Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Hints and Tips

Several requests on how to cut costs, especially regarding meat - so today I will concentrate on the money-saving side of cookery.
Many years ago I started, when following recipes, to use less meat, always bulking up to the total weight by adding more vegetables. This was done to save money, but nowadays we are encouraged to cut down our meat consumption for health reasons. So now I serve even less. Always I suggest buying meat from a butcher as you can often get cheaper cuts that the supermarket offer, also quality meat has so much more flavour which in itself adds to the dish.

When wishing to serve something like a strogonoff - ask the butcher for the tail end of fillet steak, or you could use rump steak (whichever is cheaper). Cut the meat into matchsticks and bulk that up by slicing one or more mushrooms to the same size (chestnut mushrooms are especially 'meaty' in texture). Brown the meat and mushrooms together and the m.rooms will take absorb the juices from the meat, so they end up tasting (and looking) the same. Dish up on a bed of rice and smother with a creamy sauce (creme fraiche is a quick substitute). Some useful meat enhancing (and other relish recipes) will be given below.

When using minced meat for a spag.bol meat sauce, include plenty of finely diced carrot, celery and onion to bulk it out, also add a handful of porridge oats - which will swell up and have the advantage of taking up the meat flavour (especially if you are adding beef stock). Oats themselves are a good source of protein.

When it comes to casseroles, use half the meat suggested in a standard recipe book, even less if you wish, just make the gravy as rich and tasty as possible so that the full flavour of the meat comes through. Add plenty more onions to make up the shortfall of meat. Serve extra vegetables : carrots, potatoes, either in the casserole (why not use one pot, saves fuel and washing up), or cooked separately.

To make beefburgers used the best quality minced steak, then mix this together with grated onion, a few breadcrumbs, 1 egg yolk (or whole egg) to help bind everything together, adding a pinch of dried herbs and seasoning to taste.

When having roast meats remove the fat and save every scrap of the cooked flesh (which can be frozen) . Use this for meat pies, for making a sandwich spread, in stir-fries, and so forth. As to the fat - render it down (keep each type of meat fat separat) this can be used - as in the olden days - for making savoury pastry. A chicken pie made with pastry which has used chicken fat is so very much more tasty than when the pastry is made in the normal way. Beef fat (dripping) is wonderful for cooking roast potatoes, Yorkshire Puddings, and frying lamb in its own fat gives more flavour when making Shepherd's Pie etc.

As an alternative to meat - we should eat more fish (nowadays, sadly just as expensive) and not forget eggs which are also full of protein. A couple of days ago was a prime example of when I just threw a supper together using up bits from the storecupboard and freezer. Beloved was working so not sure when he would be home, but phoned me a quarter of an hour before his planned arrival so that supper would be ready and waiting.

Earlier that afternoon I had cooked, in the microwave, four small fillets of smoked haddock (those of you who have stuck with me since the start of my Challenge will remember the haddock being part of my original order). Once cooled, skinned and flaked, this was put to one side for the main dish. Then came the easy part. Once I had taken the phone call I went into action, one large onion, finely diced and fried golden in a little oil - to which I added one sachet of 2-minute microwave wholegrain rice, plus a couple of tablespoons of water (the rice can be reheated on the hob, not necessarily in the microwave - read the back of the pack). Then I made a gap in the middle of the pan, tipped in a handful of frozen (slightly thawed) jumbo prawns turning them as soon as they went pink, stirred them into the rice, then tipped in the flaked haddock. Added plenty of black pepper, a little more water so that it would turn steaming hot, stirred it again then (in the microwave) cooked some peas and sweetcorn (4 minutes), Beloved arrived home, the peas and corn were tipped onto the top of the fish dish, everything stirred together again, served up and he absolutely loved it.

Creme Fraiche is something I use often. Here is a way to make your own:
Creme Fraiche: make one pint
14 fl oz (400ml) double cream
7 fl oz (200ml) natural yogurt
Put the cream in a saucepan and stir in the yogurt. Heat gently until the mixture is no longer cold, but under body temperature. Pour into a container and partially cover. Leave at room temperature overnight and it should, by then, have thickened and have a slightly acid taste. Stir, cover and put into the fridge. It will thicken on standing and the flavour will develop. Home-made creme fraiche keeps for up to a week in the fridge. When making a new batch, you can use 7 fl.oz of the creme fraiche with the cream instead of using yogurt. Suggest doing this only once or twice then making a fresh batch from scratch.

Bechamel Sauce: for White Sauce omit the onion, bay leaf and peppercorns.
1/2 pint (300ml) milk
1 slice of onion
1 bay leaf
6 peppercorns
1 oz (25g) butter
1 1/2 tblsp plain flour
salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg
Bring the milk to the boil, add the onion, bay leaf and peppercorns and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Melt the butter in a pan, stir in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the hot (strained) milk. Bring back to the boil, whisking all the time until the mixture thickens. Season to taste, not forgetting the nutmeg. Simmer for two minutes. Serve with eggs, chicken, fish and vegetables. This sauce is the basis for the following:
For a Cheese Sauce add grated cheese and a little Dijon mustard to taste.
For Parsley Sauce add finely chopped fresh parsley and a knob of butter.

Cream Sauce: serve with fish, poultry and vegetables
1/2 pint (300ml) Bechamel or White Sauce
4 tblsp Creme Fraiche or double cream
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the Bechamel or White Sauce, add the other ingredients and whisk together, simmering and whisking until reduced to 1/2 pint.

Veloute Sauce: for fish, poultry and as the basis for other sauces
15 fl oz (450ml) chicken stock, brought to the boil
1 oz (25g) butter
1 1/2 tblsp plain flour
lemon juice (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Into a pan put the butter and heat until melted, stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the boiling stock. Bring back to the boil, season to taste and simmer for up to 30 minutes until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Add lemon juice if you wish. Do not overseason as reducing the amount increases the flavour.

New York deli Dressing: serve with eggs, fish, shellfish, cold meats, veggies and salads
1/2 pint (300ml) mayonnaise
3 tblsp tomato ketchup
2 tblsp gherkin, finely chopped
1 tsp horseradish sauce
4 (or more to taste) drops Tabasco
1 shallot, finely chopped
Mix everything together, season to taste only if necessary. It shouldn'e be.

Salad Cream: serve with eggs, vegetables and green salads.
8 fl oz (240ml) milk
1 tblsp cornflour
2 tblsp melted butter
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp made mustard (pref Dijon)
1 tbslp caster sugar
2 eggs yolks, beaten
cayenne pepper and salt
Into a pan put the butter, lemon juice, mustard, sugar, egg yolks and seasoning to taste. Blend the cornflour into the milk then add this to the pan, Heat, stirring all the time, until the mixture has thickened - do not let the mixture boil or it will curdle. Cool, cover and store in the fridge, it will keep for up to three days.

Brown Stock: although stock cubes are often used, this is one worth making to freeze.
approx 4 lbs (2kg) beef bones
2 onions, quartered
2 carrots, cut into chunks
2 ribs of celery, cut into pieces
1 bouquet garni
10 peppercorns
1 head garlic, separated into unpeeled cloves
1 tblsp tomato puree
6-8 pints (approx 4 litres) water
Put the bones in a roasting tin and roast in a very hot oven (230C, 450F, gas 8), moving the bones around from time to time until browned. This can take from 30 - 40 minutes. Add the vegetables, and return to the oven until they too are browned. Drain off the fat and transfer the bones and vegetables to a large casserole. Add the bouquet garni, the peppercorns, garlic, tomato puree and enough water to cover up to an inch above. Bring slowly to the boil, removing any scum that might rise to the top. Simmer on the lowest heatfor up to five hours , the water just needs to burb on the surface, do not boil or the stock will be cloudy. Strain and then cool as rapidly as possible (suggest filling the sink with cold water, ice if you have it, then stand the casserole/pan in this). Chill, skim off any fat before using.
Tip: suggest boiling this down to reduce then freezing in small containers. Add one block to the recommended water below.

Basic Brown Sauce: Mix 1 tblsp arrowroot or potato flour in a little water and stir into 1/2 pt (300ml) boiling brown stock, whisking until the sauce is just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season to taste. With this recipe you can turn it into the following:

Sauce Bordelaise: Serve with roast beef, steaks etc.
Boil 5 fl oz red wine with one chopped shallot and 4 peppercorns until almost all the wine has evaporated. Add half a pint of the basice brown sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain, remove from heat and add 1 oz (25g) butter, chopped into small pieces. Shake the pan to dissolve the butter.

Sauce Bigarade: a bitter orange sauce to serve with duck
1 heaped tblsp seville orange marmalade
2 oz (50g) butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 fl oz (90ml) white wine
1/2 pint (300ml) basic brown sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Melt half the butter in a pan and lightly fry the shallot, add the wine, simmer and reduce to about 2 tblsp of the liquid. Add the brown sauce and simmer for five minutes. Stir in the marmalade, season to taste , remove from heat then stir in the remaining butter.

Madeira Sauce: serve with beef fillet, veal, tongue, sweetbreads
Stir 1 fl oz Madeira into half a pint of Basic brown sauce, simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and just before serving, stir in one more fl.oz of Madeira, bring to the boil and serve.