simple dish. Make a mound of ice-cream, pour over hot mincemeat and press in the top a lump of sugar which has been soaked in brandy or rum. Give it time to warm up from the heat of the mincemeat. (You can't warm it up prior to this as the cube may dissolve). At the table, light the sugar cube with a match and the dish then resembles an erupting volcano.

Saint Stephen's Pudding: A good pud for Boxing Day.
Basically a bread and butter pudding using mincemeat instead of the more usual currants. A dash of brandy or rum mixed into the custard mix will improve it even further.

Christmas Crumble:
Use a standard apple crumble recipe, layering apples with a smear of mincemeat (or crumbled left-over Xmas pudding mixed with grated or chopped apples. Add toasted oatmeal and grated marzipan to the flour/fat/sugar crumble topping.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Worth the Effort

Am beginning to stock up my cupboards for the start of the challenge. My marathon delivery has had to be brought forward to tomorrow as it has been (again) weeks and weeks since my last supplies arrived. Getting withdrawal symptoms as I've been without baked beans, Spam, rice, and countless other things, for seemingly ages. Once Xmas is over I will be able to stock-take (I love doing that, really I do), then it will be count-down time.
Here are some tips to give you a head start if you are thinking of taking up the challenge yourself. We may not all be lucky enough to have such luxuries, but even just one or two can mak such a difference.
Deliberately keep back some of the Xmas fare to use later (eg. a little Stilton cheese).
Freeze :
cubes of port, white and red wine, sherry also.
scraps of smoked salmon.
chunks of ham before it's all eaten.
slices and chunks of cooked turkey
If ham is on the bone, use the bone to make stock..
If cooking beef, collect the fat (beef dripping). Keep this in the fridge.
Make stock with the turkey carcase, reduce down to a thick jelly. Freeze that.
Buy extra sausage meat - freeze the surplus.
Save all the citrus peel and freeze.
Keep pack a can or two of lager and a bottle or two of brown ale.
Save broken biscuits and crisps to use for many purposes.

Here is a recipe for the best beef stew ever. Although a set amount of meat is given, you could use less and add more onions and even more onions if you wish as it is the gravy that makes the dish, so don't skimp on this part. You can always serve surplus gravy as a soup the following day.
Tip: Get out of the habit of offering seconds because any surplus can be frozen to make a (free) meal for another day. Perhaps best to dish that into containers before you start serving the dish then there will be no sulks.
Beef Carbonnade:
1 lb (450g) stewing beef, cubed
1 lb (450g) onions, thinly sliced.
2 tblsp. plain flour (brown or white)
2 oz (50g) dark brown or soft brown sugar
1 pt (600ml) brown ale
1 pt (600ml) beef stock
pinch mixed herbs
butter and oil
Melt a knob of butter in a pan and add a little oil to prevent burning. Fry the onions over medium heat until turning brown. Drain, adding any oil drips back to the pan. Add the beef and brown on all sides. Layer the beef and onions in a casserole dish. Add the sugar to the fat in the pan and cook/stir for 2 -3 minutes. Stir in the flour to absorb the oil then slowly whisk in the brown ale followed by the stock and herbs. Heat until thickened and pour over the meat. Cover and cook at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 2 -3 hours until the meat is very tender (you can cook at a lower temperature for a longer time if you wish).
Tip: The very dark ale/stout (ie Guinness) is too overpowering for this dish, use one with less body, maybe a Newcastle Brown type? Alternatively, if you haven't the choice, weaken it by using less ale and more stock.
My favourite way to serve this casserole is spooned into large individual Yorkshire puddings. Served with a side dish of carrots and a green vegetable.
Tip: As Yorkshire puds are carbohydrate, you don't need to serve potatoes. But if no puds, then maybe add jacket potato which can be popped into the oven an hour and a half before serving.
To save money, remember that you don't really need to serve more than one carbohydrate with a meal. Either potatoes OR rice, OR anything made with flour (pastry/pancakes/pasta etc). A curry and rice with a side dish of chips is definitely overkill.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Bunch of Flours

After Xmas, we often find we have run out of sweet and savoury biscuits, so think again before adding to our shopping list. Lets start making our own and release money from the budget for more nutritious foods.

Worthwhile Biscuits: makes about 4 dozen.
1 lb (500g) plain flour,
5 oz (170g) sugar
1 tsp. baking powder,
4 oz (125g) butter, melted
8 fl. oz. (1/4 litre) milk, pinch of salt
lemon or orange rind, or vanilla or almond extract
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl with chosen flavouring. Make a well in the centre and pour in the melted butter and 7 fl.oz of the milk. Mix well and knead to make a firm dough.
Roll out to 1/4" thick and cut into strips 1/2" wide and about 2 1/2" long. Place on a greased baking sheet allowing room to spread. Brush tops with milk then bake at 200C, 400F, Gas 6 until golden. Takes 15-20 minutes.

Water Biscuits: makes 2 dozen
8 oz (250g) plain flour,
1/2 tsp salt.
1 tsp. baking powder,
2 oz lard,
rock or sea salt
Sift the flour with the dry ingredients and rub in the lard. Mix with water to make a firm dough. Roll out very thinly, prick all over with a fork and cut into large (3" +) rounds (you could cut squares if you wanted, like cream crackers). Sprinkle with the coarse salt , place on a lightly greased baking sheet and and bake in a preheated oven 180C, 350F, Gas 4 for 10 to 15 minutes until pale gold at the edges. Cool on a wire tray.
Tip: Use butter instead of lard and the biscuits become more brittle. Use wholewheat flour and you get a rougher, crumblier texture. Add a sprinkle of dried herbs to the flour, or use garlic or celery salt instead of plain, and you can make a wide variety of flavoured biscuits using the basic recipe above.

Corkscrew Biscuits: makes about 2 dosen.
4 eggs, 8 oz (250) icing sugar
4 oz ( 125g) plain flour
Beat the eggs then add the sugar. Beat well, then gradually beat in the flour. Roll this dough into a thin sheet then cut into long, very narrow strips. Lay on a well greased baking sheet and bake at 200C etc. for about 10 -12 minutes until just beginning to colour. Remove from the oven and immediately wrap the strips round wooden spoon handles. If the biscuits set too rapidly to wrap, return to the oven to soften slightly, then continue. Store in an airtight tin.

8 oz (225g) fine oatmeal, pinch salt
1 1/2oz (40g) lard or bacon fat, boiling water,
Put the oatmeal in a bowl with the salt. Add the melted fat with just enough boiling water to bind. Knead in the bowl then turn out onto a board sprinkled with oatmeal. Roll thinly and cut into rounds, fingers or triangles. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake at 200C etc. for5 -10 minutes or until crisp. Cool on a wire rack.
Tips: Use proper oatmeal if you can, but you could give a quick whizz in a blender to porridge oats and use these instead. If your butcher slices his own bacon then chat him up to sell (or give) you the fatty scraps. Render these down and keep in the fridge for frying eggs and for using in recipes like this.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Thrifty or What?

There are time when the cupboard is bare of certain items, and possibly not the cash to fill the gaps. Of course we can eat something else, but here are a few recipes which are really useful for times like that.

Orange and Lemon Peel Marmalade:
The peel from 2 large sweet oranges (approx 6 oz)
1 bag (1 kg) granulated sugar
Peel and flesh of two medium lemons
Chop or mince both the citrus peels finely and put in a pan with 2 pints of water (1.1 ltr). Cover, and leave to soak overnight. Next day simmer slowly until the peel is soft, this takes about an hour and a half. Measure the amount of liquid and, if necessary, make up to 1 1/2pts
(900ml). Stir in the sugar, add the lemon flesh and juice and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly for 15 minutes until a set is obtained. Leave to stand for a further 15 minutes before potting up to prevent the peel rising to the top. Pot up in hot sterilised jars. Seal and store.
Tip: If you want to make half the amount and seek a firmer set, then dissolve one sachet of gelatine in a little water and stir this into the marmalade just before you pot it up. Eat up within a month.

Quick and Easy Mayonnaise:
1 level tsp mustard (dry or ready made)
pinch each salt and pepper
1 small can evaporated milk
4 fl. oz sunflower oil (or light olive oil)
2 -3 tblsp vinegar
Put the mustard and seasoning in a bowl. Add the evaporated milk and mix well. Slowly beat in the oil, followed by the vinegar. With continued beating the mixture will thicken.
Store in a screw-top jar in the fridge. This makes quite a lot, so unless you intend using it within a week, make half-quantities.
Tip: To turn this into 'salad cream', add 1 tsp sugar (pref. icing sugar) to the dry mix.

On a strict budget we usually allow a certain amount of eggs to last a week. So what can we do when they have always been used up? Make a cake of course!
Eggless Fruit Cake:
10 fl oz (275ml) cold strained tea (no milk or sugar)
8 oz (225g) mixed dried fruit with candied peel
4 oz (110g) margarine
4 oz (110g) caster sugar
1 tblsp. golden syrup
9 oz (250g) self-raising flour
1 level tsp. bicarb soda
1 tsp. mixed spice, pinch salt
Put the tea, fruit, margarine, sugar and syrup into a pan over a gentle heat and stir to dissolve the marg. and the sugar. Simmer for 5 minutes then remove from heat and leave to cool.
Sift the flour with the bicarb. spice and salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the cooled fruit mixture. Stir until well blended. Pour into a greased and lined 8" cake tin. Sprinkle over some demerara sugar (optional but worth it). Bake for 1 1/2 hours at 180C, 350F, gas 4.
After 30 minutes, cover with tented foil (shiny side up) , to prevent it getting too brown.

Despite me trying to make the perfect pickle, we still prefer a well-known brand. On the other hand, the following recipe is called a relish and one I always make when there is sweet-corn in the freezer and some white cabbage that needs using up. The one to eat with cold turkey or chicken.
Don't worry too much about using the correct quantities. The peppers are in it more for colour than anything else, but the appearance and flavour is not so good without them. As long as the vegetable weigh the total amount used in the recipe, then a little more of one and less of the other won't do any harm.
Sweetcorn Relish:
1 lb (450g) sweetcorn kernels
1/2 pint cider vinegar
6 oz (175g) red and green sweet peppers, diced
8 oz (225g) white cabbage, very finely chopped
1 large onion, finely diced or grated
1 tblsp brown sugar (demerara or soft brown).
Put all these ingredients into a pan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook on for a further 15 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Meanwhile - sift together:
2 tblsp. plain flour
1 dessp. dry mustard, or 2 tsp. made mustard
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. turmeric
Stir this mixture into the pan of vegetables until the mixture thickens. Simmer for five minutes stirring frequently. Remove from heat and pot up into sterlized jars, using vinegar-proof lide. Leave for a few days to allow flavours to develop. Will keep for up to a month in the fridge or (in plastic containers) up to 6 months in the freezer.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Low Cost Luxury

250g plain flour,
200g butter, softened
3 egg yolks,
75g vanilla sugar
pinch salt
Mix the sugar, butter and egg yolks together with a fork then work in the flour and salt. Form into a ball and rest for 30 minutes. Roll out to 1/4", cut into circles and then wedges, or finger shaped biscuits and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 18-20 minutes or until golden and crisp. Test after 15 minutes to make sure they are not overcooked. Cool on a wire tray.

This next recipe makes a wonderful curly, and very thin crisp biscuit. I made half a batch yesterday and ate lots! My husband had some with his ice-cream, the rest (not very many left actually) were put into a tin. Today they are even crispier. Without almonds they work out at two for a penny. So this is the type of recipe I will be suggesting we use on our economy drive starting in the New Year.
tip 1: the biscuits spread to about 3" across, so leave plenty of room to spread, also as those in the centre of a baking sheet tended to be softer, I suggest using a smaller blob there and spreading the mixture slightly.
tip 2: if making half quantitites, be as accurate as possible with the weights and put the ingredients into separate bowls ready to use.
As only a few tuiles can be baked each time, the mixture will thicken due to the butter setting, so either stand the bowl over (not touching) warm water, or just leave it - it will spread once in the oven. In fact my second batch was better than the first perhaps because I spooned the mixture onto the very warm baking sheet.
Almond Tuiles: makes around 3 dozen
2 egg whites,
4 oz caster sugar
2 oz plain flour,
2 oz melted and cooled butter
2 oz flaked almonds, chopped (optional)
In a bowl, beat the egg whites by hand until frothy but still sloppy. Mix in the sugar then the flour. Make sure you mix well. Finally mix in the melted butter and then the almonds if using.
Lightly grease two baking sheets (suggest you try using one first for a trial batch) and spoon on the mixture in tiny blobs (a bare teaspoonful), keeping them well apart.
Bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 6-8 minutes or until brown and cooked in the centre. Remove with a fish slice and working as rapidly as possible place each tuile over a dowel or wooden spoon handle or even a rolling pin and press gently down to make a curve. They crisp up in seconds. Remove to a wire cake airer to do the rest. If any have crisped up too much to bend, just leave these flat. When cold, store in an airtight tin.

No-cook Honey Cake:
8 oz digestive biscuits, coarsely crushed
6 oz butter
2 tblsp. runny honey
2 tblsp sherry or lemon juice
4 oz candied peel
4 oz glace cherries, chopped
Cream the butter, add the honey and the rest of the ingredients and mix until well blended.
Turn into a 1lb cake tin and press down well. Put in the fridge until very firm. Turn out and serve sliced.
tip: save the crumbs from the bottom of a biscuit tin for this, they don't all have to be digestives. You can also incorporate grated or melted chocolate, orange instead of lemon juice, liqueur instead of sherry.

Almond Macaroons: makes about 4 dozen.
1 egg white,
3 oz (75g) ground almonds
3 1/2 oz (100g) caster sugar
1/2 tsp. almond essence
Whisk the egg white until stiff, then fold in the ground almonds, sugar and essence. Put into a forcing bag with a 1/2" nozzle (or use a teaspoon and a steady hand) and pipe out small blobs
on a baking sheet lined with non-stick paper (rice paper is traditional). Allow room to spread.
Bake at my favourite temperature of 180C 350F, gas 4 for about 15 minutes or until just starting to colour. Cool slightly before removing from the non-stick paper, (you can leave the rice paper on the base as it is edible), then finish off on a wire rack. They will keep well in an airtight tin for a week or so.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bean Feasts

In a much earlier posting I chatted about dividing the food budget into four, one quarter to be spent on the meat and fish (the rest on dairy, fruit and veg, groceries). This has been proved over and over again to work very well, but in the middle of last night I woke up with the thought that meat - being possibly the most expensive of all the foods served on a plate - could be dropped from our carnivore diet for a time, thus leaving money to spend on more fruit and vegetables. Just switch from thinking meat as a mouthwatering munch, and put on your nutritionists hat. Meat is protein, pure and simple, plus a bit of fat and fibre I suppose, which the body needs. But there are other and cheaper sources.

Not wishing to baffle you with facts and figures, it is worth nothing that a normal helping of meal is expected to be around 100g, so one wonders why many recipes seem to double that. Probably because 100g of meat (3 1/2 oz) seems meagre. Even the protein grammes vary according to the cut, with shin beef having more (5.4g per oz) than sirloin on the bone (3.9g) . (You need to times this by 4 for a daily serving).

A few more figures worth noting (taken from 'Ready Reckoner of Food Values' published by the Ministry of Education and Science. HMSO), some interesting facts jump out - canned pilchards in tomato sauce; sardines in oil; tinned salmon; all contain the same, or slightly more, grammes of protein than the same weight of stewing beef. One egg has 6.8g, one oz of dried skimmed milk 9.8g. cheddar cheese 7.2g. Even so - we need to first work out the cost of 1 oz stewing beef before we can find out which is a cheaper alternative to meat. It's not alway what you might expect.

On the other hand, vegetable protein is cheaper, but a bit more complicated. Apart from soya beans, which are a complete protein, you need to eat two types in one meal (eg. pulses and grains) for the body to take advantage. Alternatively (and easier to remember) is that any one type will release its protein when taken with an animal protein (eggs, cheese, milk etc.). In most cases we do this naturally as with beans on toast (4oz of baked beans = 7g protein), and rice pudding. Dried pulses are around 6g per oz. Dried lentils contain 6.8g. Oatmeal 3.4g, Cocoa 5.8g.

Given a meal of lentil soup, followed by a cheese souffle, ending up with a chocolate dessert, it could then be asked 'who need's meat?'
Here are some interesting and healthy recipes to play with:

1 onion, finely chopped, 10 oz (300g) sunflower seeds
6 oz. carrots, finely grated, 1 egg
chopped parsley, oatmeal to coat.
Grind up the sunflower seeds. Fry the onion in a little oil until softened, then mix together with the ground seeds and the rest of the ingredients (except the oatmeal), season to taste.
Form into burgers and coat with the oatmeal. Fry in a little oil for about 6 minutes on each side until browned. Can also be baked in the oven (180C) for 20 minutes.

Pearly Rissoto:
8 oz (225g) pearl barley
1 onion, finely chopped
1 sweet pepper (red or yellow), de-seeded and diced
1- 1 1/2 pints (600-850ml) hot water
vegetable stock cube
4 oz (110g) frozen peas
4 oz (110g) Stilton or any blue cheese
fhopped parsley
Soak the barley in cold water for half an hour. In a large frying pan, saute the onion in a little oil or butter. Add the peppers, cook for a further 3 minutes. Drain the barley and add to the pan, stir to coat in the oil then pour in half the water in which has been dissolved the stock cube. Simmer for half an hour, adding more liquid as needed. By this time the barley should be almost cooked. Stir in the peas and simmer for a further five minutes adding more liquid only if necessary. Sprinkle over the crumbled cheese and the parsley, stir and serve.

Roasted Vegetables with Lemon Cous-cous:
I haven't given amounts as this is more a method than a recipe. But do plenty as it is very moreish.
Use a mixture of red and white onions, courgettes, butternut squash, red and green bell peppers. Or anything else you fancy (mushrooms and baby tomatoes should be added 15 minutes before the end),.
Peel vegetables where necessary and cut into same size chunks. Place in a bowl and pour over a little olive oil, toss to coat. Place in a shallow roasting tin and roast at 200C, 300F, gas 6 for approx. 30-40mins. or until softened and slightly charred. If you like a bit of bite to your veg. then 30 mins should be enough. Check halfway through and turn vegetables over to cook on all sides.
Place the cous-cous in a bowl and cover with the same volume of boiling water. Stir in the grated rind and juice of one lemon. Leave to stand until the water has been absorbed. This takes about 15 minutes.
In a large frying pan melt a knob of butter and stir in the cous-cous. Heat gently and season to taste. Stir in some toasted flaked almonds if you wish. Top with the roasted vegetables. Take the pan to the table and serve. Instead of almonds in the cous-cous, you could sprinkle toasted sesame seeds over the roasted veg.

And if anyone cares - I have cleared my kitchen table. 'Who are you expecting?' said my husband. Sometimes it is easy to go off people.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Consuming Passions

If short of funds, and have small children, bear in mind that what we consider to make Christmas, is not the same for them. Young children often get a lot more fun out of the boxes the presents came in. Butwhen it comes to shiny THAT'S Christmas!
Home-made Decorations:
glittery bits: Open up small or large crisp bags that are foil lined. Either cut these into narrow strips with scissors or even better, run them through a paper shredder. Drape these over the tree to catch the light. These are also good used as packaging for a home-made gift food hamper. Cut very narrow strips of kitchen foil and wind them tightly round a pencil or something similar, then carefully slide off and they will hang down in coils, another deco for the tree.
streamers: Take a strong plastic carrier bag, or any large plastic bag (crisps work well), cut down the sides and flatten it out to a long strip. Keep the handles (if any) on the ends. Pleat the plastic to about an inch depth (hold together with paper clips as it will slide around), then start snipping with scissors about 1/2" apart along the length but not right up to the other edge. Then turn and repeat cutting between the slits, but not up to the edge again. This will then be able to be pulled out to a sort of zig-zag, but once carefully and fully opened out will turn into a wonderful long streamer which can be draped around a room, around banisters etc. If it sounds daunting, try making it first with newspaper.
candles: this could be something older children might like to make as a present. You need one or two blown egg shells, a household candle and some Edam cheese with red rind (you can also get this with green rind). This rind is pure wax.
Break up the candle and put it into a bowl standing over hot water. When it has melted, remove the wick. Pull this straight and the wax on it will set. You can then cut it to thread through the egg leaving a bit at the top to light. Hold in place by sticking a needle or pin through it top and bottom, just where it leaves the shell.. Melt the cheese rind and pour some into the egg shell and swill around, when set, pour in the melted white wax. Or mix the red and white wax together to make a pink candle. When the wax is firmly set, just remove the egg shell.

Once upon a time, we all had the knack of enjoying ourselves at little or no expense. Apart from buying a turkey and a bottle or three, Christmas was mainly a family affair, presents and decorations home-made. Everyone was happy.
But years and industry moves on, until now every festivity, be it births, marriages, deaths and every anniversary in between, is now so controlled by manufacturers that it has reached the stage where paying out money, and lots of it is - they lead us to believe - is the only way to prove that we love and care.
Always remember one thing - home-made fun can still be free, or assuredly be low cost, and that is something the industry won't tolerate. Time to stop being brainwashed before its too late.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Cooking for Crowds

When cooking for a party, and wishing to serve something more substantial than nibbles, choose a dish that can be prepared well ahead of time, then all you have to do is reheat on the day.
Here are a couple of recipes that will sort this out for you, just reduce amounts if you want to practice first on the family. Tip: If a newcomer to cooking, ALWAYS practice first before entertaining..
Beef and Pasta Bake - to feed 10 - 12
2 oz (50g) butter
2 onions, chopped
2 lb (900g) minced beef,
1/2 tsp allspice
2 tblsp tomato puree,
1/4 pt red wine or beef stock
1 lb (450g) pasta shapes
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper to taste.
cream sauce
3 oz (75g) each butter and plain flour
1 3/4 pts (1 lt) milk,
3 eggs, beaten
4 oz (100g) parmesan cheese, grated
Fry the onions in the butter until softened, stir in the beef and spice and fry until browned.
Add the tomato puree and wine and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste.
Meanwhile cook the pasta, drain and rinse with cold water. Shake well to remove as much water as possible then mix in the beaten egg.
Make a white sauce by melting the butter and stirring in the flour, then slowly add the milk, stirring all the time. Season to taste. When thickened, remove from heat and beat in the eggs.
Spoon half the pasta into a shallow greased ovenproof dish, and sprinkle with 1oz of the cheese. Cover with a layer of the meat sauce and another sprinkle of cheese. Top this with the remaining pasta. Pour over the cream sauce and finish with a final sprinkle of cheese.
At this point, the dish can be covered with cling film and kept chilled overnight until needed. Bake at 180C, 350F, Gas 4, for 45 mins to 1 hour.

Beef and Spinach Pancakes - to feed 20
Although the recipe uses beef, you could substitute chicken (those scraps from the carcase could be used) and adjust the seasonings to suit. Use prepared passata or any of the bottled tomato (pasta) sauces instead of bothering to make your own, although I am giving a recipe for DIY. Make pancakes weeks ahead of time, layer them and store them in the freezer.
If you can't get sausagemeat, then peel the skins off pork sausages. Always remember that you can adjust amounts (extra onions for example) if money is tight.
2 onions, chopped
1 1/2lb (675g) minced beef
1 lb (450g) pork sausagemeat,
1 pack spinach leaves, good pinch nutmeg
40 pancakes,
2 pints tomato sauce
8 oz (225g) grated cheddar cheese.
Using a large pan, lightly fry the onions in a little oil until softened. Stir in the beef and cook until browned.
Add the sausagemeat and, using a wooden spoon, break this up as much as possible and stir into the beef. When browned, cover and simmer.
Wash the spinach and put into a dry pan over a low heat and cook until wilted down. Drain away any excess water and sprinkle over the nutmeg. Season the meat with salt and pepper to taste and add the spinach. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
Divide the filling up to the number of pancakes you have, then place one portion down the centre of a pancake and roll up. Repeat until all the pancakes are filled. Lay these in a lightly greased oven dish, seam side down, and cover with the tomato sauce. Sprinkle over all the cheese. This is where the dish can be covered as in the above recipe and cooked the next day. Cook at the same temperature as above.
Both dishes are best served with a selection of salads.

Home-made Tomato Sauce (F)
This is good to serve with pasta dishes, meatballs, burgers, and so on... It will freeze, so worth making in bulk.
1 onion, finely chopped
1 can plum (or chopped ) tomatoes
2 tblsp tomato puree
1 tsp dried marjoram or oregano
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pt chicken stock
Fry the onion in a little oil and add the tomatoes (if using plum tomatoes, break these up), stir in the herbs, pepper and stock. Simmer for 45 mins. Remove from heat, sieve or liquidise.
Makes about 3/4 pint.
Tip: If you omit the chicken stock, and simmer it until thick, it is perfect for pizzas. Just thin it down with stock if you want to use it as a pouring sauce.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Way to a Man's Heart

This week, I decided to cook and freeze some chicken breast, so bought two very large chickens (OK not free-range but from what I saved I think next time I may be able to afford them). The larger the chicken the more flesh on the breast. In total the pair cost under £8.5op which sounds a lot but it worked out a very worthwhile buy.
Before roasting, I removed the legs, which gave me four drumsticks and four thighs which I then froze. The winglets and any skin and oddments I kept chilled to add to the stock I would make the next day. The two chickens, with their breasts still on the bone, I roasted.
Tip: Stand the bird on a grid over the roasting tin in which has been poured about a pint of water. Tent the bird loosely with foil - this prevents the juices burning on the base of the pan, also the steam keeps the flesh moist, and the juices in the pan give a good start to the gravy making. Add more water as it cooks out.
If not used for gravy, scrape the cold, jellied remains in the roasting pan into the stock pot to give added flavour. This also helps the stock to set more firmly.

When the birds were done, I cooled and chilled them to make them easier to carve. The sliced meat filled 6 small polybags which I then weighed before freezing: a total of just over 2 lbs.
Now here is the punch-line. I checked my supermarket statement and a couple or so weeks ago I had paid £2.99p (lets say £3 for ease of division) for one pack of cooked chicken breast that weighed all of 120g which converts to just over 4 oz. This meant the home-cooked gave me 8 packs worth for which I would have expected to pay £24 over the counter.
Deducting the price of the chickens gives a theoretical profit of around £15.50p. Not only that, I had also the worth of the remaining chicken portions, plus 2lbs of chicken flesh picked from the carcass and winglets after making the stock. Not to mention the stock itself. Plus chicken dripping which makes wonderful savoury pastry. Seems to make the profit margin nearer £20-£25.

If the above seems a lot of work - well it isn't. Think of it as well over £20 earned for not much more than one hours work, and this taken over 2 -3 days. Half an hour jointing and preparation time ( cooking time I don't take into account as I was watching TV), next day a further 15 minutes carving and bagging up. Then later, 15 minutes spent picking-the-meat-from-the-bones.
And for my next trick I will cook, carve and price up cooked ham. Watch this space.

I once worked with John Tovey who gave me this recipe
Ticket Office Pudding (aka Sticky Toffee Pud) (F)
8 oz (225g) stoned dates, chopped
1 tblsp. instant coffee granules
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp bicarb. soda
1/2 pt boiling water.
Put the dates in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients, stirring in the bicarb. soda last.Put on one side. Then make the rest of the pudding:
4 oz (110g) softened butter
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
8 0z (225g) self raising flour
Cream together the butter and sugar and slowly beat in the eggs. Fold in the sieved flour.
Pour in the date mixture with its liquid, and carefully fold the two mixtures together, then pour into a greased and lined 8" tin. The mixture will be runny.
Bake for approx. 1 1/2 hrs at 180C, 350F, gas 4. Remove from oven and pour the topping on the top..
Butterscotch Topping/Sauce
3 oz (75g) soft brown sugar
2 oz (50g) butter, 3 tblsp. double cream
Put all into a saucepan and gently heat until the sugar has dissolved. Pour over the hot pudding and return to oven or put under a grill until bubbling. Or pour over the pudding and leave to get cold. Cut into slices and freeze. This will reheat in a microwave. Serve with extra sauce and/or cream.
Note: This is such a rich pud. it could serve up to eight people.