Monday, November 26, 2007

Pot Luck or Planning?

It might be worth a mention, just for those who believe you have to know everything for anyone to take you seriously, was because it my ability to cost out a meal very accurately, that got the media interested - nothing to do with the actual food. In truth, costing was just about all I could do at that time. In the early stages I would suggest dishes that could be made for very low cost, and would then be asked to make several the following week which they would film. Naturally I agreed (always saying 'yes' to everything, which is not always a good idea as I often found out, but too late to do anything about it). Costing yes - that I could do with my eyes shut - but cooking NO (nearly always a disaster). But as I had agreed, then needed to practice like mad - with even a simple Swiss roll a nightmare at first attempt. It was a matter of keeping just one step ahead of the next filming. Knowing only what was needed at that time and nothing more (and due to clever editing, and two cuts of the cake, the big air holes in the sponge were never seen).

At least now, I do know what I am doing, but mainly at a domestic level, having never bothered to persue the haute cuisine because it seems a bit of a waste of time. What is the point of cutting the sides off a carrot to make a perfect bar, cutting this into accurately measured strips and these into equal sized batons, and go on to cutting the batons into perfect little cubes? This is the top level of cooking, but does not add anything to nutrition, and purely for the presentation effect. It leaves offcuts that could be thrown away, but probably - as in all good kitchens - are used to make vegetable stock, with all the extra labour that entails. No stick to Peasant Cookery (so fashionable at the moment), and everyone will expect and even enjoy more, the rustic.

My favourite meals come under 'pot-luck', where you just make do with what you've got. Sometimes I think up new ways, my newest fantasy is shredding a white cabbage into noodle sized strips, cooking them lightly and tossing in some garlic and herb Philly cheese to melt down into a sauce, a kind of 'vegetable pasta' dish. But as yet haven't attempted it. Not even sure if I have a cabbage. Must check. Have plenty of Philly as they were reduced and I bought too much, but they keep well. If I served the cabbage 'noodles' in their creamy sauce, they would go well with some frozen meat balls I made some time back - here I am thinking aloud, writing down my thoughts as they come to mind. Which is what I do normally anyway. But I must keep some semblance of order for who knows where my mind will wander to if I lose control.

With a hoard to feed and only one pound (500g) minced beef - how can you make a chili to serve a dozen? The answer is add more and more of the cheaper ingredients, onions, beans, chopped tomatoes, and herbs.
Meat-stretching Chili con Carne: makes 12 servings
1 lb (500g) minced steak
1 dessp sunflower oil
2 - 3 large onions, chopped
2 cans red kidney beans
2 cans chili flavoured red beans
3 cans chunky chopped tomatoes
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp dried oregano or marjoram
1 - 3 tsp chili powder to taste
1 tsp hot paprika
Put the minced beef into a bowl, pour over the oil and work together with your fingers (this will prevent the beef forming clumps in the pan when frying). Put the beef into a large dry pan with the onion and cook over medium heat until the meat is browned, stir in the garlic. Fry for a further minute and then stir in the chilli powder, herbs and paprika. Cook for a further minute then add the canned beans (no need to drain), and the tomatoes. Bring to the boil and simmer for up to one hour (half an hour longer if using cheaper mince), stirring occasionally, until the chili is the right consistency.
tip: because this is quite a cheapo meal, I would be inclined to stir in a pack of ready-made chili mix instead of using the garlic, herbs, chili and paprika powder, the liquid from the canned beans and tomatoes usually enough to thicken, but add water if you wish.

This next soup is a type of pot-luck in that both lentils AND pearl barley are used. Normally I add one or the other to a soup I am making. But as one is a legume, the other a grain, they work together boosting up the protein content of this vegetarian dish and both come under the 'cheap ingredients' banner.
Lentil and Barley Soup: serves 6 (V)
2 large onions, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed or minced
2 oz (50g) butter
3 pints water
2 can chopped tomatoes
6 fl.oz measure dry red lentils
6 fl.oz measure pearl barley
3 tblsp Marigold bouillon powder (or 2 veg. stock cubes)
half tsp dried rosemary, crushed
half tsp dried oregano or marjoram
pepper to taste
1 large carrot, thinly sliced or diced
half pint measure of grated hard cheese
Into a large saucepan put the butter, and when melted add the onion and celery, saute for 4 minutes then stir in the garlic. Add the water, tomatos, lentils, barley, the stock powder, herbs and pepper to taste. Bring to the boil, stir well, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 45 minutes. Add the carrots and simmer for 15 more minutes or until tender. Ladle into individual soup bowls and top with the grated cheese.

A Christmas dessert, and will keep well for several days in the fridge.
Christmas Compote:
2 x 8oz (2 x 200g) packs dried mixed large fruits*
2 oz (50g) crystallised ginger
2 oz sugar, pref demerara
2 lemons
1 orange
2 - 3 tblsp rum
(* dried fruits can be no-soak apricots, dates, figs, apples etc - any large cut to the same size as the rest).
Put the dried fruit into a bowl, cover with water and leave to soak overnight (or do this early in the morning and leave to soak all day). Drain well and put into a saucepan with the ginger (chopped small), the sugar and the juice from the lemons and orange. Bring to the boil, cover the pan and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the rum, pour into a serving bowl and leave to cool. Serve with cream.

Mindful of a recent posting for a professional way to make pastry using butter and lard, here is a recipe which was given as the one to use when making mince pies, as it contains no sugar am sure it would eat well with anything that goes with orange - from a savoury beef pie, to a chocolate tart. A variation could be made using lemon instead of orange, which would again eat well if used for making a fish pie or lemon meringue. And not forgetting other additions to pastry: dried herbs or even spices. With a little thoughtful addition, plain pastry can turn into something just that little bit special.

Orange Pastry: enough for 12 mince pies
8 oz (225g) plain flour
4 oz (100g) butter
2 oz (50g) lard
2 tsp grated orange zest
orange juice
Cut the fat into the flour and rub with the fingers (or process) until like breadcrumbs. Stir in the grated zest and, using a knife, add just enough orange juice until it just begins to form a ball (err on the low side with the liquid). Wrap in parchment, clingfilm or foil, and chill for half an hour before using.