Sunday, July 15, 2007

New Ideas

Ideally, make your own fish fingers by buying a chunky fillet of fish (haddock, cod, coley - today even salmon might be less expensive). Cut this into strips across the fillet - aiming for finger size allowing for a double coating of crumbs or whatever. Dip each into flour, egg and the final coating which could be dried breadcrumbs, crushed cornflakes, even crushed savoury cheese biscuits or crisps if you want a special flavour. Then, for an even crispier coating, dip again into the egg and crumbs. These can either be shallow fried or given a spray of oil and cooked in the oven. Using really fresh fish, the coated fingers could be frozen to be cooked later.

Fish cakes are also simple. All you need are equal quantites of cooked flaked fish and mashed potato mixed together. Add seasoning to taste and chopped parsley much improves the flavour. As to the fish, it can either be cooked and flaked fresh fish (any white fish, salmon or even smoked haddock, a mixture of fish, or use canned salmon, mackerel or tuna).
The other day, fancying a canned fish sarnie, and bored with the tuna - and salmon always seems a bit insipid - I mixed together a small can of each with a dollop of mayonnaise and spread this on sliced, buttered bread. The sarnies tasted so good that I will always use that blend in the future.
Tip: instead of spreading butter on bread (which is there just to prevent a damp filling making the bread go soggy), spread the bread with a little mayo instead. Or, depending upon the filling, some extra light cream cheese. Slices of cucumber eat well tucked into a fish sarnie, also good with the cream cheese.

Another trial I made recently was using up some instant mashed potato - this freezes so well that I tend to prefer it when making fish cakes to freeze. It is also excellent for topping Shepherd's and Cottage pies which are intended to be frozen. Instead of making up the potato with water (as suggested on the tin) I normally make it up with milk and a knob of butter, also plenty of seasoning. According to what I need it for, I can also add grated cheese, crispy bacon, or crispy fried onions.
Having just made a big pot of chicken stock - this time I made up the potato powder using boiling chicken stock and I have to say it tasted very good indeed.
The thing about home-made chicken stock is that all the flavour of all the vegetables (carrot, onion, celery plus bay leaves and fresh thyme) end up in the stock. I nibble on the cooked carrots and there is absolutely no flavour left in them at all which proves the point. Rather than throw the veggies out - as they still contain the fibre - I blend them with some of the hot stock and presto - a soup.
Tip: It isn't always convenient to make stock when you have a left-over carcase. Don't throw it out, freeze it, collect up a couple more then make the stock when you know you have the time. Just add the thawed carcases to a pot with chunks of carrrot, onions and celery, throw in a bay leaf or two, a bunch of fresh thyme if you have it, cover with water (usually about 3 or 4 pints) cover and simmer, simmer, simmer for as long as possible until all the flavours have gone into the stock. I often do this late afternoon, turn out the pot before going to bed. Reheat the next day, boil for an hour, turn it off and then even do it again the following day. Drain off the stock, it won't be clear because of all the goodness in it. When cool put in the fridge. Remove chicken fat (this can be used for making pastry), re-boil the stock if it has not 'jelled' enough, perhaps reducing it by half, then pour into small containers, cool and freeze. Sounds time-consuming but it isn't, it gets on with it mostly by itself. By the way, remember to pick over the bones and save all the meat that comes off - this can be used in many recipes.

sausages. Thinking more about it, there really isn't much need to give a set recipe. Today, bought sausages need a percentage of meat in them (which I can't recall but is it around 63%? Maybe more). Home-made is another matter - we can use less. A good sausage needs quality meat, which should be finely ground/minced (a quick pulse in the food processor will help with that, or mince it twice). some rusk (which can be very stale - rather than fresh - breadcrumbs), a little fat (which often comes with the meat, otherwise sling in a few grains of suet (which could be vegetarian), and flavouring of your choice. There are so many types of sausage other than plain pork, so look around and see what is on offer. Could be pork and apple, pork and leek, lamb and mint, turkey and cranberry sauce, beef and nutmeg, beef and tomato (suggest using chopped sundried tomatoes), spicy chilli flavoured, even some with prunes and apricots. There are many regional varieties such as Toulouse (heavy on the garlic- the classic sausage when making Cassoulet), Lincolnshire (never found the recipe for those but full of herbs). Cumberland - again herbs and traditionally sold, untwisted, coiled into a circle. I have even seen some advertised which include cheese.

Cooking sausages (in their skins , whether home-made or bought are often difficult to cook perfectly. I find the ones cooked in a pan on the hob tend to be brown on some sides, but due to them curling slightly, they always have an unbrowned sides. Chefs often (this I've tried and it works well) simmer the sausages in boiling water for about five or ten minutes and then finish them off in the pan. This at least means thick sausages have cooked through. Personally, my favourite way of cooking is in the oven, smearing the surface of the dish with oil ( good sausages rarely ooze out fat, so they tend to stick). This way they brown all over without me having to constantly turn them.
Tip: When freezing fresh sausages, always open freeze before bagging up. This way you can take out only the number you need, not have to thaw out a whole pack.

This following recipe uses Chorizo sausage but would work just as well with other well-flavoured sausages, even with meat-balls. Incidentally, make your own (pork) baby meat-balls by removing sausage skins, breaking the sausage meat into four or five pieces, roll into balls and fry until browned.

Spaghetti with Chorizo Sausage and Tomatoes: serves 4.
12 oz (350g) dried spaghetti
3 - 4 tblsp olive oil
8 oz (225g) chorizo sausage, thickly sliced
handful of black olives, stoned and halved (optional)
8 oz (225g sun-dried tomatoes*
2 tblsp fresh thyme leaves
Cook the pasta until al dente (about 8 -10 minutes). While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a frying pan, add the chorizo and fry for 3 - 4 minutes, then add the olives (if using), the tomatoes and the herbs. Fry for a further couple of minutes then season to taste. Drain the spaghetti, add to the frying pan and toss together. Serve hot.
* Instead of sun-dried tomatoes, roast some small, halved tomatoes (drizzled or sprayed with oil) until partly collapsed. This enhances their flavour and they are equally as good as the bought, bottled sun-dried.

Sausages with Bacon and Cheese: serves 3 - 4
8 thick pork sausages
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, sliced
8 rashers bacon, rind removed
3 tblsp fruit chutney
1 can condensed tomato soup
2 fl oz water
Grill or fry the sausages until golden brown. Remove from the heat, drain on kitchen paper and slit each sausage through lengthways, almost through but not quite. Place slices of cheese in the sausages and press back together again. Lay out the pieces of bacon, spread each with some chutney, place one sausage towards the end and roll up slightly diagonally so that all the sausage is covered with bacon. Secure with cocktail sticks.
Lay the sausages in a frying pan and cook until the bacon is golden. Pour off any oil. Mix the soup with the water and pour over the sausages. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until heated through. Serve with jacket potatoes.

Savoury Sausages: serves 4
1 can pineapple pieces
1 oz butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
1 green capsicum (slightly hot pepper) seeded and chopped
2 fl oz tomato ketchup
1 tblsp brown sugar
1 lb (450g) thin pork sausages
Cooked rice to serve
Drain the pineapple and reserve the juice. Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the onion, carrot and green pepper and fry gently for five minutes then add the pineapple and cook for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the ketchup, the pineapple juice and the sugar and gently mix. Simmer for 10 more minutes.
Meanwhile, grill the sausages until golden all over. Place the cooked rice over the base of a shallow ovenproof dish, top this with the sausages then pour over the contents of the frying pan. Cook in a moderate oven (180C etc) for 15 -20 mins until heated through. Serve immediately.

Devonshire Hot-Pot: serves 4
1 lb (450g) sausages or sausage meat
6 potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 large onions, chopped
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 oz butter
5 fl oz chicken or veg.stock
salt and pepper
Seasoning each layer, put half the potatoes in a pie dish and cover with the onions. Lay the sausages on top and cover these with the sliced tomato. Top with the remaining potatoes. Pour the stock over stock and place a few knobs of butter on top. Cover and cook for about 2 hours in a moderate oven (180C etc) removing the lid during the last 15 minutes to allow the potatoes to brown.