Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Almost Spring.

To today's recipes. One is another unusual one, a tip given by Gary Rhodes. How to make 'toffee' using a can of condensed milk. I feel bound to offer a health and safety warning here, if only to cover my own back (he didn't), as I noticed on the tin the caution that the tin should not be boiled unopened in case it burst. Duly cautioned I still carried on boiling. Nothing went wrong.
Soft Toffee:
Put a tin of condensed milk into a deep saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring it to the boil, and simmer for no less than three hours, topping up with boiling water if necessary (I put at least an inch of water over the tin, covered the pan, let it simmer slowly and the water level didn't drop). Leave to cool in the water. Remove can, wipe dry and it will keep in the fridge, unopened, for at least the length of the use-by date. If it has a b.before day, it should keep even longer.
Once the tin has been opened you will find the contents have turned a caramel colour. The milk will now be very thick, almost solid but can be spread. It can also be whipped with an equal amount of cream (even pouring cream but whipping cream is better) and this, when chilled, will firm up to spoon onto desserts etc. Also could be used as an ingredient when making ice-cream.

Yesterday I tried spooning some of this 'toffee' into a dish and blending it with some thick custard I had left. This made a good 'sauce' to serve with the Quick Chocolate Cake (heated) made the day before. Over the next day or two I will be experimenting using the 'toffee' when I intend having a go at making a variation of Banoffie Pie .
As this 'toffee; is made only using condensed milk, there are no additives or any extra sugars added, so could be a healthy way to get the toffee flavour. Best to read the tin and see nutritional advice as I am sure it must contain many calories.

This next, and last recipe for today. is for a cheese sauce which makes a goodly amount as it will keep in the fridge for up to ten days, and can also be frozen, preferably in small, usuable portions. If you want to make less, or just a trial batch, halve or quarter the ingredients. Cheddar is the obvious choice of hard cheese used, and possibly a way to get rid of those odds and ends of different cheeses that can build up. Certainly Wensleydale cheese melts beautifully. If you like the taste of blue cheese, then why not trying making a smaller amount using the last of your Stilton.
Dry mustard is one of the ingredients, but again, a spoon of made mustard (in this case go for English as it gives the best 'bite') could be substituted. Use Dijon mustard if you like less heat, but don't leave out mustard altogether.

Ready to Use Welsh Rarebit Sauce: makes enough for 16 slices of toast (F)
1 1/2lb (700g) grated Cheddar or other hard cheeses
5 fl.oz (150ml) milk
1 oz (25g) plain flour
2 oz (5og) fresh breadcrumbs (pref.white)
1 tblsp. English mustard powder (less if you wish)
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks (keep the whites for meringues)
white pepper (only because it doesn't leave brown specks).
Put the cheese in a pan over a low heat, and add the milk. Heat gently until the cheese has melted but DO NOT BOIL (or the fats will separate out). When smooth sprinkle in the flour mustard powder and a little pepper, stir until the mixture thickens and forms a ball away from the sides of the pan. Cool.
When cold, put into a food processor (or use an electric hand whisk or even a wooden spoon) and slowly beat in the eggs and yolks, one at a time. Put into a covered container and keep in the fridge.
Tip: I have spread this mixture over a lined baking tray and then scored it with a knife into breadsized slices. Froze it until solid, then cut right through and lifted off the slices of Rarebit, put them in a bag and then kept them frozen until needed. They can then be used to put onto toast and grilled in the normal way.
Alternative ways of using the (unfrozen) sauce is to take some in your floured hands and press it onto lightly poached smoked haddock or cooked kippers, then place under a grill until the cheese is bubbling.
If you have a hard lump of this frozen cheese sauce, try grating it and using it to top lasagne or any other dish that uses a cheesy sauce topping. Any unused frozen sauce can be returned to the freezer.
With a little juggling of the ingredients, it might even cook up like choux pastry, given that the method of is very similar. Another variation for me to try. But later. Time for me to trot.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sweet Treats

Yesterday was a delight. With only two weeks left I decided I could afford to go mad with the ingredients and so made up enough goodies to last the rest of the Challenge.
Firstly I made a jug of custard (using custard powder) in the microwave. Whilst that was cooling I then made a Sicilian Cassata. The next thing was to make three individual bowls of Sherry Trifle, followed by a batch of Profiteroles. When the custard was cold I was able to put some on the jelly (later to be topped with thick cream), and the Proffies were filled with a mixture of custard and thick cream (later to be smothered in melted chocolate).

For our main meal of the day I did a really good Spaghetti Bolognese made correctly using a sofrito base. This used up the last of my minced beef, but I still have some stewing steak, two lots of mutton, some diced chicken, chicken winglets, not to mention sausages, salmon, smoked haddock and kippers. And that's without checking thoroughly. Yes, you see I forgot I also had loads of chicken livers. So plenty to go at there.

As promised I also found time to try an unusual recipe and here is one for Chocolate Cake which made me smile as it reminded me so very much of my childhood when I made mud pies. So certainly one worth letting the children have a go at making.
I didn't believe it was possible it would work as it contained no eggs, and instead of butter or marg., vegetable oil (I used sunflower) was used. But it did work and in some ways the 'to the dry, add the wet' method of combining ingredients reminded me of the way muffins are made,.

Being an American recipe, this uses cup measurements which (if you have a set of these measuring 'cups - and if not worth getting some) is simpler than relying on a set of scales. One cup measures 8fl.oz which is slightly less than the average mug. Although I do have the aforementioned set of 'cups', I chose to use a mug which, when filled to overflowing, holds exactly 8 fl.oz, (a teacup might do the same) so I used that. Alternatively, I could, and perhaps should have used one of my pint glass Pyrex (or even my plastic) measuring jug. As the cake is actually mixed in the baking tin, the good thing is, there is only the jug (or mug) and spoon to wash up afterwards.

Couldn't be Easier Chocolate Cake:
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/3rd cup cocoa
1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup oil
1 cup cold water
2 tblsp white vinegar
Into an 8" square shallow baking tin (ungreased and unlined but pref. non-stick) , put in the first five (dry) ingredients and stir them around with a flat whisk or fork until well mixed. Put the remaining (wet) ingredients into a jug and pour them over the dry mix and start stirring with a flat whisk until thoroughly blended. Be as quick as you can and make sure you work into the corners to gather up any wet oily bits left. When well mixed, IMMEDIATELY place the tin in a preheated oven 180C, 375F, Gas 6 and bake for 25 minutes until firm on top. It should be cooked when you see the sides of the cake have pulled away from the tin. Cool in the tin.
Tip: I see is no reason why the dry ingredients can't be mixed in a bowl before putting into the baking tin. Or even making the whole thing in a bowl and then pouring it into a tin. But doing it that way I certainly would have lost all the pleasure of trying something new.
Once the cake has cooled it is not difficult to remove it from the tin, but I found that a fish slice worked best as otherwise it could break up.

After baking I was pleased to see the cake had a perfectly flat top, and - after sampling - decided it could make a simpler version of my Ticket Office Pudding, by just pouring butterscotch sauce over the top while it was hot and then returning it to the oven until bubbling. Or, as I do with TOP, pour over a double helping of sauce, let it set, pop it in the freezer and cut off what is required to reheat in the microwave (no more than 2 mins). Perhaps I should rename this version: Economy-Ticket Pudding.

The following recipe I tried many years ago. It worked then, so I see no reason why it won't work now. Not a million miles away from the last recipe it does have an interesting method of combining ingredients again.

Cocoa Fudge Casserole Cake:
1 cup plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2/3rds cup of sugar
2 tblsp cocoa
1/2 cup (4 fl.oz) milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tblsp melted butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup firmly packed soft brown sugar
extra cocoa (1/4 cup)
1 - 1/4 cup boiling water
Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and cocoa together three times (you need to get as much air into it as possible as again, no eggs are used). Put the milk, vanilla and butter together in a measuring jug and add to the dry ingredients. Stir until just moistened.
Mix in the nuts. Spread mixture into a shallow 6 cup (that's 6 times 8 fl.oz = which I work out at just under two and a half pint capacity) buttered casserole. (I use the type of dish in which I make my lasagne).
Mix together the brown sugar and the extra cocoa and sprinkle over the top. Finally pour over the entire pudding all the boiling water. Bake at 350F (and its equivalents) for 50-60 mins. Serve warm with ice-cream or whipped cream or chocolate sauce or butterscotch sauce. Oh, why not serve with the lot!

If you are fond of Welsh Rarebit, then I have a scrumptious recipe to give you tomorrow. Not only can it be eaten on toast, the mixture can also be kept in the fridge to use as you want, and will also freeze. Great too spread on top of smoked haddock or kippers and grilled. Told you I was keeping the best till (almost) last.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Confessions of a discontented Cook

It has to be said, cooking everyday is only worth doing when you enjoy it. When I began this Challenge on Jan. 1st this was the time I was enjoying it, but over the weeks have had to admit it has not been as much as a challenge as I hoped because I had, and still have, plenty of food left in store. I would much prefer to have something to work with on the lines of two lettuce leaves, six potatoes, and one head of celery (plus five other ingredients of my choice). The most difficult part has been the boredom, seemingly making much the same meals each week, admittedly with as many variations as my stock of food would allow However, I am planning to go out with a bang, so look forward to more delicious recipes to get me through this last two weeks.

Last night's supper was an easy-peasy couldn't-be-quicker one of Cauliflower and Broccoli Cheese. I cooked broccoli and cauliflower (the broccoli was frozen, the cauli was the last from the fridge and hasn't THAT lasted a long time?), which took all of five minutes to cook, meanwhile I was grating a good lump of Red Leicester and a smaller lump of Cheddar cheese, Then taking a small tub of creme fraiche, stirred in a very little milk to slacken it and a big handful of the cheese. Drained the vegetables, put a layer in the bottom of a dish, covered it with some cheese, topped with remaining vegetables, topped that with the 'cheese sauce', finally sprinkled over the last of the cheese. Popped it under the grill and within 15 minutes from the start it was served. Beloved chose banana and cream for pud.

This 'boring cooking' has recently brought to mind the meals made pre-war. Good plain food and always the same meal on the same day of the week, with little variation apart from eating only seasonal fruits and vegetables - they at least did give something to look forward to. When rationing came along (and that is almost a challenge worth trying on its own) there was such a need to improvise with the tiny amount of food (try making something from one egg per person per fortnight, or one ounce of cheese per week) that anyone who really achieved something found great enjoyment through this and so after the end of rationing (1952) this newly discovered interest kept going.

I did ask my husband what was his favourite food. Fillet steak was his first choice, then came egg, sausage, beans and chips. He will have to wait for his first choice. Incidentally, all lean meat contains the same amount of protein, so why spend a fortune on prime cuts when the cheapest meat- cooked in a casserole - is so comforting - and so cheap? Having said that I do buy him fillet occasionally, but never eat it myself.

An indugency for me is to eat a meal I haven't cooked myself. Fish and Chips, Chinese Takeaway. I tend to dig my toes in at eating out (unless someone else is paying) because I know I could make it myself at home for at least one fifth of the price. There is one local Indian restaurant we go to on high-days and holidays (mainly because the staff are always so pleased to see us and give us a free liqueur at the end of a very reasonably priced meal), and it has to be said that I have eaten at only one local restaurant where the food was of such a high standard that it surpassed anything I could hope to make, and that closed down due to being such a small place and having spent so much money in refurbishment, they were never make enough profit to cover their loan repayments. Which, to my mind says a lot. Don't worry about the decor mate, just serve good food and no-one will complain.

Yesterday I re-discovered some cookbooks that had such unusual methods of preparing foods that I am dying to try them out. Some can be done within the Challenge, so that will give me much-needed pleasure trying some out today. Will report back tomorrow on any that actually work. I really need to be convinced that they do.
This may leave me with some ruined food that has gone wrong, but again, I can gain pleasure from finding other ways to make them edible. Seems every cloud does have a silver lining.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Borderline Cookery

Last night I was dreaming about making shortbread. Thought perhaps this was pointing me in the direction of other regional fare, so decided to cross the border and offer a few Scottish dishes. Valerie, you may be interested in the Potato Scones, especially the variation (see below) as neither use a raising agent.
There are many wonderful Scottish recipes but I have chosen those which fit in with the ingredients bought for my Challenge.

On my bookshelf I have a book covering saints days and recipes associated with each. This helped no end when writing 'Have a Goode Year', for I could work my way through the year with timely dishes which fortunately always seemed to turn out inexpensive. As I mentioned in the book, you can get away with serving Aunt Maud a dish that cost only pennies, once you tell her you sought out the traditional dish of the day to make especially for her. The older you get the more you respect tradition. And thrift. The Scots will appreciate that sentiment.

Potato Scones: makes about 12 'farls;
half a pound of boiled, mashed with 3 tblsp. melted butter or bacon fat
plain flour and good pinch of salt
To the potatoes and butter, work in as much plain flour as they will take without becoming too dry (roughly 2 -3 oz). Roll out on a floured board to 1/4" thickness then cut into 3 large circles and each circle into a 'farl' (quarter). Prick all over and cook on a very lightly greased medium hot girdle or heavy frying pan, turning once.
These are served with butter, honey or syrup and often rolled up and eaten hot as they are made.
Potato with Cheese Scones: makes about 12
Using the above recipe add 4 oz grated cheese and 2 beaten eggs. Form mixture into little round patties, dip into breadcrumbs and fry in shallow oil until golden on both sides.
Tip: To make perfect mashed potatoes, the spuds need to be very dry, so cook the potatoes in their jackets (the microwave is the speediest way). When cooked, cut and remove potato flesh from skins. Then mash. You will notice the difference.

Cock-A-Leekie: a cross between a soup and a stew.
Traditionally made with a whole boiling fowl, it can also be made using just the carcase, winglets and drumsticks of any chicken. If using the latter this recipe will serve four.
four chicken joints cut in half (or what you have)
3 rashers bacon, chopped
6 large leeks, chopped plus one extra
4 oz prunes
bunch of parsley, thyme with a bay leaf
veal or marrow bones , chopped (optional)
water to cover
Put everything except the prunes and the extra leek into a large saucepan. Cover and simmer for 1 - 2 hours until the chicken is cooked (use the higher time if a boiling fowl). If necessary top up with water, but do not dilute too much. Strain and remove the flesh from the chicken. Return some or all of this to the pan with the saved liquid, add the prunes and the remaining chopped leek and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve.

Ham and Haddie:
1 smoked haddock
2 large sliced smoked ham
2 tblsp. butter
water and black pepper
The easiest way to poach the fish is to put it into a frying pan, skin side down, cover with boiling water, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove fish, peel off skin and take away any bones. Pour away the water (you don't need to wash the pan), then melt the butter in the pan, lay in the ham slices, heat through turning once, then place the fish on top. Season with pepper, cover and simmer for 2 -3 minutes. Traditionally served with a poached egg on top.
Tip: (A restaurant/hotel would do them this way). Poach eggs the day before, removefrom the boiling water and place in a bowl of iced water then keep in the fridge. To serve, reheat each egg in very hot water for one minute.

Cullen Skink: serves four
approx 2 lb smoked haddock
1 large onion, sliced
pint and a half of milk
2 tblsp. butter
approx 8 oz mashed potato
salt and pepper
Poach the haddock (see above recipe). Remove the skin, but keep the fish in the pan. Add the onions, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Take out fish and remove any bones. Traditionally the bones are replaced in the pan and then simmer for a further half an hour.
Strain. Put the stock, milk and the flaked fish into a saucepan, bring to the simmer then add enough mashed potato to make it a creamy consistency of the thickness you prefer. Dot with butter, season to taste and serve immediately. It doesn't matter if the butter hasn't melted. Serve with melba type toast.

Caledonian Cream: serve 4 - 6 (F)
1 lb (2 tubs) cottage cheese
2 tblsp. orange marmalade (pref. thick cut)
2 tblsp. caster sugar
2 tblsp. malt whisky
1 tblsp. lemon juice
Beat everything together, put into a dish and freeze. Easy as that.

This recipe was taken to a meeting of beekeepers, where every dish I demonstrated included honey as an ingredient. Being fairly generous with the whisky I have to say it was the favouite. Just as well I made a lot as every man there insisted on having more than one helping.
2 heaped tblsp. oatmeal, toasted lightly*
10 fl.oz whipping cream
sugar (or honey)
whisky (or rum)
fresh raspberries (optional)
Whip the cream with a little whisky and sugar until thick, but do not overbeat. Fold in to the toasted oats. Serve in tall glasses and top with raspberries.
*Although oatmeal is traditional, I nearly always use quick porridge oats which have been given a quick blitz in the food processor. Take care when toasting (either in a dry pan on the hob, or under the grill, or even on a baking tray in the oven) as they burn easily, keep stirring until they have turned golden. Worth doing a batch and storing in an airtight jar for later use.

The costings for this week have been minimal. Beloved has gained 5 lbs since we began, my fault for serving huge portions, so yesterday was minimal food - bananas on toast sort of thing. My financial outgoings for the week are downstairs but less than £2 even allowing for the bread, so something good is coming out of it. All details are being kept and in two weeks will come the end of the Challenge and the final auditing. It can't come soon enough!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Regional Cookery

Although I have lived in Yorkshire for roughly half my life-time, my roots are in the Midlands (and as far as I am concerned that starts somewhere below Sheffield !) so today I am offering recipes from the centre of England. Being traditional they are naturally inexpensive so fit well into my Challenge as I still have all the ingredients to hand.

Fidget Pie: serves four or more
12 oz shortcrust pastry
1 lb (450g) potatoes, peeled and boiled for 5 mins.
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 or 3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
8 oz (225g) bacon pieces, cut into strips
half a pint of stock
Cut the par-cooked potatoes into not-too-thin slices. Place a layer of the potatoes on the bottom of a pie dish, cover with a layer of onions, then apples, then bacon. Season each layer with a grind of pepper, a pinch of salt (if diets allow), then repeat until the dish is full. Pour in the stock and cover the dish with a lid of pastry. Cut a slit in the top and brush with milk or egg. Bake at 200C. 400F, gas 6 for 30 minutes then reduce heat to 170/325/3 and cook on for a further hour.

Leicestershire Rock Buns (aka Rock Cakes): makes a dozen
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
2 level tsp. baking powder
4 oz (110g) soft margarine
2 oz (50g) gran. sugar
6 oz (150g) mixed dried fruit
1 egg plus 1 tblsp milk
demerara sugar
Sift together the flour and baking powder and add the sugar. Rub in the margarine until like breadcrumbs (this can be done in a food processor). Stir in the dried fruit. Beat the egg into the milk and stir into the dry mix. If too dry, add a little more milk. Take a teaspoon in each hand and lift up clumps of the mixture and pop them onto lightly greased baking trays. They are supposed to look like rough mounds of cake mixture. Sprinkle with demerara sugar.
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 15 minutes. They should be golden. Cool on a cake airer.

Bakewell Pudding: (please don't call it Bakewell Tart)
Make shortcrust pastry with 6 oz (175g) plain flour, 4 oz (100g) butter, lemon juice and water. Preferably use the flaky pastry method, but the more usual shortcrust would suffice.
Roll out the pastry and line a flan tin. Bake blind for 15 minutes at 200C/400F/gas 6. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 180C/350F/gas 4
For the filling:
2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
4 oz (100g) butter, melted
1 tblsp. ground almonds
raspberry jam
**secret ingredient** (optional but see below)
Beat together the eggs and the yolks, and add the melted butter together with the ground almonds (and the secret ingredient if using). Spread jam over the base of the pastry and pour over the egg mixture. Bake in the oven (remember to reduce the heat as given above) for about half an hour until cooked.
**In an old book it states the secret ingredient is a tblsp of lemon brandy.** Don't ask me how to make this, I have said too much already.

Leicestershire Pikelets: makes 8
5oz (150g) white bread mix (with yeast added in proportion)
5 fl oz (150ml) hand hot water plus 1 tblsp.
1 level tsp. bicarbonate of soda
2 fl oz (50ml) milk
Put the bread mix in a bowl and mix in the water. Beat well and leave to stand in a warm place for about half an hour. When risen, put the bicarb. soda in a cup and pour on the milk. Mix then beat into the flour and water. Stand, covered, in a warm place for half an hour until frothy. This has the appearance of batter NOT bread dough.
Grease some muffin tins (or use large plain scone cutters), and heat a heavy frying pan for a few minutes. Place the muffin tins on to the pan base and spoon 2 tblsp batter into each ring. Reduce heat and cook until dry on top (about 10 mins). Remove the rings, turn the pikelets and cook for a further couple of minutes. Cool on a wire rack and cover with a cloth to keep soft. Eat hot with butter or toast them under the grill when cold.
Tip: If you haven't any muffin rings, make your own using 12" strips of card about 1 1/2" wide (30cm x 4cm). Staple the ends together then cover with foil (or first cover with foil then staple together). These can also be used for fried eggs and can be reused several times.

Melton Mowbray Pork Pie has to have a mention although I'm not (as yet) giving a recipe on how to make. Very simply, it is assembled using hot water crust pastry formed round a large jam jar to make a container, filled with minced pork (pref. a mixture of lean and belly pork), with a pinch of nutmeg,and another secret ingredient: a little anchovy essence. Put on a lid of pastry, seal edges, make two holes in the top**. Bake at 180C etc. for (not sure but about 45 mins.), covering if getting too brown. When cooked stand the pie on a plate and pour hot stock through one hole (preferably made with pigs trotters but a pre-made thick jellied chicken stock would do). Do this slowly and shake the pie from time to time to release any air bubbles. When the stock comes up through the second hole then you know it is full. Leave to get cold and set. Keep chilled, but eat at room temperature.
** The two holes are made so that air has a hole to escape from as the stock is poured through the other.
Tip: The best pork pies we have ever tasted come from the very old old family firm of Walker's in Leicester. Their main shop is in Cheapside but they do have branches in the locality.

Coventry Godcakes - these were traditionally given by godchildren to their god-parents on New Years Day. Exactly the same recipe as Eccles cakes, but instead of being oval, they are triangular.

Hope you will try one or more of the above, and if you live in the Midlands, keep the tradition going.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Take Five

At the moment I am tearing my hair out trying to make evening meals more interesting. Yesterday we had liver, bacon, cabbage and potatoes. I had thawed out too much liver by mistake so cut them into thicker 'gougons' (strips) than I would normally have done. This pleased Beloved who, previously, had always seemed to prefer them cut more like matchsticks tossed in flour and then fried. I have to agree with him, they did taste more succulent, moreover a pile of them on a plate gave a man-size helping. Lambs liver is a worthwhile buy as there is no waste, and it is also lower in price than most other meat.

Today should be a fish dish. We haven't had fish for what seems like ages (unless you count sardines on toast). I can choose from salmon, smoked haddock, kippers. So it may be a kedgeree, a paupers Paella, or a quick fried salmon with potatoes and peas. Ah yes, I could make a fish pie or even a chowder. But I couldn't decide. Perhaps Beloved should be given the choice. He is still asleep in bed. Why did I buy kippers? Because they were very inexpensive is the short answer. Also make good eating, perhaps best for breakfast, but they also make a good pate.

Kipper Kedgeree:
12 oz (325g) cooked long grain rice (4oz before cooking)
2 oz (50g) butter or marg.
1 onion, chopped
2 kipper fillets
2 hardboiled eggs, roughly chopped
1 dessp, sultanas soaked in the juice of a lemon
Firstly, put the kippers in a heatproof jar and pour over boiling water. Leave to stand for a few minutes then pour away the water, remove the skin from the kippers and discard. Chop the kippers into small chunks. Put them in the pan with the onion and rice, heat through. Stir in the sultanas and any lemon juice left over, finally add the eggs. Season to taste.

In the freezer I have discovered a pack of meaty chicken wings saved from the last batch of free chicken carcases the butcher gave me. Also a good supply of home-made chicken stock. And one pack of the ccoked meat stripped from the bones. So an opportunity to come up with a meal there.

You will notice a shortage of fresh fruit eaten during the last few weeks. But with plenty of vegetables this has not bothered me too much as I aim to serve five different varieties a day.
(When on my own the other week I took a multi-vitamin pill a day as much of what I prepared for myself lacked vegetation. Now, does that count as cheating?)
Fruit bought has been mainly bananas, plus some cooking apples, and I have now been buying the occasional carton of orange juice from the milkman whenever I have reason to cancel some other item (just so I don't overspend). Again, I am getting overstocked with milk, cheese, eggs, Greek yogurt, creme fraiche, cottage cheese and cream, so next week will probably be another 'cancel delivery' week, allowing me a further £10 to add to my budget.

Previously there had never been much need to cancel dairy foods, so why now? Thinking back I used to make a lot more (milk) puddings, ate more porridge (I've now taken to eating brunch),
and made more cakes and dips. We used to eat a lot more cheese with biscuits and grapes, and this AFTER a pudding, now it is generally cheese on toast for brunch/lunch. Or grated in sauces for pasta and, cauliflower, or sprinkled over salads. Anything grated always seems to go a lot further.

I have to say the bananas keep so well sitting on the kitchen chair, pushed under the table. I have some left from the 'eat me keep me' bag bought nearly 2 weeks ago, and a further bag still not yet touched, half still green. Never throw away ripe bananas, as - although the flesh can turn brown, all it is doing is gaining sweetness. Mash with peanut butter for sarnies. Or make this treat:

Banana Bread:
8 oz (225g) self raising flour
1 level tsp. baking powder
3 oz (75g) butter or soft margarine
3 oz (75g) sugar
1 egg
1 heaped dessp. apricot jam
2 or 3 ripe bananas, mashed
Sift together the flour and baking powder. Cream together the fat and sugar until fluffy, add a tsp. of the flour, add the egg and beat together. Fold in the rest of the flour followed by the jam and finally the bananas. Pour into a greased and floured 1lb (450g) loaf tin and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for about 45 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch. Check after 30 minutes and if browning too quickly, cover with a tent of foil shiny side uppermost*. Turn out and cool on a wire rack.
*(To prevent browning put foil shiny side up - this helps to reflect the heat away, to aid browning put shiny side down).

Tip: Nothing to do with cooking - but still on the reflecting qualities of foil. Cover a large piece of card with foil, shiny side out, and slide behind a central heating radiator. This prevents the heat from being sucked up by a wall, and instead reflects the heat back into the room.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Poundstretcher Living

Frustration comes weekly now as flyers from the local supermarkets are thrust through the letterbox offering loads of BOGOFs that I would normally be grateful for. I could almost weep when I have to tear them up. But the offers will come round again, and again, and again.... I am sure that, with judicious shopping, we could all buy everything from a supermarket at a reduced price throughout a year.
This is great when on a low income, but could we shop elsewhere without paying much more? Is the produce sold at Farmer's Markets cheaper or more expensive than if bought at the supermarket or even corner shop? And if it is the edibles that we are mostly concerned about, what about non-foods? Surely it makes sense to buy these as cheaply as we can.

I do have a problem with this, as to shop around I need transport. Having a car would increase my carbon footprint (whatever that is), so I am doing without. Without a car I am housebound, (no bus route or shops within walking distance near enough for me to hobble to), but the supermarket will deliver and for me this is a blessing as even the highest delivery charge of the week (usually at weekends) is less that it would cost me to have a taxi there and back. In any case the taxi and delivery vans will produce noxious fumes as would my car. So even an organic box delivered to the door doesn't help the environment as much as the Green Brigade would have us believe.
Would that I could go back to the 1960's, when the only heating we had was a coal fire, and in the morning woke to see the wintry windows covered with icy fern patterns. The milkmen had electric floats to carry their bottles, the greengrocer and baker would call several times a week, the grocers would deliver for free. Sometimes the coal was delivered by horse and cart. Not forgetting the rag and bone man with his pony and trap. The dustmen came down the drive to and fetch the bins AND brought them back. Outdoors the pleasant sounds of hedgeclippers and the push/pull lawn mowers occasionally muffling the sound of the skylarks. Owls hooting at night, absolutely no burglar or car alarms, virtually no burglars or car thefts. No computers, no mobile phones, no washing machine, no TV (at least we had none), but we did have a fridge. All our electric aids: vacuum cleaners, the fridge, radios, hair dryers still kept going for up to 40 years after purchase. Our towels and bed linen I am still using.
Joy oh joy, there were no supermarkets then, so no ready-meals (apart from Vesta Curries). But then we had fresh air, fresh (in many cases local) foods, always home-cooked meals. An Indian restaurant at that time could serve only mild, medium or hot. For amusement we all played cards and board games (still do) and did jig-saws and read books (still do). During the summer and winter the adults and children went for lengthy, healthy walks to build up an appetite and make for sound sleeping, so no picky eaters or late bedtimes. Most housewives could knit and sew and cook and clean and grow their own fruit and vegetables.
It has taken less than 40 years to ruin centuries of sheer pleasure. But perhaps my idea of pleasure is not everyones. But like the clothes we keep in the wardrobe for 20 years, suddenly things come into fashion again. At least let us make a start with home-cooking. Simple Snacks for Starters:

Creamed Mushrooms on Toast: serves 4 (V)
2 oz (50g) butter
1 onion finely chopped or grated
juice of one lemon
8 oz (250g) closed cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 heaped tblsp. creme fraiche
1-2 tsp. curry paste, pref. Korma
salt and pepper
4 slices brown bread, toasted and buttered
Fry the onion in the butter until softened. Stir in the lemon juice and the mushrooms and cook gently for five minutes. Stir in the creme fraiche and curry paste and heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the creamed mushrooms over the toast and garnish with chopped parsley (optional).
Tip: If you haven't any creme fraiche, blend 3 tsp. cornflour with half a pint of single cream and stir into the mushrooms. Heat through until thickened.

Asparagus Rarebit: serves 4 (V)
1 can asparagus spears (drained)
2 oz (50g) Cheddar or Wensleydale Cheese, grated
4 slices wholemeal or granary bread, toasted and buttered
Put the toast on a baking sheet. Top each with the asparagus spears and top with the cheese. Place under a pre-heated grill and cook for 4 -5 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and slightly brown. Dust with a little pepper, serve and eat hot.
Tip: Canned asparagus is a useful storecupboard ingredient. Make an easy Asparagus Quiche by whizzing the asparagus stalks together with the eggs and milk, then top this quiche filling with the asparagus spears.
For Asparagus Vol-au-vents use a can of condensed asparagus soup, finely chop the asparagus spears and fold into the undiluted soup, fill the pastry cases and top each with a small pieces of an asparagus spear.

baba ghanoush (aka Aubergine Dip); serves six (V)
3 medium aubergines
1 - 2 tblsp tahini
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 oz (75 g) Greek yogurt
juice of 1 large lemon
Pierce the skin of the aubergines with a knife and grill under medium heat until the skins are black and the flesh is soft (approx 20 mins). Remove from heat, cover with a towel and leave to rest for 5 minutes then peel off the skin. Put the flesh into a sieve and press out any juice. Mash the flesh with a fork (or blend), slowly adding the rest of the ingredients, checking the taste as you go. When satisfied with the combination, Put the dip into a bowl and garnish with olive oil, olives and chopped parsley.
Tip: the above is based on a traditional recipe. Another variation uses creme fraiche instead of yogurt, and adds a dash of Tabasc0.

Thai Red Curry Sauce: serves four (V)
1 teacup of coconut cream
2 -3 tsp Thai red curry paste
4 spring onions, finely sliced
2 tblsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and very thinly sliced into rings
1 tsp soy sauce
juice of 1 lime
1 oz (25g) dry roasted peanuts, finely chopped (as garnish)
sugar, salt and pepper
Stir the curry paste into the coconut cream. Add the spring onions, chilli and coriander, then stir in the soy sauce, lime juice, a pinch of sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a serving bowl. This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled. Serve, sprinkled with the peanuts.

Smooth Pepper Salsa: serves 4 (V)
1 each red and yellow pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds, dry roasted and crushed
1 red chilli , de-seeded
2 tblsp chopped coriander leaves
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Grill the peppers for about 10 minutes until their skins have blackened. Cover with a towel and leave for five minutes then peel off the skins. Blitz the flesh in a blender with the rest of the ingredients. Serve at room temperature. Keeps a couple of days if well chilled.

Chilli Relish: will keep for a week in the fridge. Enough for 8 servings. (V)
6 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 red (sweet bell) pepper, chopped,
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp. chilli flakes
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
3 oz (75g) light muscovado sugar
5 tblsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp black pepper
Put the olive oil in a saucepan and add the prepared onions, pepper and garlic. Cook gently until the pepper is softened (6 mins). Add the tomatoes, cover and cook for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the cinnamon, chilli flakes, ginger, salt, sugar and vinegar and bring to the simmer, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 20 minutes until thick and pulpy. Cool and store in a glass jar and keep chilled.
Tip: To make a thinner, dipping sauce, blitz in a blender and add more vinegar or water.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Pancakes and Pastry

Samosa Pastry: this makes about 60 small triangular samosas
12 oz plain flour
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 tblsp ghee* or melted butter
approx 5 fl oz water
Put the flour, salt and butter into a bowl. Rub together until like fine breadcrumbs. Pour the 5fl.oz water over the flour, all at once, knead together with vigour and gather into a ball. If it crumbles, add up to 3 more tablespoons of water a spoonful at a time until it comes together.
Knead this for about ten minutes, on a lightly floured board, until smooth and elastic. Form into a ball, brush with oil or ghee, cover with a damp cloth and leave until ready to use. (It can stay for several hours like this).
Shape and fill the samosas two at a time by pinching off a small piece of dough and rolling it into a ball about 1" across. Roll each samosa into a circle about 4" dia. Cut in half. Dampen the straight edge with water, form into a cone, fill with 1 -2 tsp. filling, moisten top edges together and seal. (They could be cut into squares and the edges moistened, put on the filling and fold into triangles, sealing the edges.). If covered, these will keep for several hours before deep frying for 2 -3 minutes or until golden.
* To make your own 'ghee', cut a block of unsalted butter into cubes and melt slowly in a small pan. When completely melted, remove from heat and leave to stand for a minute or two. Skim off any foam from the surface. Carefully spoon off the clear butter into a bowl, discarding any milky solids from the bottom of the pan.

There are many other ways to use filo: two recipes spring to mind - the Streusel (filo wrapped around apples, sultanas and cinnamon sugar); and the honey-soaked Baklava.
Today I will try and hunt out some recipes for you and post them up tomorrow.

Yesterday was a sort of 'sardines on toast for supper' day due to stuffing ourselves while our guests were here. They brought chocolate cake, so we worked our way through the the remains of that. Today I need to pull myself together and get back to the Mean Cuisine menus. As this is a working day for my Beloved, it will have to be a meal that will stand waiting for his return (which is only when all the flowers have been delivered). Probably a casserole then. With a bottle of wine left for us by our guests when they returned home.

Only three weeks left to go. Time again for another stock-check. Still haven't used the kippers, there are plenty of chicken livers left, bacon from the economy pack, plenty of other meats, a fridge packed full of odds and ends of vegetables plus the fresh ones. Plenty of onions. Could be fun, SHOULD be fun seeing what I can make from the remaining rations. Can't say I'll be sorry when it is over. Am just keeping my fingers crossed that I won't end up with egg on my face if I couldn't keep within budget after all. Even saying that has made me determined to succeed.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Who needs Meat?

Costings for this week have been mainly to stock up with more vegetables: Chinese leaves (95p), which will last much longer than an Iceberg lettuce. A stick of celery (68p), one (large) value pack of mushrooms (£1.18p), 1 value pack of 6 lemons (48p), 1 pack of 'eat me keep me' bananas (£1.49p), 4 large parsnips (£1.48p), and one 2kg bag of carrots (97p). Plus one pack of pasta penne for 37p. Total: £7.60. As I still have a couple of carrots left from the last pack, I certainly won't be needing many of the new batch to get me through the next three weeks.

With guests arriving for this weekend, yesterday afternoon I made a granary loaf and - as I had an hour and a half to spare before leaving for our evening meal - then made several pots of orange and ginger marmalade - a favourite of one of my guests who will be taking some home with him.

Lentil dishes have been requested . There is a good recipe on this site for Cheese and Lentil burgers (Oct. 7th), and also worth a mention is Pearly Risotto (using pearl barley (Oct. 8th).

A great favourite in the Goode household is the Lentil Samosa. I make quite a lot in one go and then freeze them to cook (either shallow fry or bake) as needed. Briefly, I cook up a batch of red lentils, then drain well. Meanwhile in a frying pan I fry some finely chopped onions in a little oil or butter, then stir in a tsp. of curry paste. After a minute or two I add some finely diced (cooked) carrot and a handful of frozen peas. When these have been stirred the lentils are added and cooked until any excess moisture has been driven off. Leave to get cold then use as a filling for samosas - which I make using filo pastry.

Here are more lentil recipes which you might like to try:
Lentils with Apricots: to serve four
8 oz (250g) red lentils, cooked and drained
2 oz (50g) dried apricots, soaked for 15 mins, then drained
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 - 2 oz butter (40g)
4 shelled walnuts, chopped
2 tblsp. chopped parsley or coriander
salt and pepper
Fry the apricots in the butter until they soften, season to taste. Add the apricots and the walnuts to the cooked lentils and heat through for about 10 minutes, making sure the lentils do not dry out. Serve sprinkled with the fresh herbs.
Tip: Using the no-soak apricots, still soak for a few minutes in hot water to plump them up further then chop in half.

Sauteed Lentils: to serve four
12 oz (350g) Puy lentils
approx 1 litre (or 1 1/2 pints) boiling salted water
2 oz (50g) butter
4 tblsp chopped parsley
juice of one lemon
4 hardboiled eggs, sliced
8 rashers streaky bacon, crisply grilled
Boil the lentils in the salted water for about 1 hour or until tender. Drain. Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the lentils and cook until they begin to colour. Add the parsley, lemon juice and season with black pepper. Cook until the lentils are browning. Serve garnished with the croutons, egg and bacon.
Tip: Instead of the Puy lentils, use green lentils (which will need soaking for a few hours before cooking).

'Choose your Stock' Lentil Soup: serves 4-6
This can be made using either vegetable stock, chicken stock, beef stock, or the stock from boiling a gammon. It is possible to buy ham stock cubes. If using the latter, enrich the flavour by adding 1 tlevel sp. brown sugar, 1 tsp. vinegar to the water and flavour with a bay leaf. Remove the bay leaf before continuing with the recipe.
1 large onion, finely chopped
8 oz (210g) carrots, grated
4 oz (100g) red lentils
2 - 3 pints stock (see above)
Put everything into a saucepan, cover and simmer for about half an hour until the vegetables and lentils are cooked and softened. Cool slightly then blitz in a blender or food processor until smooth. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper, then reheat and serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley.

Curried Lentil and Tomato Soup: to serve four
1 tblsp. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. mild curry paste
9 oz (250g) red lentils
1 1/2 pints ( just under a litre) of vegetable stock*
half to one tin of chopped tomatoes
fresh coriander leaves
salt and pepper
Put the oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onion for a few minutes until transparent. Stir in the curry paste and cook for a further couple of minutes. Add lentils and stock, bring to the boil, cover and simmer until the lentils are tender (roughly 20 - 30 minutes). Add the tomatoes and continue cooking for a further 10 minutes. Cool slightly, season to taste then blitz in a blender/processor. Add the coriander leaves when blitzing or leave to use as garnish.
*A good vegetable stock requires using good fresh vegetables: whole sticks of celery, a whole head of lettuce, several carrots, onions and leeks, and a handful of mixed fresh herbs. Personally, because I can find better used for whole fresh vegetables, I always use Marigold Bouillon granules which make an excellent vegetable stock (Delia Smith agrees with me - in truth that should read the other way round, but the only way I'm ever going to get noticed is if I name-drop), however canny cooks can make a good veggie stock using the parts of vegetables we might normally throw away. It's your choice, your money.

Cooked red lentils have a consistency very similar to mashed potato. Worth blending the two together to use as a base for rissoles, as a topping for Cottage Pie, for making something similar to Hash Browns.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Turn Disasters into Triumphs

Apricot Slices:
8 oz flour
4 oz caster sugar
pinch of salt
5 oz butter or margarine
1 egg, separated
6 oz cake crumbs
1 1/2 oz ground almonds
1 oz sugar
2 tblsp apricot jam
few of almond essence
Sieve the flour, sugar and salt and rub in the fat. Mix to a soft dough with the yolk of the egg and a little water. Roll into an oblong and put onto a baking sheet.
Mix together the cake crumbs, gr. almonds, sugar and white of an egg, then mix in the jam and essence. Spread over the base and bake in a moderate oven for 20 mins until browned on top. Cut into slices while still hot.
Tip: As this is normally made with plain cake crumbs, then you may wish to use a different jam and essence if using chocolate crumbs. Perhaps strawberry jam and vanilla essence, or even orange marmalade? Worth experimenting. In this case 'moderate oven' is around 180C, 375F. gas 5 -6. Old recipes can be very vague about temperatures. Metric weights were never given.

Chocolate Rum Truffles:
4 oz (100g) plain chocolate
1 tblsp. dark rum
1 oz (25g) unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
4 oz (100g) ground almonds
4 oz (100g) cake crumbs
2 oz (50g) chocolate vermicelli*
Melt the chocolate in a bowl standing over hot (not boiling) water. Stir in the rum then beat in the butter and egg yolk. Remove from heat and stir in the ground almonds and cake crumbs to make a smooth firm paste. Divide into 24 small pieces and shape each into a ball. Roll into the vermicelli and when completely covered, put into sweet cases.
* You could coat with cocoa or chocolate flakes if you prefer.
Keep in the fridge for up to a week. These should freeze.
Variation: Only just thought of this, but it should work. Use the above as a filling between two thin layers of (cooked) plain sponge or even cooked (maybe puff) pastry. Or even layers of meringue (my mind is working overtime now). Cut into slices and serve as a dessert - with cream OF COURSE !

A final thought. chocolate crumbs might work with or without the biscuit crumbs when making the uncooked chocolate refrigerator cakes. So never throw away something you have made that seems to have gone wrong. It can often turn out to be the perfect ingredient for another dish. Some lateral thinking can often solve a kitchen puzzle.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Feeling the Pinch?

Nearly at the end of week seven, and this week have needed to buy more vegetables. The costing for these (and anything else 'bought' from my own store) will be detailed at the end of the week. This week has given me more complications - my husband brought in a Chinese Takeaway as a treat for me/us after his holiday. This weekend I have two guests stopping over, and they are taking us out for a meal. All I can do is list the meals cooked at home and make allowances for these 'extras' at the end of the Challenge. On the good side the missing luggage was delivered last last night so Beloved was able to give me my pressies - a large Chorizo sausage and two jars of Mojo Sauce, one coriander based, the other chili. Bliss.

I suppose during the ten weeks of penny pinching (apart from one lot of fish and chips accounted for), the unexpected was bound to happen. I will cope. Knowing your interest, the menu for this week has been: pasta, mushrooms and onions in a creme fraiche sauce with Parmesan; the Take-Away; Cold Meat Platter; Spag.Bol. Tonight may be a fish dish, tomorrow hopefully Curry. On Sunday - not yet sure. Oh, I did make an apple and blackberry pie (with a pastry heart in the middle to satisfy Saint Valentine).

Surprisingly there is still plenty left from the original shopping list (posted just before Xmas).
Not even touched the jar of pickle (so why did I get it?), and still plenty of onions to work through. The massive jar of Marmite seems hardly touched although we do use it a lot. The Bovril also. Enough corned beef and sardines to last several weeks more. Anyone new to this site will feel we have been eating almost war-time rations, but we know better.

Now that Beloved has returned, more ice-cream must be made and another TOP to keep him happy. I'm pulling out all the stops and for the last three weeks am aiming to make even better Goode meals.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Country Affairs

Now for the final days of the magazine menu:

Breakfast: orange juice, muesli, Morning Scramble on toast.
Light Meal: Chicken Barley Soup with Melba toast. Fresh fruit.
Main Meal: Spicy Cinnamon Beef with Rice and runner beans. Ice-cream Chantilly.
(Planning tip: Make the home-baked beans in time to use with the Cinnamon Beef as well as for tomorrow morning.)

Breakfast: orange juice, cereal, sausages and baked beans with fried mashed potato.
Light Meal: Pizza Espressa, lettuce and cucumber salad with yogurt dressing.
Main Meal: Crunchy Croquettes with grated carrot salad. Profiteroles with Mocha Sauce.
(Planning tip: cook the lentils early on and allow to drain. Make the Profiteroles and the pate for the toasties the next morning.)

Breakfast: orange juice, cereal, Hot Spread Toasties.
Light Meal: French Onion Soup with Cheese Croutons. Fresh fruit.
Main Meal: Pasties with lettuce and tomato garnish. Lemon Barley drink.
(Planning tip: Make the pasties any time during the day, they can easily be reheated for the evening meal.)

Breakfast: orange juice, yogurt, toast and marmalade, tea or coffee
Light Meal: Beef Broth with mini dumplings.
Main Meal: Quite a Fish Dish with green beans. Fruit Pavlova.
(Planning tip: As Friday, make the Fish Dish any time, then reheat if necessary. The Pavlova, made on Tuesday, only requires last-minute filling.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

How we Ate Then

Continuing with the recent mention of the magazine article, I have now worked out how much the food bought from the stores would cost today. I scrolled down Tesco's current food prices and selected the cheapest of each of the foods originally used - with the exception of chicken which I know is sold cheaper somewhere else as it was on TV the other day (so used that price instead). Also couldn't select '8 other seasonal vegetables' at this time of year. Likewise the canned mackerel was not to be found in the size purchased for the article, I had to '5 times' the price of the much smaller cans on sale today. The amount came to £35.02p (and yes, I checked it firstly by adding it up in my head- correctly I may say, then on the calculator, incorrectly, and then twice more on the calculator - which then gave me my first total. I should have just trusted my brain). I did not include foods taken from the storecupboard - but I have a rough guess at this bringing the final total for both to over £40. Probably well over.
Thank you Valerie for coming back to me with your total. You may well be closer to the real cost than I am. But what the heck either way this proves that feeding a family of four (using the same menu) now costs at least double what it did 23 years ago. Although the magazine kept saying "this will feed a family (deliciously) on £3 a day", and that "the meals were well thought out, and well balanced" and bla, bla, bla, I now feel I should have been able to do better. Certainly now I would serve different (and still delicious) foods and be able to feed a family of four for under £40. Only please don't ask me to show you how. Let me have a breather first.

Requests for the menus. They read thus, each followed by a planning tip for the day:
Breakfast: orange juice, toast and marmalade, tea or coffee.
Main meal (noon): roast chicken, stuffing, sausages, gravy, bread sauce, roast potatoes, carrots, braised celery. Fresh fruit in jelly.
Light meal: Beef and cucumber open sandwiches, pikelets, sultana buns, Victoria sandwich.
(Planning tip: make muesli; also beef stock. Meat from beef bones is for beef and cucumber open sandwiches for tea. After lunch remove meat from chicken carcase and make chicken stock for tomorrow. Make pikelets, cakes and buns).

Breakfast: orange juice, muesli, savoury stir-fry, tea or coffee
Light meal: Lettuce soup, oatcakes and cheese.
Main meal: Lamb au Chou, new potatoes. Eve's Sundae.
(Planning tip: In the morning make oatcakes. If baking Syrup Savarin at the same time as the lamb, allow time for dough to rise. In the evening prepare Dreamy Dish for Tuesday breakfast, using home-made yogurt.)

Breakfast: orange juice, Dreamy Dish, tea or coffee
Light Meal: Lemon cups Fish Pate with toast triangles, Lemon Barley drink.
Main Meal: Chicken Gougere, lettuce salad with yogurt dressing. Syrup Savarin.
(Planning tip: Make lemon barley drink early for lunch, also make basic egg white whip, Pavlova. Make cream filling for Savarin, and ice-cream Chantilly. Make choux pastry for Chicken Gougere and Profiteroles.)

The menus for the rest of that week will follow tomorrow. Even reading it back sounds too much like hard work for me, but in those days I was younger, with more energy. Looking at the photos of the meals does make them look much better than they sound. But now in the 21st century and much older, not to mention more experience under my wide belt, I would make it simpler, using different (but still nutritional) ingredients.
Once you have read the entire menu, if there is a mention of a recipe that entices you to try it, then just ask. As My mouth is already watering looking at the photos of the menus to come. At the end of the challenge I will see if I have saved enough (from what I would normally spend) to enable me to buy a digital camera - then, hopefully I can persuade my grandson to come over to show me how to put up the pics. onto this site (always supposing I am allowed to) then maybe you will see the food as well as reading about it.

One final tip of the day, something I discovered recently (and so obvious you must think I am a complete idiot not to think of it before) , when cooking anything that requires as much heat from the base as at the top: puff or short pastry, oven chips, pizzas, sausages etc. Put the (empty) baking sheet/tin in the oven for the time the oven heats up, then it will be very hot indeed so take care, then put the food directly onto it and this will start it cooking underneath immediately instead of waiting for a cold tin to warm up. When cooking a meat pie covered with puff pastry, I cut the pastry lid to fit but cook it separately so the underpart is not soggy from the steam from the meat. The meat can be reheated alongside, in a dish covered with foil.
But of course you know all this already. Said I was stupid.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

More cost-cutting

An early start for me today as my husband arrived home from his holiday at 3.00am this morning. Hardly seeemed worth bothering to go to sleep before starting my chat to you. Beloved is happily tucked up and snoring, not even bothered that the airline has lost his luggage. Me, well - I didn't have any sleep last night due to waiting for his return which was later than expected as he missed his train as well. Of course he didn't take his house keys with him.

It seems my suggestion of updating the costing of an old article of mine published in Family Circle (Oct. 1983) entitled 'HOW TO FEED A FAMILY OF FOUR ON £21 A WEEK'
has caused interest. £21 was the budget I worked with. The feature ran to eleven pages with photos of each days menu and then pages and pages of recipes. Many of those dishes have already been shared with you in earlier posting. It will take me time to re-cost at today's prices, but at least I can give you the original list as printed in the magazine (just in case you want to cost it out for yourself) :
Bought from the shops:
14 pints of milk; 10 oz cheese; 250g butter; 1 kg. margarine;
1/4 pt. nondairy cream or dessert topping; 18 eggs;
1 chicken (3lb 6oz); 1 breast of lamb; 12 oz minced beef;
beef bones; 4 oz pigs liver; 1 lb chipolata sausages;
bacon bits; 2 large lettuces; 1 head of celery; 1/2 a cucumber;
1 lb tomatoes; 1 lb white cabbage; 3 lb carrots; 3 lb onions;
4 lb potatoes; 12 oz new potatoes; 1 lb runner beans;
1/2 lb peas; 2 courgettes; 8 lemons; 2 small oranges;
1 banana; 1 small bag of green apples; 8 other seasonal fruits;
2 long family loaves; 2 x 1 litre jars of orange juice; 1 can tomatoes;
1 can sardines in oil; 14oz can mackerel in brine; 10 oz pk white bread mix;
1 pkt. cake mix; 750g pkt wheat flakes; 20 oz dried milk.

Taken from the store cupboard (cost taken into account)
Tea and coffee; jam and marmalade; porridge oats and oatmeal;
bran; sultanas; chopped nuts; sugars and golden syrup;
long grain rice; pearl barley; lentils; haricot beans;
baked beans; can of fruit; 1 sachet gelatine; oils;
tomato puree; flour; suet/lard; sauces and mayonnaise;
herbs/spices/seasoning; drinking chocolate and malted milk drink.

I believe my deadline was mid-summer (mags plan their publications months ahead), so I costed at the prices for that season. My original pricings were all sent to the editor and I can't remember them now, but everything was checked thoroughly by their team and the whole weeks menus, including storecupboard foods, came to no more than the £21 AT THAT TIME.
Tomorrow I will give you details of the menu for each of the seven days.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Better Late than Never

My meals this week have been uninspiring to say the least. Most days were either chunky vegetable soups, jacket potatoes with baked beans or cheese or spag.bol filling. Pasta with fried mushrooms, onions and tomato puree with some creme fraiche. Quick, easy, comforting and cheap. That is all I asked for. And virtually nothing to 'buy from myself'.

There are a few things I do automatically, then I remember later not mentioned at the time. One was to do with the two oils I bought. One extra virgin olive oil, the other sunflower. Into a spare bottle I poured equal amounts of the olive oil and sunflower, gave a good shake - and that was my 'in between' oil as I call it. The sunflower and the 'in between' I use for general frying, the olive oil is for making salad dressings or for drizzling over certain dishes - pizzas for example. This now means I have over half a bottle of extra virgin left for the last four weeks of the challenge, half a bottle of 'in between' and about a quarter left of the sunflower. More than enough.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Herbs and More

Some people don't care for celery, but as it uses more calories to digest it, and also said to be a very good veg. to eat to help lower blood pressure, maybe we should think twice about leaving it out of our diet. One rib of celery would be enough to one or two onions and one large carrot. Once cooked its flavour combines well with the other root vegetables, you really won't notice it is there. Until it isn't.
A missing ingredient is rather similar to a ticking clock. It ticks all day and you never hear it, until it stops. Then you notice. If you know what I mean.
If you have time to experiment, try making soup with the onion, carrot and a little celery, and another batch without the celery. Discover the difference.
Celery salt might be an alternative, but I'm not keen on adding too much salt and anyway it would add more celery flavour than if just using a small amount of celery alone. Lovage, as mentioned above, would also give a celery flavour. Hope this has helped rather than hindered you.

Yesterday's Meal for One was much as I mentioned. A batch of spag.bol. was made to freeze with a little taken out to add to a jacket potato for supper. For lunch I had a sudden urge for a BLT so found some bacon scraps which I fried, then sandwiched these together with lettuce and sliced tomato between slices of lightly toasted (and buttered) bread. Absolutely gorgeous.

Today I may make myself a Pan Fry Pizza. Meanwhile I will leave you with a recipe for vegetarian sausages - to which of course you can flavour with alternative herbs if you wish.

Glamorgan Sausages: enough for two people
2 oz (50g) Cheddar cheese, grated
2 oz (5og) fresh brown (0r white ) breadcrumbs
1 tblso. finely chopped chives or spring onion tops
1 tblsp fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp. dried mustard
salt and pepper
2 large eggs, separated
4 teasp. water
In a bowl mix together the cheese, HALF the breadcrumbs, all the chives, parsley and mustard. Season with a little salt and pepper. Add the egg yolks to the mixture with the water and stir until it forms a compact ball. If too dry add a little of the egg white or a drop or two of water.
Divide mixture into four and roll out into sausages (rissoles). Dip first into the egg which (which has been very lightly beaten) and then into the remaining breadcrumbs.
Add a little oil to cover the base of a frying pan and when hot add the 'sausage' rissoles and cook turning them often so they turn brown quickly and evenly. Serve with a salad or mashed potatoes.
Tip: When making any rissoles or fishcakes, they will fry more easily if first chilled as this helps to hold the ingredients together. Another tip, especially if you wish for a crispy coating on something like home-made fish fingers, is to double-dip: first dip in flour, then in beaten egg, then in crumbs - then repeat the egg and crumbs. Not only do they turn out nice and crunchy, they also look bigger.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Cooking for One

This week, being on my own, I now have to cook for one. Not an easy task as most of the time I feel it is not worth the effort. Yet I can spend half a day preparing a meal just for my husband, and that I enjoy doing very much indeed. So yesterday I decided to experiment a bit. Something simple but which worked out very well. I planned to make myself a pot of soup - the usual chunky mixed vegetable, but then I realised how the same ingredients were often used in other dishes, so I began with just the Holy Trinity (as the chefs call it): diced carrot, onion and celery sauteed in a little butter (in Italy this is called sofrito - not sure about the spelling). On went the lid and the vegetables were fried/steamed for 5 minutes or so. Then I removed a third. When cool this went into the fridge and will be used as part of the classic bolognese sauce (fry the minced meat separately then add to the vegetables). To the remaining vegetables in the pan I added some diced parsnip and potato, some stock and finally some red lentils, then simmered for about an hour until thoroughly cooked. Seasoned to taste.
With a slotted spoon I removed about 2 mugfuls of vegetables, put them in a strainer to get rid of as much liquid as I could then mashed them with a few cooked borlotti beans I took (and microwaved) from the freezer. Added a little wholewheat flour, more seasoning, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and formed them into flat rissoles (like fishcakes). These were then coated in flour and left in the fridge to chill and firm up.
The soup I had for lunch, the veggiecakes I fried until golden and ate with salad for supper.

Today I will be making a batch of spag.bol meat sauce, using the 'sofrito' and a little of this can be tucked into a jacket potato for my supper. Again with salad. Will probably have a good bowl of porridge for 'brunch' as it is real comfort food this cold weather.

There are many easy dishes to cook for one - Spanish Omelette; Kedgeree; Vegetable Curry;
Croque Monsieur; Pasta Carbonara; Pasta with Tuna; Pasta with Mushrooms; Pasta with just Pesto and Parmesan. I won't starve.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Yesterday for supper I had mushrooms (lightly fried) then added these to some freshly 'quick-cooked' pasta penne along with some tomato (pizza) sauce I had saved back (frozen and thawed). Sprinkled over parmesan cheese and it was good. Well I enjoyed it anyway. With Beloved still away I am now eating for one.
This of course seems to mess up my budgeting, but as my friend was here last week, no problem there, and - as I costed the budget down to £12.50p per person per week for the period of the Challenge, all I need do is add that amount as if I'd spent it.

First to the seemingly bad news. Halfway through the challenge I have spent £13.51p on food 'bought from myself', and £30.67p from the shops (fresh produce: fruit and veg. plus Ryvita etc.). Although I bought extra sausages, these took up the remaining balance of my meat money, so they can be ignored. On paper, this leaves a balance of £16.85 (from the starter budget of £120 for groceries) which now has to last the second half of the Challenge. Help !!
But totting up bills and scribbling furiously, I found that over the five weeks I had spent only £41.23p with the milkman (instead of the budgeted £50) so that means an extra £8.62 in the coffers. Not only that, I have cancelled all of this weeks milk deliveries as I have plenty of everything - the milk will last that long - so that means a further £10 will be saved, so now I will have £35.47 to last the remaining weeks. The best news of all is that there should be quite a few things that won't have been used up within the ten weeks (Marmite, Bovril, Branston pickle, olive oil, bouillon powder, sardines, meats) so the cost of these can be deducted. I may even end up with money left over, not just a few pence, but hopefully several pounds. We'll just have to wait and see.

Dried Mushrooms - Mushroom Powder:
Use fresh mushrooms, wipe them with with a damp cloth. No need to peel. Spread on trays leaving a space between each and place in the oven at 50C, 110F, gas 0 leaving the door ajar to allow ventilation*. They could instead be placed in an airing cupboard or any warm dry place. Dry until crisp - this could take half a day. Cool, then store in airtight containers.
These can be used as-is in soups, casseroles etc. But for quick-cooking in an omelette,or strogonoff etc soak for around an hour in tepid water or milk. Dry off in a kitchen towel before using.
For Mushroom Powder dry as above, and - when very crisp - crush to a powder. Store in an airtight jar and add 1 teaspoon at a time to flavour stews, casseroles, soups, gravy etc.
Tip: If you have a drop-down oven door, then tuck a folded oven glove or something similar between the top of the door and the oven to keep the door slightly ajar. This is a good way of finishing baking profiteroles as they also need a 'dry' oven.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Sixth week starts here

It only seems like yesterday when I began this Challenge. Time moved slowly then, but now the days seem to fly by. I am so looking forward to these last few weeks as, with less food in store, it will become much more of a challenge - and this I always enjoy.

Eggs, in their own right, are worth a mention. Firstly - they are an incredibly cheap source of protein, so maybe worth using the free-range as a 'main-meal' ingredient rather than in a cake. But for cake-making, where the aim is not so much on nutrition, more as a treat, don't dismiss the economy eggs often sold in supermarkets, regrettably these have to be bought in larger numbers - like 15 at any one time, but they do save quite a bit of money and would be quite suitable for using in cake making (make tray-bakes and freeze).
Further to a previous mention of eggs in recipes are expected to weigh 2 oz each. One book I have dealing with cake recipes I see mentions at the beginning that large eggs were used throughout. So there you go.
There is a half-way solution to an eggless cake. Angel Cakes are made using only the whites of cakes so the yolks can be kept to add to a savoury dish (quiche etc), or even to make lemon curd. (If you want the recipe for Angel Cake let me know - as I need to look it up).
Normally, home-made lemon curd has a shorter shelf life than bought - recommended as being used up within a month. Some recipes say two weeks. So to start the recipe collection today I include one for a Lemon Curd made with honey which is said to keep for several months and certainly would be good to eat if you feel a cold is in the offing, followed by 2 recipes for eggless cakes.

Lemon and Honey Curd:
4 lemons, use the grated rind and juice
1 lb (450g) clear honey
4 eggs plus 2 extra egg yolks
4 oz (125g) unsalted butter, sut into small pieces
Into a bowl put the honey and the lemon rind. Using another bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks, and lemon juice together and pour over the honey. Add the butter and place over a bowl of simmering water. Cook very gently, and keep stirring, until until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon (takes about 20 minutes). Pour into warm jars, cover and store in a cold place.

Brown Cake:
6 oz (175g) margarine
12 oz (350g) plain flour
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
10 oz (275g) mixed dried fruit
1/2 pint (275ml) milk
1 large tblsp golden syrup
1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
Rub the margarine into the flour and add the sugar and fruit. Warm the milk and syrup together and add the bicarb. Pour into the flour and mix to a loose consistency. Pour into a greased and lined 8" cake tin and bake at 150C, 300F, gas 2 for 1 1/2 - 2 hours. This cake will freeze.

Irish Fruit Cake:
1/2 pint cold strained tea (no milk or sugar)
8 oz (225g) dried mixed fruit including some candied peel
4 oz (110g) margarine
4 oz (110g) caster sugar
1 tblsp golden syrup
9 oz (250g) self raising flour
1/2 tsp each mixed spice and cinnamon
1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
demerara sugar to sprinkle on top
Put the tea, fruit, margarine, sugar and syrup into a saucepan and heat until melted and sugar has dissolved. Simmer five minutes then cool. Sift together the flour, spices, salt and bicarb.
Make a well in the centre and pour in the fruit mixture. Stir until well blended. Pour into a greased and lined 8" cake tin. Sprinkle over some demerara sugar and bake for one and a half hours at 180C, 350F, gas 4 . Cover top with foil (shiny side out) after 30 minutes to prevent it getting too brown.
Tip: although I haven't tried it, I suppose you could use black treacle instead of golden syrup.

Today my plan is to 'stock-take' and see what food I have left. Must also sit down with my books and do some auditing so that we can see just how much money has already been spent and how much (or little) there is left. The results I will give tomorrow.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Nothing in the Cupboard ???

Halfway through the Challenge and stores are depleting. Not often I find gaps in my cupboard fridge and freezer, so feel slightly more insecure than normal. Even so, plenty still there and apart from buying the occasional fresh produce (fruit and vegetables ) might just manage to end up with something left. Last week there was no need to buy any fresh, so that saved money. Very little taken from stores (I have kept a record, but my book is downstairs - I follows me around the kitchen where I write down everything, and, next week, once my friend has gone, I will do a halfway costing and let you know how the budget is working out). Yesterday we ate Cold Meat Platter (chicken, ham and corned beef, but without sausages ), with salad and jacket potatoes, Gill had the last piece of TOP with cream. Must make some more of that before my husband returns.
A mention of breakfasts through the week. Gill brings her own cereal, and I have had porridge or slices of home-made granary bread with home-made lemon and lime marmalade and I have to say this is gorgeous. This week I sliced the bread using my electric slicer. Got 20 slices from it which included the crusts, most of which were good toasting thickness. About six thinner for sarnies. I prefer it toasted. Handcut I don't get so many slices and the machine does cut them very evenly and professionally. No need to clean the machine after, just brush off the crumbs.
A tip from the past. When using a hand mincer, the old fashioned kind that is making a comeback, run a slice and/or crust of bread through the machine after mincing meat, this helps to clean it out and also the crumbs can go into the meat dish/burger or whatever.

Here are two recipes that I will be using over the next week or so as they contain ingredients that I still have and that I know are tasty:

4 oz (110g) bacon, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, deseeded and cut into strips
8 oz (225g) long grain rice
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp. fresh thyme, leaves only
1/2 pint (275ml) chicken stock
8 oz (225g) cooked ham, cubed
a few frozen prawns
1 banana, sliced
Using a large frying pan, fry the bacon until cooked but not crisp. Drain and put the bacon on one side but keep the bacon fat in the pan. Add the onion and saute for a couple of minutes, add the pepper and cook for two more minutes. Then stir in the rice. Keep stirring gently until the rice has turned transparent. Add the tomatoes, bacon, thyme and season to taste with freshly ground black pepper. Pour in the chicken stock, stir and bring to the simmer. Stir in the cooked ham, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the prawns. Simmer for a further 10 minutes or until all the stock has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Add more stock or boiling water only if necessary. Remove from heat and stir in the banana. Serve garnished with fresh parsley.
Tip: This is a dish where you can make good use of the chunky bits of bacon taken from an economy pack. Likewise ham that may be able to be pulled off a cheap ham bone. Myself, I will be using my economy bacon, but my ham I have sliced thinly, so will have to make do with some of that, but only half quantitites - adding more prawns to compensate.

Spicy Ham and Beans:
1 onion, chopped
1 apple, washed, cored and chopped
8 oz (225g) white cabbage, finely shredded
8 oz (225g) cooked ham, cubed
8 oz (225g) red kidney beans, cooked
good pinch of allspice
Fry the onion in a little oil until transparent, then stir in the apple and cabbage and simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the ham, beans and allspice and stir to mix well. Simmer until heated through. Season to taste.
Tip: Garlic can be included, and also salt to season if necessary.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Creams and Crepes

Creme fraiche is very, very similar to thick cream with just a hint of 'sourness' to it, and sour is too strong a word. Can't quite describe it. It is lovely eaten with fruit pies instead of whipped cream. Excellent stirred into pasta instead of cream (for carbonara etc.), and stirred into other savoury dishes instead of cream as it is less likely (if at all) to split. It can be used as an instant white sauce on top of lasagne or cauliflower cheese (just stir grated cheese into it and top with more grated cheese). Just wonderful for making dips. My favourite being: a tsp. each of mild curry paste and mango chutney stirred into a small tub of creme fraiche. Not forgetting topping scones with jam as in a Cream Tea. Costwise it is in supermarkets at under 60p for 200ml which is similar to the cost of double cream.

as spinach has been a recent topic, and pancakes a forthcoming one, here is a recipe that covers both. Suggest calling them Popeye's Pancakes when serving to children.

Spinach Crepes: serves four.
Pancakes: 2 oz (50g) plain flour; 2 eggs; 2 tsp. melted butter; 12 fl. oz milk; approx 8 oz of frozen spinach (thawed).
Filling: 250g cottage cheese, well drained; 1 tblsp Parmesan cheese, grated; 2 tblsp walnuts, finely crushed*.
For the pancakes, sift the flour, stir in the eggs and milk then stir in the butter. Beat until smooth. Heat the spinach in a pan until any excess liquid has evaporated. Cool slightly then stir into the batter. Make pancakes in the normal way.
Mix all the filling ingredients together. Place spoonfuls in the centre of each pancake, using up all the filling. Either roll up into tubes, or fold over sides and roll to make parcels. Place in a greased ovenproof dish and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 3 for 15mins (the parcel type could also be shallow fried).
Serve with a hot tomato (passata type) sauce.
*Worth pointing out that 2 tablespoons of walnuts, crushed, is not the same as 2 tblsp. of crushed walnuts. Likewise 1 tin of tomatoes - chopped, is not quite the same as one tin of chopped tomatoes. When something like this comes up in recipes, follow the first bit, then do the crushing or the chopping after. In the case of the tomatoes, usually whole plum tomatoes are cheaper than ready chopped. With the walnuts, whole nuts take up more room than when crushed. Just hope you understand what I'm trying to say.

While I think of it - ever tried wrapping a small block of hard (home-made type) ice-cream inside a pancake (fold over sides then roll up) and deep frying for a few seconds? The pancake goes crispy, the ice-cream stays firm. Yummee.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Eat Your Greens !

In the Goode household, ashamed to say I didn't make the lemon curd and ice-cream yesterday as planned, instead played games with my friend. For lunch we each had a jacket potato - Gill had salad, cottage cheese and some fried mushrooms with hers, I had pesto sauce and some fried mushrooms with mine.
For the evening meal Gill chose a pasta dish with (canned) tuna. I took the easy way out and cooked quick-cook penne. Fried some mushrooms (Gill loves mushrooms), added those to the drained pasta with the flaked tuna, stirred in some creme fraiche and a tsp of tomato puree, heated through and served with Parmesan Cheese. Sounds boring but it did taste good. No pud for me, Gill had a banana and yogurt. Tonight will be beef casserole, plus a bottle of my husband's wine so that we can toast Rita's birthday (a mutual friend of ours), which is today, as is also my son's.

Spanakapita: Greek Spinach Pie - serves 4
300g spinach leaves - wilted and chopped (see above)
1 onion, finely chopped
4 oz (225g) feta cheese, crumbled
1 tblsp fresh dill, chopped, or 1 tsp dried
1 -2 tbslp fresh parsley, chopped
2 eggs, plus one extra for glazing
2 - 3 tblsp double cream
1 pkt puff pastry
Beat the 2 eggs with some salt and pepper. Using a saucepan, fry the onion in a little olive oil until soft. Add the spinach, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add herbs and cook uncovered for a further 2 minutes to allow any excess water to evaporate. Remove from heat. Stir in the cream and allow to cool slightly before adding the eggs and cheese.
Roll half the pastry thinly to around the size of a small Swiss Roll tin (which can be used as the baking tin. Spread the mixture over the pastry nearly, but not quite to the edges. Cover with the remaining pastry and pinch the edges or crimp with a fork to seal. Brush with beaten egg and bake at 200C, 400F, Gas 6 for 20 - 25 minutes.

Sweet Spinach Pie: serves four
1 lb spinach, wilted
1 tblsp grated fresh ginger
1 oz butter
1/2 oz sultanas
2 fl. oz dark rum
3 eggs
2 oz soft brown sugar
good pinch each allspice and freshly ground nutmeg
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 oz pine nuts
5 fl. oz double cream
1 pack puff pastry
1 tblsp. sesame seeds
First soak the sultanas in the rum for several hours. Overnight if possible.
Heat half the butter in a pan, gently fry and stir the ginger for a few seconds. Stir in the wilted and chopped spinach and cook for a further 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl (save a little back for glazing), beat in the sugar, spice and lemon zest. Fry the pine nuts in the remaining butter until golaen (a few seconds only) .
Add the cream to the egg mix then stir in the spinach, and the soaked sultanas with any rum remaining, and finally the pine nuts.
Roll the pastry out as in above recipe, spreading over the mixture and topping with pastry in the same way. Glaze with egg and sprinkle over the sesame seeds. Bake as above - leave to stand 10 minutes. Slice and serve with whipped cream.

Millionaires' Shortbread: makes about 24 squares
This is made in three stages:
7 oz (200g) plain flour
2 oz (50g) rice flour
3 0z (75g) caster sugar
6 oz (175g) butter, softened.
(If you haven't rice flour use 9 oz of plain flour).
Mix the flours and sugar and rub in the butter until like fine crumbs. Knead together to make a dough then press into the base of a lightly greased 13"x9" (33 x 23cm) Swiss Roll tin. Flatten and prick with a fork then bake at 18oC, 350F, Gas 4 for about 20 minutes or until firm to the touch and a light golden brown. Leave to cool in the tin.
Caramel: 4 oz (100g) butter or margarine;
4 oz (100g) light muscovado sugar;
2 x 14 oz cans condensed milk.
Put the ingredients into a pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the simmer and keep stirring all the time or it will stick and burn. Simmer very gently for about five minutes until beginning to thicken. Pour over the shortbread. Leave to get cold.
Topping: 7 oz (200g) plain or flavoured chocolate, melted.
Pour the melted chocolate over the caramel and leave to set. Mark and cut to the size you wish.
Tip: Instead of just plain chocolate, using two bowls, melt half white and half dark. Pour some of each, in a random fashion, over the cake to cover, then take a skewer or use the end of a spoon and run it through the chocolate to make a marbled pattern.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Food, Glorious Food...

A catchup on our meals this week. Yesterday we had scrambled eggs on home-made granary bread toast for lunch, and Gill had asked for sausage and mash for supper, with onion gravy and(an additional later request) mushy peas. Luckily I had a pack of quick-cook dried peas in my cupboard. Made up the whole pack, we ate half and the surplus was frozen. Believe it or not I had never made onion gravy before. Looked up the recipe in my main cook books and found Gary Rhodes was the only one who had bothered to include it. Shock, horror - it seemed I needed to simmer the onions for at least two hours - bit late Gary, supper was in half an hour. He did give a faster version (and for this I gave thanks), which was what I thought might work anyway. Finely slice the onions, fry in a little butter until turning gold. Add a tsp. of demerara sugar and stir until just caramalised, then add beef 'jus'. Me, being just a housewife, added a little water and a sprinkle of beef gravy granules. Gave it a good stir. It was WONDERFUL. I could have just eaten a plate of onion gravy on its own.
Gill had TOP to follow - (cut a chunk off the frozen block - reheated in the microwave 2 mins) served with double cream. She thought the whole meal was great. She asked me how much the TOP cost to make, very roughly I totted up the recipe - the main cake was cheap enough, the fudge sauce cream/sugar/butter knocked it up a bit more than I would have liked, I even rounded the cost up to allow for a double helping of sauce, but as the recipe made AT LEAST 12 portions, it came to around 20p a serving. So well worth it.
Tonight will be a pasta dish. Maybe with tuna. I prefer spag. bol. One or the other.

With Gill staying here, I am neglecting household duties although managed a batch of lemon and lime marmalade ysterday. Gill takes some back with her. Today I plan to make some pots of lemon curd and a couple of tubs of ice-cream (whites for the ice-cream, yolks for the curd). Between chores and a watching TV soaps and cookery progs. we play Rummicubs or Cribbage. As if you are interested. Back to the more important things:

Muffins are an easy cake/bun to make as the dry ingredients can be put on one bowl, and all the 'wet' ingredients put into a jug, all that needs to be done is very quickly (and not that thoroughly) mix them together. I often assemble the dry and the wet the night before and leave until the next day before mixing and baking.
Best eaten freshly cooked, although allow to cool as this makes it easier to peel off the paper cases. Any not eaten on the day of baking should be frozen. Freeze when cold in airtight bags. Leave to thaw naturally. A frozen muffin taken with a packed lunch will have thawed out by mid-mornig.
For instant thawing microwave for 20 - 40 seconds.

The Basic Muffin recipe: makes 10 - 12 (F)
9 oz plain flour*
3 level tsp. baking powder
1/2 level tsp. salt
3 oz (85g) granulated sugar
1 egg
8 fl.0z (240ml) milk
3 fl.os (90ml) corn oil** OR melted butter/marg
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and put into a large bowl with the sugar.
In a measuring jug pour in the milk followed by the oil. Lastly add the beaten egg. Stir well.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just combined. Do not overmix. it should be lumpy. Just make sure there is no dry flour visible.
Fill muffin cases 3/4 full and bake for 20 - 25 mins at 200C, 375F, Gas 6, or slightly lower if a fan oven. (I tend to do mine at 180C). Muffins are cooked when the tops are golden and spring back when lightly pressed.
*If using self-raising flour, use only 1 tsp. baking powder.
** Any vegetable oil can be used (I use sunflower), but NOT olive oil. If using melted butter or marg. don't leave to stand the makings overnight, use immediately.
Coffee Walnut: Instead of 8 fl.oz milk, used 6 fl.oz of cooled strong coffee plus 2 oz milk.
To d;ry ingredients add 2 oz (50g) chopped walnuts. Sprinkle tops with a little demerara sugar before baking.
Wholemeal: use a combination of half and half wholemeal and white flour. This can be used for any muffin recipes.
Chocolate Chip: Add 3 oz (85g) chopped chocolate to the dry mix.

Cheese Muffins: As the basic recupe but use 4 level tblsp (60 ml) of gran. sugar, and add 3 0z (85g) grated cheddar cheese to the dry ingredients.
Cheese and Bacon: to the cheese mix add about 4 tblsp cooked and finly chopped bacon.
Cheese and Onion: to the cheese mix add about 2 tblsp. finely chopped and lightly fried
onion. Add a pinch of dried herb if you wish.