Monday, April 30, 2007

Today I Will Relax

. After my friend left yesterday, I wanted to prepare the supper in a way that I could leave it to cook by itself. So I decided to braise the lamb shoulder, first browning the skin in a frying pan and then tucking some mint either side of the blade bone before setting the joint on a bed of carrots and onions. Added some lamb stock and water (about half a pint total) popped on the lid and cooked it at 150C for about 4 hours. By then the meat was lovely and tender. I cooked new potatoes on the hob, but I could easily (and wished I had thought of it at the time) added them to the casserole. Also served a bowl of minted peas. We finished off the last of the mint sauce and redcurrant jelly so that is something I must start making again.
I had never cooked lamb shoulder before, it was remarkably tender but far more gelatinous than a leg of lamb would be. Personally I prefer the meat from the leg, but the others loved it and (as shoulder was much cheaper) I was happy with that. Only a little bit left over which I can turn into an individual Shepherd's Pie for Beloved.

By the way, after putting the lamb in the oven I sat down in my chair to watch Eastenders an hour later, but promptly fell asleep fortunately waking in time to see the last episode which was one I had missed. I would have taped it only our video isn't working properly.

After supper the last of the trifle was eaten. I ate all the meal, including some trifle, along with the others telling myself (and them) it was my 'naughty day'. As I had already taken my now once-a-day blood test (which was fine) I felt the occasional treat wouldn't hurt. Today I will be a good girl again. What was once an acceptable (and obviously slimming) diet, which I coped with admirably, since I have been up and about and a lot more active over the past week, I have got incredibly hungry.

Cheesepare wondered how I got into this economy cooking and wonders if there is much difference in price (either way) between then and now.
Many, many years ago I used to just shop and cook withing the limits of my housekeeping allowanace, which was adequate at that time (but only just). If I then needed to make more savings it would be in other ways: making my childrens clothes and knitting their jumpers etc.
It had become a family tradition, started by my mother in wartime, to have a rollicking good Xmas because - as my mother always said - you never know what might happen in the following year. So it had become almost a family tradition/habit to overspend during the festive season even when I really couldn't afford it.
Then came the crunch. I had spent all my December housekeeping by the end of that month, and wouldn't get my next allowance until the end of January. I dare not tell my husband (he hadn't the money to give me more anyway), so I had drag out my cook books - the Good Housekeeping and a Marguerite Pattern Cooking in Colour were the only two I had then. and began learning to cook from scratch. Fortunately, again something my mother had taught me, was to always keep a cupboard stocked up with basics. So I was able to make things like soda bread, and once the dried pasta had run out learned how to make it for myself. Yogurt, curd cheese, butter and even clotted cream were made from doorstep Channel Island milk (syphon off the cream and top the bottle up with water). I learned how to make home-made soups instead of opening a tin and discovered serving three courses meant I could cut down the expense with the middle course.
Having family allowance each week meant I could at least buy a chicken and some fresh fruit and vegetables, so I learned how to make chicken stock and use the scraps of meat from the bones to use for a pie, and turn into chicken paste for sarnies. I used to buy fresh fish scraps from the fishmonger (meant for pet food but perfectly edible) and make those into pies and so learn to make kedgerees and chowders. I even made the dog biscuits.

By the end of the month I had saved so much money - to this day I thank the stars that I had listed all the ingredients I had used from my stores and even worked out the cost of those (they would need replacing) - that I wanted to continue. Moving on into the garden I began to grow as many vegetables as I could in a very small space and - reading a magazine called Practical Self-Sufficiency, wished very much it would write about people who lived in a town rather than in a country. I wrote and told them how much could be done even without living on a farm, and they asked me to write an article - no payment but I could have six months of free magazines.
So I wrote 'Suburban Self Sufficiency' which they published. Months if not years later the research team at the BBC came across it and that was why I was asked to appear in Indoors Outdoors - for more details of this read some of the earlier postings.
So my economy drive began through sheer necessity but proved so enjoyable that I haven't stopped since and I suppose this is where my 'cost-cutting career began.

As to whether the food is cheaper now, it is difficult to say. However, when I wrote that article in Family Circle to feed a family of four for a set amount per week in 1983 , then recosted the ingredients a few months ago, the total was considerably higher now than then. But since 1983 the rise in inflation would make a great difference and I would have expected the recent costing to have been even higher, - so possibly CP you have given us food for thought.

Heck, seem to have been rambling on far too long. You will all be bored to the back teeth with me. Promise more recipes this week.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Taking for Granted

Yesterday I went to the butcher to collect my order. Oh, how I wish I could afford some of the meat he had on display, not to mention a whole range of chickens of varying sizes. I stuck to my basics: minced lamb, beef and pork. Sausages, diced chicken, stewing beef, lamb's liver and a shoulder of new spring lamb. My intention was to buy a small leg of lamb (only the best for guests you understand), but my butcher suggested a shoulder of lamb was a much better buy being so much cheaper in price. So this is what I bought. Boned for me and then the bone replaced, as - when cooked - this will give the meat more flavour, but the bone easily removed to make the meat easier to slice.
In truth, it was my intention yesterday to cook the lamb shoulder for supper, but having to find space for the new bulk buy of meat, I decided insteead to cook the two lamb shanks that were already in my freezer (served with new potatoes, minted green peas - both drizzled with butter, and accompanied by gravy, mint sauce and redcurrant jelly). I ate salad and some ham that needed using up - because there wasn't a third shank and I still need to lose more weight. It was agony when I could smell the meat cooking and know I wasn't going to have any.
Sometimes life is unfair. But today or tomorrow we will all be going out for a curry. That's more like it.

Yesterday, my friend and I spent a happy hour (at least for me) - while I bagged up the meat into small portions - she writing labels to go into the bags. Then we sat down and costed out the price of my butchers meat (which is of excellent quality and flavour - they supply the top restaurants in our area), as against the prices quoted in a brochure for similar meats from a well known mail order meat supplier. In truth, buying from mail order, it would have costed me twice as much as I paid for buying meat from the local butcher. So although I did have to freeze the meat I bought - the mail order supply it already frozen in vacuum packs - and that may make a slight difference as to texture once thawed, it all boils down to 'you pays your money - you makes your choice'.

You can come back to me now non-meat eaters as I am interested in what you think of the fresh green soya beans that are now on the market. Are they meant to be slightly chewy, or do they need longer cooking that it says on the pack? Can't say they have much flavour. But I do know soya is the one 'pulse' that contains protein that can be taken up by the body without having to include another foodstuff to help it on its way.

Well, I have rambled on long enough. My friendly guest has now popped her head through the door, and my husband has gone to fetch the paper. It is his working day today, so I have plans to work in the kitchen (I hate it when he peers over my shoulder and keeps asking why I am doing such and such). Am planning to take photgraphs of completed dish - which I know will be eaten a.s.a.p. (but not by me). Will report back on this tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cold Facts

Thank your for your comments. Good suggestions on how to use up bagels. Very rarely eaten those myself, but when I have always preferred them spread with cream cheese and topped with smoked salmon. Perhaps they could be cut up into large dice and spread with a little garlic butter then fried or oven baked to make croutons.

Valerie ask about the Challenge and stocking the freezer. Had we been vegetarian I am sure I would have lasted lojger than ten weeks on the money allowed because pulses and vegetables cost less than meat. The vegetables would have been bought frozen and canned (even mushrooms can be bought dried), and pulses bought dried to be soaked and cooked in bulk and then frozen (as during the Challenge). There would probably have been be a good supply of TVP. However, it would have meant more shopping for the perishable (salads etc) had I chosen to serve them during that time.

When manually defrosting a chest freezer, once the ice has been removed and the cabinet dried. Smear glycerine around the chest walls, especially at the top where the ice tends to build up the most. This keeps the ice from sticking fast, and when next defrosting it can be lifted off in sheets rather than having to scrape off the crystals.

Good quality meat is ideal to keep in the freezer but try to use it within six months or the flavour deteriorates somewhat (but of course it will keep in the frozen state for months and months if needs be). When I had a chest freezer I would stock it with sausages (frozen individually), various meats (again packed in small amounts to avoid defrosting more than I needed), fresh or frosen fish, boxed of grated cheeses for the multitude of dishes that use it.
There would be bags of fresh breadcrumbs, boxes of home-made scone mix, crumble mix, and pastry mix.

If you can, store boxes of fresh soft fruits (home-grown or from pick-your-own farms) which keep very well and can be used for out of season summer puddings, jams etc. Also bags of chopped rhubarb with sugar. Ice-cube trays full of lemon, lime and orange juice or zest. Plenty of sliced or chunks of apples to make pies. Packs of frozen pastry (short, puff and filo), baked or unbaked fruit pies can be made and frozen. Loaves of bread freeze well but best used within a month. Frozen packs of naan bread, pitta bread and chapatis mean they are always on hand when wishing to make a curry. Homemade samosas likewise (freeze up to the point of frying or baking). Bacon for a short period only (up to 6 weeks). Make up your own meat pies or Cornish pasties using a cooked filling then cover with pastry before freezing to bake later.
Cartons of semi-skimmed milk are always worth freezing in case of unexpected guests. Also packs of butter (unsalted keeps best). Even instant potato, dried milk, flour and shelled nuts keep much longer in the frozen state than on the shelves.

Plenty of frozen vegetables, either shop-bought or home-grown. If you have a glut of tomatoes, freeze as-is and skin them when ready to use. Freeze left-over cooked rice in small amounts to be re-heated (NEVER re-heat rice more than once). Cook enough of suitable dishes (spag.bol, curry, shepherds pie, casseroles etc) at any one time to enable you to freeze one or more servings (in other words make your own ready-meals). Freeze home-made soups.
Don't forget the oven chips and (if you can't be bothered to make) buy frozen packs of Yorkshire puddings. If you like to eat stuffing with your joints, then make up batches and freeze in a slab or make into balls to save time on the day.
Store chicken carcases in the freezer until you have two or three to make stock. Then freeze the stock in small containers.
Don't forget you can also freeze small pots of home-made pate - chicken liver and smoked mackerel being our favourites.

Unfilled sponge cakes (although filled with jam or whipped cream is OK) can be frozen. These are easier to decorate when frozen (coat sides with butter cream and roll in grated chocolate etc) and can be returned to the freezer. For royal or water icing decorate after thawing. Home-made gateaux (eg. Black Forest) can be made and frozen. Slice before thawing for a crumb-free effect.
It is a little known fact that plain (unfilled) sponge cakes and also bread can be thawed and then be re-frozen although I wouldn't advise it.
Even Baked Alaska can be made in advance then frozen ready to brown off in a pre-heated hot oven whilst clearing the main course from the table (this SO impresses the guests). So remember to stock up with tubs of ice-cream and sorbets also. Make ice-lollies for children using fresh fruit juices.
One of the best desserts for freezing is Profiteroles. These can be filled with cream then frozen. Once frozen can be quickly dipped in melted choc then bagged up and returned to the freezer.

Cooked meats can be frozen (especially when home-cooked) ready for those 'cold meat platters' I keep going on about. Ham, beef or chicken ready-made sandwiches freeze well for those packed lunches.

Pulses such as red beans, butterbeans, chickpeas etc. can be soaked and cooked a packet at a time. then frozen in smaller amounts ready to add to salads, chillis, cassroles. Dried peas, especially the no-soak variety can easily be turned into mushy peas (just add a knob of butter and season to taste after cooking) then freeze in tubs.

Herbs can be chopped and frozen in ice-cube trays, egg yolks and whites also in those very useful containers. Not to mention making just plain ice-cubes ready for those cold drinks on hot days. Slices of lemon, line and orange can be frozen to add to drinks.

Candles burn for longer if stored in the freezer. Cling film won't cling to itself (but will to other things) when kept in the freezer. Freeze damp acrylic knitwear that has creased badly and the creases should (can't promise) disappear.

On a final note: one very, very hot day I was catering for a Golden Wedding Party. Working all day in the heat of their kitchen I needed to change from my working gear before appearing before the guests. Planning for this, I had put my clothing in a big bag in the hostesses freezer, so after a thorough wash down, put on my cold, cold clothes and was instantly refreshed ready to meet the others sweltering in the garden.

If your freezer is half-empty, to avoid extra running costs, fill the top gap with a blanket, sleeping bag, duvet or pillow(s) popped into a bag (dustbin liner or something like).

Although the freezer will have running costs, keep it as full as possible (see above tip) and with good use it will save you enough money to cover this, with plenty more left over to stash in the bank.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Planning Ahead

Thank you for your messages. By now I was hoping to be back to normal, but it seems it will take a lot longer, have to say I am getting fed up with one leg swathed from toes to knee in iodine patches, thick padding, soft bandages and on top of that layers of crepe-type bandages. Must be costing the NHS a fortune.

Minty you mentioned having some smoked and peppered mackerel. We absolutely LOVE smoked mackerel, but more the plain rather than the peppered. Although ready to eat, it can be served hot (lovely with a blend of creme fraiche and horseradish to make a sauce), but more usually cold with a salad. I tend to remove the skin from the fillets before serving then it is very easy to eat.
What about making smoked mackerel pate? Skin the mackerel skinned, flake then blend with a little softened butter, a teaspoon of horseradish sauce, juice of half or one lemon, some black pepper to taste (you can omit this if using peppered mackerel) then potted up and chill. If wishing to keep for a few days, pour a little melted butter over the top to seal the pots. A little thick yogurt could be added to the made pate if you wish to turn some of it into a dip.
I don't see any reason why smoked mackerel couldn't also be used as a substitute for smoked haddock in a dish such as kedgeree.

Originally this site began with the intention of it being a daily diary of the Goode Life, somewhere along the way it has drifted into memoirs and recipes. So today I thought I'd let you know more about the Happenings in the Household for this forthcoming week or so.

Today starts as usual - get up, come in here to chat to you, then downstairs, around 8.00am as near as possible, I take my blood sugar test. Then I will have breakfast. Alternate days I go to the surgery to get my leg dressed, usually no later than 9.30am as my husband has to drive me there and back before he starts work. Today is a surgery day.
Between 11.00am and 1.00pm today I will be expecting a large delivery from Tesco. This is the first time I have ordered since the delivery just before Xmas when I was stocking up for the Challenge. (Only needing fresh fruit and vegetables, bread since then). You can imagine I have plenty of empty shelf space to fill, which will take me quite a time once I have unpacked.

The delivery was set for today because tomorrow I have my friend from Leicester coming to stay again, returning Sunday, my son is also coming to visit on Saturday (and sort my computer out), and my daughter arrives next Monday to stay for a few days (memo strip all beds, wash sheets, make up beds for new guests as required). Add to that this weeks 'outings' - a further visit to the surgery on Wednesday to see the doctor for the first time re my diabetes, and another visit on Thursday to have my leg dressed again - after which I have a hair appointment
(this is normally Wednesday but my husband had to go somewhere so I had to change it to Thursday, now he tells me he may have to change his appointment to Thursday so I will see if my Wednesday spot is still free and book both). When at the hair salon I will be taking the opportunity to visit the butcher to stock up with meat (the butcher being next door to the hairdresser). I pop the meat order into the shop before I go to the salon, then it is ready for me after my shampoo and set.

Apart from remembering to have lunch, take my pill (after every meal), then take another blood test around 5.00pm before supper, between times I have to prepare and cook supper, and if I am lucky, I can then sit down and watch TV. Usually nodding off.
Sometime today I will need to list all the queries I have re diabetes to ask my doctor. Then make more lists as I need to plan the menu for this week and next, hoping to include dishes which I can photograph to put onto the new website. So you can see things are moving back to normal - which is how I like it. Busy, busy, busy.
Not forgetting to allow plenty of free time to be with both you and my friend.

When I woke this morning I could see our two apple trees in full bloom (I sleep with my windows and curtains open - facing east the dawn wakes me). One tree has pink blossom (it bears green apples with a flush of pink when fully ripe), the other tree has white blossom (and carries deep red apples). The trees are very, very old, large - and at this time of year, look absolutely beautiful. I must take a photo of them.
As I look through the window of my study (next to my bedroom but now facing south), all I can see is the roof of the house next door (barely 18ft. between us) the view this morning began with several sparrows scattered across the tiles, but now I see my window is splattered and so it has begun to rain. Well, we do need it for the garden I suppose.

As the week goes by you can now visualise me working my way through the days, and - as ever
- updating my 'diary' first thing in the morning. Please keep your comments coming, I look forward to trying to answer any queries and post up new recipes.
See you tomorrow.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Say Cheese!

Here is a recipe for a cheese spread, great for sandwiches, toast or to put on biscuits. Again, slackened with creme fraiche it could make another dip.
Cheddar Cheese Spread:
1 0z (110g) Cheddar cheese, grated
2 - 3 hardboiled eggs, finely chopped
1 tblsp mayonnaise
1 tblsp. thick yogurt
1 tblsp. fresh mixed herbs, chopped: chives, parsley, tarragon
seasoning to taste
Put everything into a bowl and mix well (works even better in a food processor). Chill and use as a spread.
Tip: Save your leftover bits of hard cheese and grate up. Use these for this dish and keep the rest for using as toppings to cauliflower cheese, pizzas etc.

Stilton dressing:
Blend together one measure of milk with two measures of thick (Greek) yogurt and add a few Stilton cheese crumbs. The more cheese the tastier it will get. Season to taste. Use with salads, white fish, and topping for cauliflower cheese.

Home-made Curd Cheese:
1 pint (575ml) milk
2 tblsp. dried milk powder
1 dessp rennet essence
Heat the milk to blood heat*. Stir in the dried milk powder. Stir to dissolve then remove from heat. Stir in the rennet. Leave to stand until set. Cut through into squares with a knife, you will see the whey beginning to separate out. Tip all into a large sieve lined with clean muslin which is standing over a basin. Tie up the corners of the muslin to make a bag and hang this up to drip into the basin until the whey has drained off. The bag can be left hanging overnight
Nest day remove the cheese from the bag and place in a covered bowl. It will keep in the fridge for a few days.
* The way I test for blood heat is to dip my CLEAN little finger into the milk and when it feels neither hot nor cold to any degree (in other words I can't feel anything as it is the same temperature as me) then it is at blood heat.
Note: Use curd cheese with cooked spinach to make a vegetarian filling for lasagne, or ravioli.
Tips: If you have no muslin, line a sieve or colander with several layers of kitchen paper (a clean, boiled J.cloth also works well) and leave to stand for at least 24 hours until all the whey has drained off.
Use the whey when breadmaking instead of water, or you can make it up to milk again by adding dried milk powder.

The following is a traditional Russian Easter dessert which is normally made in a clay flowerpot lined with muslin. To improvise use a large yogurt carton pierced with holes around the sides and the base.
For general (other than festive) eating, this could be made in any container which has holes sides and base - make your own using an ice-cream carton or a plastic container for which you have no other use.
12 oz (350g) curd or cottage cheese, well drained
2 0z (50g) unsalted butter, softened
1 oz (25g) EACH: glace cherries, flaked almonds and candied peel
2 oz (50g) sultanas
2 egg yolks**
2 oz (50g) vanilla sugar*
1 tblsp. thick yogurt
Mash up the cheese or rub through a sieve and work in the butter. Chop the cherries and add them to the cheese with the almonds, peel and sultanas. Beat the eggs and sugar together and fold into the mixture. Stir in the yogurt and blend everything together gently using a wooden spoon. Pour into the chosen container which has been lined with a couple or so layers of muslin, fold the cloth over the cheese and place on a plate or fitted piece of plastic, and place over a heavy weight (about 3 lbs). Stand on an upturned saucer in a dish (to keep the base out of any whey that drips out) and chill for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.
To serve, unmould and turn out onto a clean dish. Remove cloth and decorate with extra almonds and cherries.
**Note this uses raw egg yolks, so I have to give the standard warning of using very fresh eggs (those bought stamped with a lion are salmonella free), and do not feed the dessert to the very young or very old.
Tip: *make your own vanilla sugar by burying used vanilla pods into tubs of caster sugar. Alternatively add a few drops of vanilla extract (not essence) when making up the dessert.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Storecupboard Dips

Back again - this time dealing with very quick and easy dips for those warm summery days. Many of us will have most of the ingredients in store, if not - and you enjoy dips - then you might feel inclined to stock up with those you have missing.

Sour Cream with Spring Onions:
Finely chop spring onions and stir into sour cream or creme fraiche. Season with black pepper. For extra zing add a dash of Tabasco sauce and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.

Curry Dip:
Into a tub of creme fraiche, stir in a teaspoon of not-too-hot curry paste and a teaspoon of mango chutney.

Yogurt and Wholegrain Mustard:
Mix into 5 fl.oz of Greek yogurt one or two tsp. of wholegrain mustard.

Herby Dip:
Mix together equal amounts of mayonnaise and plain yogurt. Chop a good handful of fresh herbs (parsley and mint, mint and basil, tarrogon...) stir in and season with freshly ground black pepper.

Cream Cheese and Chives:
To a tub of low fat cream cheese stir in 2 tblsp. fresh chives finely chopped and season to taste. If thick, stir in a little yogurt or milk to slacken.

Sundried Tomato with Yogurt:
Stir sundried tomato paste into Greek yogurt to the depth of flavour you prefer. Season with black pepper. For extra zing stir in a little horseradish sauce.

Creme Fraiche with Pesto:
Stir a tablespoon of pesto into a carton of creme fraiche or soured cream.

Into a tub of Greek yogurt (200ml) stir in very finely chopped cucumber, garlic, spring onions and mint. Season to taste.

Note: Flavours improve if dips are made in advance and kept chilled for a few hours before serving.

Titbits for dipping:
Choose from raw vegetables: carrot and celery sticks, cauliflower florets, button mushrooms, bell pepper strips, mange tout or sugar snap peas, baby sweetcorn.
Bread sticks, cheese straws, tortilla and corn chips, toasted pitta bread.

My mouth is now watering so off downstairs to make some ready for my lunch.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Something for the Weekend?

Over 30 years ago, when forced to cut costs. the first thing to go was the weekend joint. Instead, cheaper cuts of meat were substituted and made into casseroles, cottage pies etc. It was in those days it was normal to served potatoes with every main dish - either boiled, mashed, jacket or chips so the meals were fairly 'ordinary'.
Once I had become more confident I experimented using pasta, so spag. bol. and lasagne began to be served. Later chilli con carne, and much later - curry. Nowadays, of course, with the endless TV cookery programmes (I watch as many as I can stomach), the world is your oyster (if you will excuse the pun) when it comes to which dish to serve.

Now there are only the two of us to feed, a joint hardly seems a worthwhile buy. Personally I believe that a roast needs to be as large as possible to get maximum flavour. So occasionally but rarely, I do buy one monster, to be eaten hot the day it is cooked, the the remainder chilled and then sliced cold to freeze away as is, or in boxes with gravy.
A reminder here of a really good tip mentioned when I began my postings, and worth a repeat. If you use those metal containers (with lids) to freeze away portions, line them first with layering tissue (or use a small plastic bag) before putting in the contents, fold over the tissue before putting on the lid, then - once frozen - the contents can be taken out and stored in a large plastic bag with others of the same kind (the containers will be quite clean and can be used many times). Always, ALWAYS, put a piece of paper in the bag so that you know what the contents are. A lot of frozen food (especially raw frozen meats) often look identical.

Still avoiding buying a joint, these days I would - especially on a Sunday - prefer to serve something simple like the recipes below:
Ragout of Beef: serves 4 - 6
1 lb ( 500g) braising steak, cubed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, thinly sliced
bouquet garni *
1 - 2 tblsp tomato puree
1 tblsp flour
beef stock (approx half a pint/ 300ml)
Put the flour into a bag and add the cubed beef. Shake well to coat. Put some oil (even better use beef dripping if you have some) into a casserole pan and when hot, tip in the beef (save any flour that might be left, fry the beef, turning until browned all over. Stir in the onions and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally for about five minutes. Add the tomato paste along with any remaining flour, stir and add the stock. Push in the bouquet garni. Cover with a fitted circle of parchment paper and then place on a lid. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer very gently for about one to one and a half hours until the meat is tender.
Remove the paper, the herbs, season to taste, and serve with a green vegetable and creamy mashed potatoes.
* To make a bouquet garni, take one wide curved rib of celery (about 4 to 6" long) and in the hollow place a few crushed peppercorns topped with sprigs of thyme and parsley stalks and a bay leaf. Tie round with string.
Alternatively cut up the above into small pieces and put into a square of muslin. Gather up the corners and tie securely with string.

Speedy Lunch for a Summer's Day : serves 2 - 4
2 large chicken breasts, skinned, sliced in half then cut into fingers
1 lime, zest and juice
2 oranges, segmented
1 large or 2 smaller ripe avocados
4 spring onions, thinly sliced diagonally
bunch watercress, main stalks removed
Fry the prepared chicken pieces in a little olive oil. After 10 minutes add the lime juice and zest and heat for a further minute.
Meanwhile, cut the avocado into small chunks and put in a bowl with the orange segments, add the sliced spring onions and watercress. Place on individual plates with the chicken on top.
Tip: To bulk this up you could add some chopped walnuts or flaked almonds. Perhaps some diced red bell pepper for colour, or sliced Peppadew for colour and zing. For a more substantial dish serve with egg noodles (soaked in boiling water , drained and tossed in sesame oil.
Don't forget that the avocado stones. will grow into large plants.

Sweet and Sour Pork: serves 4
1 lb (500g) pork tenderloin
1 onion cut into chunks
1 small can pineapple chunks in syrup
1 tblsp tomato puree
1 tblsp honey
1 tsp soy sauce (optional)
5fl oz chicken or vegetable stock
1 small can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp cornflour
Cut the pork into thick slices, then into cubes. Fry in a little oil until light gold (about 6 minutes). Remove from the pan. If necessary add a little more oil and fry onions until softened. Add the pineapple, tomato puree, honey, soy sauce, the stock and a little of the pineapple syrup from the can. bring to the simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Stir a little water or pineapple syrup into the cornflour and add this to the pan, then add the pork, stir and simmer until the sauce has thickened - this will take about 4 -5 minutes.
Serve with egg fried rice (the microwave sachets take only 2 minutes), or noodles.
Tip: to extend the dish, make thin pancakes using one large beaten egg only (no flour), and put one on top of the other (one egg should make 3 pancakes). Roll up, slice thinly and scatter these 'egg noodles' over the top of each portion.
Variation: this dish could be made with cubed chicken, or prawns or both. Don't overcook the prawns, these can always be added later during the cooking.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Swap Shop

Back to food. Would you believe you can now buy 200g (7 oz) packs of fresh white breadcrumbs to keep in the fridge. At a cost of 99p. You can buy a whole loaf for that and make lots more crumbs for your money. What will they think of next?
Another recommended buy is ready-made Spanish Omelette (aka Tortilla) - think that was around £2.50, weight not given in the ad. But they are so easy to make and again, much cheaper to do it yourself (less than £1 I would think).

Spanish Omelette: serves four - six
1 lb waxy potatoes, unpeeled cut into small chunks
1 large Spanish onion, diced
4 - 6 eggs
seasoning to taste
oil for frying
In an omelette pan put in a little oil. Saute the onions and potatoes until the potatoes are just tender. Beat the eggs (one per person) and season to taste, pour this over the potatoes and onions and cook until just set. Slide the omelette onto a plate adding a little more oil if necessary to the pan, then tip the plate so that the uncooked side of the omelette falls downside onto the pan and continue to cook until golden underneath. Serve hot or cold in wedges. Alternatively, leave it in the pan and finish off under the grill.
This is the very basic recipe but gives plenty of scope to add other ingredients if you wish - peas, chopped peppers, sweetcorn - even chopped ham or chorizo. It's up to you.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Worth buying or Worth Making?

While I mention the Indian meal - Chicken Tikka Masala with Rice and Pakoras, Mango Chutney and a spicy Tomato Chutney and the above mentioned Raita as side dishes (plus a banana sliced (Beloved likes to add this), it is perhaps worth mentioning that I had only enough diced chicken really for one good helping (I needed to feed four), so in the morning I defrosted a couple of chicken joints and took as much meat from those as I could to add to the diced chicken, then bulked out the meal with 3 onions, thinly sliced, and two large carrots thinly sliced which were first lightly fried in a large pan, adding the chicken meat, when that turned white added a can of chopped tomatoes and one can of Tikka Masala Curry Sauce. Popped on the lid and let it simmer for a couple or so hours. Then re-heated later.

The rice I put to soak in the morning, with four bay leaves and some crushed green cardamon pods (seeds only but sometimes I add the husks). The chutneys came out of bottles, but the Raita was home-made using Greek Yogurt, some finely chopped mint, a little caster (or icing) sugar, and some finey chopped and de-seeded cucumber. That I also made in the morning and kept in the fridge to allow the flavours to develop.

The Pakoras were much enjoyed. They are very easy to make but best made with Besan (chick-pea) flour, which is stocked in supermarkets. I used about one third of a small cauliflower broken up into small florets, five largish button mushrooms cut into five wedges, and one red onion thinly sliced. To 9 heaped tblsp of the Taking hot metal dishes to the table needs oven gloves etc, but hot dishes are also difficult to pass around the table and no-one wants to keep putting on gloves, so I unearthed some smallish round baskets (I collect baskets, the big ones hang from beams in the kitchen), into which the round metal bowls fitted reasonably well. This meant hands were protected from the heat of the dishes.
So - if you have any baskets, see if they fit any of your casseroles or serving dishes. They don't have to be a tight fit, just high enough so the dish won't topple out. If you are really clever, you could make little pads to fit under and between the sides of the dish and the basket and that would help to keep the food hotter for longer (if there is room a folded tea-towel would do).

During the afternoon I decided to whip the cream by hand instead of using my electric whisk. As it was whipping cream, not double, I knew it would take a little longer, but because I was using a small bowl it didn't thicken at all. After nearly 45 mins of beating I transferred the cream to a large bowl and from then on it did thicken, even so it took me nearly an hour overall. Why do it this way you ask? Well, I am supposed to burn off energy to lower my blood glucose the book says. This seemed a 'sitting-down' way to do it, by the open back door, in the sun, letting my neighbours know I was back in action so to speak. I don't think 'sitting down' to work is what my advisors meant by burning off energy. I like sitting down, I can do a lot sitting down: watching TV, painting pictures, reading books, preparing meals, chatting to you via the Internet. Thinking up excuses.

So today you again have a 'warts and all' taste of the Goode life ( as it was this Monday at least). The highs, the lows, the sudden inspired thought to use baskets, (that was my best bit), the wasted time beating cream by hand (but it taught me that I should have used a larger bowl), I bet Delia would have done it all much more efficiently. But would life then be as interesting?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Back on Form

The recipe I have close to hand for a Ciabatta loaf is fairly complicated (you need to make a starter with fresh yeast, then turn this into a dough, then make another lot of dough and then combine the two etc.etc) but this one for Ciabatta Rolls is easier and worth a try (this recipe uses a bread making machine to make the dough - which is then baked in an oven but of course you can make the dough by hand in the old fashioned way),.

Ciabatta Rolls with Rosemary: makes about 10
12 fl oz (350ml) water
2 tblsp olive oil
1 lb 2 oz (5oog) strong plain white flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. gran. sugar
1 tsp. fast acting dried yeast
1 tblsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
milk for glazing
Note: Some bread making machines need the water putting in the pan first, others want the yeast in first so use the ingredients in the order specified in the instruction book.
Add the sugar and salt to the flour, and put the water, flour and yeast in the pan (see above note). Set to Dough setting and press Start.
Grease and flour two baking sheets and preheat the oven to 200C, 4ooF, Gas 6
When the dough cycle is completed, remove and knock back lightly on a floured surface then knead the rosemary into the dough.
Divide into 10 equal portions and shape each into a round or oval. Place, well spaced apart, on the baking sheets and flatten the dough slightly. Cover and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in size (about half an hour).
Brush the tops of the rolls with milk and dust with flour. Bake for about 20 minutes until golden and (the usual test with bread) sound hollow when the base is tapped.
Cool on a wire rack. Best served warm.
Variations: Omit the rosemary and add some chopped sun-dried tomatoes (use the oil from the tomato jar instead of the olive oil). Or add some chopped pitted black olives.
Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the rolls instead of dusting with flour.

If you wish to make Focaccia, then divide the above dough into two and shape each half into a round flat bread about 1" (2.5cm) thick and about 6 1/4" (16cm) wide. Place each one on a baking sheet, cover and leave until doubled in size.
Using your fingertips, make dents all over the dough, brush with olive oil and bake in the oven (same temperature as the rolls) for about 25 minutes until golden. Cool on a wire rack. Serve by either tearing off chunks or slice into wedges. Again best served warm.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Quick and Easy

Sometimes we just don't have the time or even feel like spending time preparing a meal. So here are one or two recipes that you can make in minutes.

Savoury Bread and Butter Pudding: serves 4
2 oz butter (50g) softened
10 -12 oz (300g) mushrooms, chopped into small pieces
2 -3 shallots OR 1 small leek, cut into small pieces
6 slices slightly stale white bread
4 eggs, beaten
half a pint (300ml) milk
4 oz (110g) Cheddar, Red Leicester or Gruyere cheese, grated
2 tsp Dijon Mustard
Put half the butter into a frying pan and fry mushrooms and onions (or leek) until just golden.
Remove from heat. Butter the bread with the remainder and sandwich together with the mushroom/onion mixture in a microwaveable dish.
Mix together the eggs, milk, mustard and half the cheese and pour this over the bread. Leave to stand for at least five minutes (the longer the better). Meanwhile pre-heat the grill to high.
Microwave the pudding for 5 minutes then sprinkle over the cheese and pop under the grill for 2 -3 minutes until nice and golden and bubbly.

Glazed Orange, Watercress and Blue Cheese Salad: serves 4
2 large oranges, peeled, pith removed and segmented
four roasted cloves (or use half tsp. of dried cloves)
2 tblsp demerara sugar
good pinch salt (pref. sea or rock salt)
1 small bunch watercress, leaves and short tems only
2 oz (50g) blue cheese, crumbled (Stilton, Danish Blue, etc)
Cut each of the orange segments in half. Put the cloves, sugar and salt into a mortar and grind with a pestle (if you haven't a mortar put them into a small bowl and bash them with the end of a rolling pin). Place the orange pieces on a baking sheet and sprinkle over the spice mixture. Place under a pre-heated grill until the sugar has melted (2-3 mins). Serve on individual plates on a bed of watercress which has been tossed in a little olive oil. Crumble the cheese over each portion and serve at once.

Cheats Quick Fish Chowder: serves 4
8 oz (200g) white fish (skinned), cut into small cubes
1 435g can Scotch Broth or Chunky Vegetable Soup
1/2 pint (300ml) milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 326g can sweetcorn, drained
cooked frozen prawns (thawed) - optional
Put the soup and the milk into a pan and bring to the simmer. Season to taste. Add the fish and cook gently for five minutes. Add the sweetcorn and prawns (if using) and heat through for a further two minutes then serve.
Optional garnishes. Generously butter slices of granary bread and sprinkle with cheese. Grill until bubbling then cut into triangles and pop on top of the chowder.
OR garnish with bacon strips fried to a crisp and crumbled.

Pile High Pudding:
(the secret with this is to have everything ready in the fridge so that you can help yourself)
Fruit jelly
fresh or canned fruit
fruit yogurt
custard (optional)
crumbled trifle sponges (optional)
whipped or thick cream
chopped nuts
Take a tall glass and start building alternate layers from the above list in any order you want right up to the top of the glass. Finish with a big, tall, dollop of whipped cream sprinkled with nuts AND grated chocolate if you wish. A long-handled spoon will be needed to eat all this.

Don't let 'serves four' put you off making any recipe. Just divide amounts by four if cooking for one, or in half if cooking for two. Just have a go, eat and enjoy.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Creative Cooking

A mention of TVP (textured vegetable protein) reminded me of many years ago when I used it a great deal. I didn't realise it was still sold other than in a those 'Beanfeast' products (these I do use use occasionally, mainly to make a small amount of meat go a lot further especially when making Bolognese meat sauce and Chilli con Carne ). Almost always I include a little 'real' meat as then the TVP is almost undetectable. Even without using meat I find the abovementioned product good, although I tend to add a beef stock cube or some Bovril to give a more meaty flavour to the Bolognese variety, and more red beans to the Chilli one. All the other flavours needed for the dish are included in the product, so if you haven't yet tried them, worth having a go. It is not necessary to use a whole packet at a time, just use some, fold up the packet tightly and it will keep for a week or so, or keep it in the freezer for a longer time.
With the basic TVP granules that I used to use, as they are 'dry goods' .I would keep these in airtight jars on my open shelves. Nowadays I am sure 'how to store' will be written up on the pack.

Browsing through my bread recipe book I saw a picture - for 'Pinwheels' which looked really worth making. Perusing the ingredients, I saw it didn't even use yeast, or bread flour which was a bit of a cheat I thought in a book of that type, but on second thoughts a very useful recipe to keep, use and experiment with different fillings. Here is one version:
Ham, Spinach and Cheese Rollups.
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt
2 oz (55g) butter, diced
approx 5 fl oz milk
Dijon mustard
3 oz (85g) cooked lean ham, diced
1 oz baby spinach leaves, shredded
3 oz (85g) cheddar cheese, grated
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt then rub in the butter. Stir in enough milk to make a soft dough. On a floured board, knead the dough lightly then roll out to an oblong 12"x 9" (30 x 23cm). Over this spread a very thin layer of the mustard.
In a bowl mix together the ham, spinach and cheese and season with a little pepper. Sprinkle this mixture over the dough then working from the long side of the dough, roll up tightly. Trim off the ends neatly then slice the roll into about 14 pieces.
Place onto lightly greased baking sheets, about an inch apart, and bake at 220C. 425F, Gas 7 for 10 - 16 minutes until risen and golden. Cool on a cake airer and serve warm or cold.
Tips: baking sheets tend to warp if the oven is over 200C, so you could roll each slice slightly thinner and cook at the lower temperature. Or - if using a fan oven, 200C would be the right temperature to use.
To the basic dough mixture add some fresh or dried herbs for flavour. Instead of mustard, smear the dough with tomato puree or green pesto, instead of ham use some finely diced chorizo sausage, instead of cheddar use gruyere, red Leicester or parmesan. Fried onions, diced olives, Feta cheese, sundried tomatoes, basil.....Think of the basic dough as a pizza base and spread over your favourite pizza toppings (finely chopped), then roll up and slice.
If you add a little sugar and cinnamon to the basic dough you could experiment with chopped dried fruits (apricots, soaked-in-rum sultanas, dates, candied peel...) or just spread with any left-over mincement to make - sort of - flat Chelsea buns.

The following recipe/method I saw demonstrated on a cookery prog. Again it is one that can be used in many ways by just experimenting with different fillings. Start with a pack of ready-rolled puff pastry.
When laid out flat this pastry should be very thin and an oblong shape. Place the pastry with the long sides pointing left to right then make two even cuts from top to bottom making three even slices.
Take one slice and spread some tomato paste (or thick pizza sauce) over the top half of the slice leaving half-an-inch of pastry clear at the edges. Top the sauce with a slice of ham, then top this with grated cheese. Dampen the sides of the pastry then fold the bottom half up to cover the contents and firmly press the edges together. You should now have a square packet. Make a couple of slits in the top and continue in the same way with the other two slices. Have ready a hot oven (200c) and a hot baking sheet (place this in the oven from the start so that it heats up to the same temperature - this will ensure the pastry starts cooking from the bottom as well as at the top). Place the pastry parcels on the hot sheet and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the pastry has risen and is deep golden brown. Remove, allow to cool slightly as the contents will be very hot, and serve with a green salad.
Tip: to make smaller ones, cut each pre-cut strip into two (which will make a square) then put a little of the above filling in the centre of each, dampen edges and fold into triangles. Bake as for the larger ones.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Stop before you Shop

One tip re saving on food - which I hope came across in the recent Challenge, is - when you feel you need to stock up again - first aim to use up food you have in store. Ten to one there will be enough there to keep you going for at least one more day, and - with thought - even several days.

You remember my last on-line grocery order (for the Challenge) was delivered just before Xmas? Well, I still haven't restocked. The only things bought over the past few weeks have been fresh fruits and vegetables, and one pack of bacon. Plus four cans of sardines in tomato sauce (for me), bran flakes and diet yogurts (again for me), mushrooms and some bread. At the moment, the milkman brings only milk and yogurts. Cheese, butter, eggs I found in the fridge on my return from hospital ( this was mainly because my husband had gone off his food while I was away. But whatever - there is enough left over from the original purchases to keep going and still keep going. Even though I have been out of baked beans, corned beef, sausages, and numerous other ' essentials', I now realise they are not essentials at all.

As it is not like me to have gaps on my cupboard shelves, each week I feel I should place another order, but then decide not to. Yesterday I checked my frozen meats - I still have two packs of diced mutton, one of minced beef and pork, two of diced chicken, about a dozen chicken wings, some cooked chicken, three little packs of chicken livers, and a couple or so chicken joints. All from the original Challenge which includes the chicken freebies from the butcher. With most of my second bag of carrots still intact, numerous onions, Chinese leaves still untouched, one head of celery - plus a few cans of chopped tomatoes in the cupboard all I need to replace are the salads. Well, perhaps not need, more like want. On my open shelves I still have plenty of quick-cook pasta and rice, not to mention dried beans, lentils and other pulses - who needs the supermarket I am now asking myself.

When it comes to meat, as I have mentioned before, in most cases I buy from the butcher then make it go as far as possible. Planning dishes which include plenty of vegetables I work on 2 oz (50g) meat per person. This is half the amount which most recipes call for, but good meat gives plenty of flavour and this can work right through anything cooked with it. So for economy, add a can of chopped tomatoes and plenty of diced carrots, celery, onions to your meat sauces. To make it go even further add a tablespoon of porridge oats - they take up the meat flavour and you won't notice them. If you want more of a beefy flavour add a stock cube or a spoon of Bovril. For a pasta meat sauce add finely sliced mushrooms and a dash of Worcestershire sauce and HP sauce. For a chilli con carne add chilli powder and a goodly number of cooked red beans.

Likewise with a curry, use half the amount of meat normally used (either beef, chicken or lamb), and add sliced or diced carrots and loads of sliced onions to make up the shortfall. Stir in a jar of curry sauce (curry paste works out cheaper as you use it by the teaspoonful, not the whole jar),and simmer until the meat is cooked. If you wish to add peas, add them about five minutes before serving or they can lose their bright green colour and turn a nasty khaki.

As meat is one of the most expensive ingredients, aim to serve it less often. Nowadays they say twice a week is enough. Instead turn to roasted vegetable dishes, vegetarian curries, maybe try Quorn (is that cheaper or dearer than the meat it replaces?) and serve more fish (although that is expensive enough) . With the hot summer we are promised - who need to slave over a hot stove. Have one weekend of cooking a selection of meats then when cold slice and freeze to serve later with salads. For more economy we should make our own beefburgers from quality minced steak and grated onion. We could even make our own sausages (at one time I used to).
Tip: Meat cooked on the bone has much more flavour then when cooked without, so when buying a joint such as leg of lamb, ask the butcher to first bone the joint and then replace it.
After cooking it is should be removed then the joint can easily be sliced. Don't forget - an electric (or hand) slicer is a gadget that more than pays for itself in a very few weeks. It will also slice home-made bread easily and tidily.
Lakeland stocks a very good slicer at a very reasonable price.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Kitting up your Kitchen

I promised you recipes, the first being a timely one to use storecupboard ingredients with any cold lamb leftover after Easter:
Spring Lamb Salad: serves 2
half pint measure of finely chopped roast lamb
quarter pint of diced celery
1 spring onion, finely chopped
quarter pint measure (or less) diced cheddar cheese
2 tblsp mayonnaise
2 tsp sweet pickle
half tsp. horseradish sauce
2 tblsp tomato ketchup
salt and pepper to season
lettuce leaves for serving.
In a bowl combine all ingredients except lettuce. Stir well to blend and serve on lettuce leaves.

Gingered Chicken with Peanuts: serves 4
5 fl. oz water
2 tsp cornflour
2 - 3 chicken breasts, skinned and boned
2 tblsp light olive oil
about 1 lb (5oog) mixed vegetables, part cooked (sliced carrot, broccoli, baby onions, baby sweetcorn, mushrooms, green beans, bell peppers etc)
2 tblsp salted (or unsalted) peanuts or cashew nuts
1 tblsp soy sauce
1 tblsp grated ginger, OR 1 preserved ginger diced
Cut the chicken into strips and fry in the oil for about five minutes until the meat has turned white. Stir the cornflour into the water and add this to the chicken along with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to the boil over medium heat and bubble away, stirring constantly with a fork to keep the veggies separate. When thickened, reduce heat to the simmer and cook on for a further four minutes. Serve with rice.

Creamy Tuna Shells: 6-8 servings
8 oz (225g) pasta shells (the large ones if possible)
2 cans (each approx 7oz) tuna in oil, drained
8 oz (225g) cream cheese
8 fl. oz chicken stock
12 oz ( 350g) peas
3 -4 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
finely chopped dill or parsley
Cook the macaroni until almost al dente. Drain, then replace over a very low heat and stir in the cream cheese until melted into a sauce. Stir in the flaked tuna, the peas and the stock and heat through. When the pasta and peas are cooked, add the chosen herb and Parmesan. Stir once then serve.

Strawberries with Yummy Honey Cream - serves 2-3
2 tblsp creme fraiche
1 tblsp honey
1 tblsp orange liqueur
1 pint of fresh strawberries, hulled
Mix together the first three ingredients then pour over onto the strawberries. Easy as that.
Tip: if you have a small avocado to spare, mash this with a fork until creamy and blend this into the Yummy Honey Cream before adding to the strawberries.

'It Shouldn't be Allowed' Pudding: for adult cheats only
One packet of instant chocolate pudding such as Angel Delight
milk to mix less 1-2 tblsp
1-2 tblsp whisky, rum or orange liqueur - even Tia Maria
Make the pudding up as per directions on packet using milk less 1-2 tblsp, substituting 1-2 tbslp of the spirit of your choice. Beat well until thickened then pour into individual glasses until set. Serve with whipped cream.
Tip: For a subtle flavour just use 1 tblsp of the chosen spirit. If you wish it to be a little stronger, then use a little more, but don't overdo it. As they say, less is more-ish. If you like it, then experiment using other flavours, other liqueurs.

PS. The above 'instant' recipe was given me many years ago by one of the editors of the Good Housekeeping Magazine who served it regularly to guests. Well - if it was good enough for her I thought it was worth a mention - even though it does use a manufactured dessert mix.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Dishes from the Past

Semolina pudding is a great favourite with our family. Add a knob of butter at the end to make it richer, even beat in an egg if you wish. We add a dollop of jam or a piece of chocolate to each serving to be stirred in, but even on its own it does make a good pud.

Semolina is a very useful 'grain' to keep in store as it can also be used in cake recipes and I have substituted it for polenta in the past, although I believe semolina is made from wheat and polenta from corn.

Many years ago I used to buy potato flour (aka pommes fecules), and then that disappeared. Extremely good for thickening sauces when you wanted more clarity - arrowroot works in the same way. I saw it used in a cookery prog. yesterday where chicken pieces were dipped in the potato flour before frying - as this flour gives a very crisp coating. They said it was back on the shelves so must add it to my next grocery order.

I must mention that when I order my groceries on-line I can sometimes buy foods that are not seemingly on sale in our local branch (I have been told that online orders are packed from a delivery depot, not at the store itself, which probably explains why). Frozen chicken livers I can buy on-line but only fresh chicken livers (which are more expensive) are sold in the store. Annoyingly I cannot seem to purchase packs of Lambs Lettuce (aka Corn Salad) on-line, yet they are sold in store.
Recently my husband went to get me some diet Yogurt (low fat yogs are high in sugar), and could only find one kind - delicious though they are. Yet on-line there were several brands of diet yogurts I could choose from. So - if you buy on-line you may be able to find an even better selection than in store.

It has been said that if we buy on-line we will almost certainly spend less than if we trolleyshop. I can agree with this because although I do spend more on one delivery than if I went to the store (only because I haven't got to carry it all home), it will last me AGES as I have now proved.
Have to admit to getting carried away when I start adding goods to my virtual basket, as there are so many bogofs and reduced prices that I think I want at the time, but as I order well in advance of delivery I can, a day or two later, remove the ones I don't really need. This way I can enjoy the immediate pleasure of temptation, without having to pay for it at the end.

Take advantage of the weather and bring out those barbeques. Happy Easter Feasting.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Rhubarb, rhubarb...

One of my favourites is Rhubarb Fool - equal quantities of pureed sweetened Rhubarb, custard and whipped cream, just folded lightly together. Any fruit puree could be used instead of rhubarb.
How about Rhubarb and Ginger Ice-Cream? The easiest way to make this is use a tub of soft-scoop vanilla ice-cream, turn this out into a large bowl and fold in (ripple effect if you like) some sweetened rhubarb puree, and add some diced preserved ginger. Then return the ice-cream to the freezer and use as required.
Another suggestion would be to use an apple cake recipe and substitute small chunks of rhubarb instead of apple. And what about Rhubarb Pie?

For cheffy style Rhubarb, slice the rhubarb into even sized finger lengths, lay side by side in a shallow baking dish, sprinkle with sugar and bake in the oven until tender. Then stack up neatly like building blocks and serve with whipped cream.
These cooked fingers of rhubarb can also be placed side by side in a pre-baked oblong pastry case and covered with a glaze. Eat hot or cold with custard or cream.
Tip: As the year progresses, the rhubarb loses its colour and the outer part gets tougher. Use a potato peeler to remove any stringy bits and add a few drops of red or pink food colouring to give the rhubarb a more attractive appearance.
Chunks of rhubarb, shaken in a bag with sugar, will freeze, so can be eaten out of season.
Rhubarb also makes good wine.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Easter Treats

What wonderful weather we are having, and it looks set fair for the Easter weekend. A good time to hide those Easter eggs in the garden as we used to do in the old days.

Although we think of Simnel Cake as being traditional fare during Easter, it was originally meant to be made and eaten on Mothering Sunday. Hot Cross Buns definitely eaten on Good Friday, and Easter Eggs are a later addition. However, Easter Biscuits have long been made to be eaten on Easter Saturday although there is some confusion as to whether that is the Saturday following Good Friday, or the one a week later. Either way, here is the recipe:

Easter Biscuits: makes 2 dozen
4 oz (100g) butter, softened
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
7 oz (300g) plain flour
1 egg, separated
1 tsp mixed spice
2 oz (50g) dried fruit
1 oz (25g) candied peel
milk to mix
Cream the butter and sugar together with the egg yolk until light and fluffy. Sift the flour with the spice and stir into the butter mixture. Stir in the fruit and peel with just enough milk to make a softish dough that can be rolled out.
Put the dough onto a floured board and knead lightly then roll out to 1/4 inch thickness(5mm). Cut into rounds with a 2 1/2" (6cm) scone cutter and place on lightly greased baking trays.
Bake at 200C, 400F, Gas 6 for 8 minutes then brush biscuits with very lightly beaten egg white and sprinkle over a little more caster sugar. Return to oven and bake for a further five minutes or until pale golden. Remove to a wire cake airer to cool. Store in an airtight container.
Tip: Avoid overcooking biscuits as they will continue to cook for a minute or two after removing from oven especially if you leave them on the hot baking tray. then remove to a cake airer and they should will crisp up even further as they cool. If you feel any biscuits have been removed too soon, and still stay soft, then return them to the oven to cook on for a further 2-3 minutes. They will come to no harm.

Easter Eggs with a difference:
Empty egg shells
assorted flavoured and coloured jellies
Shredded Wheat
Take as many eggs as you need and very carefully make a small hole in the round end. Break up the yolk with a skewer and tip the egg into a bowl (these eggs can be used for cooking).
Rinse out the empty shell with water and stand, hole side down, to drain.
Take the jellies and dissolve each in a separate bowl using HALF the recommended amount of water (the jellies need to set firmly). Stand the eggs in egg cups or egg trays with open end uppermost and fill each with a different coloured jelly. Put in the fridge to set.
When ready to serve, gently crack the eggshells and hold under running water to aid peeling off the shell - you should then be left with egg-shaped jellies. Place these in nests made by crushing Shredded Wheats.
Serve with cream (this makes the cereal very pleasant to eat).

Marbled Eggs:
Eggs and food colourings.
Put the eggs into cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 8 minutes then remove and stand in cold water. Crack the shells all over but leave them on the eggs. Have bowls of water fairly strongly tinted with food colourings - red, blue, green etc and put eggs into these. Leave for an hour or so, and, when ready to serve, peel off the shells and each egg should have a beautiful marbled appearance due to the colour which has seeped in through the cracks.
Tip: Do not use really fresh eggs when hard-boiling as these are almost impossible to peel without breaking into the white. Best eggs to use are those that are about 10 days old, and once cooled, cracked and again put into cold water, the shells should peel off easily.

Worth a mention. If you have any dried fruit which may be looking less than succulent ( perhaps fruits left over from Xmas) then put them in a glass jar and pour in some brandy, rum or red wine. Keep covered, shake or stir occasionally and they will plump up. They should keep well for some weeks. Any liquid left in the jar can be added to fruit cakes to make them even more special, or can be poured over ice-cream. Never let it be said that I waste anything!

Happy Easter Weekend everyone.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Better late than Never

One thing I forgot to mention was a bit of serendipity. After Kim's roast lamb lunch, I made the leftovers into Monday's supper for Beloved. There were two cooked but soft individual Yorkshire Puddings to make use of (Kim likes them with EVERYTHING). I had layered the sliced carrots and potatoes with slivers of lamb, poured over a good dollop of onion gravy, added some thawed frozzen peas and topped the lot with with crumbled stuffing balls. Yet I could not bring myself to throw away those two soft Yorkie Puds. In the end I decided to lay them on their side, and slice through making two rings and one flat base from each. These I spread with a smidgin of butter and laid, butter side up on top of the stuffing. When baked (25 mins at 180C), the meal was heated through and the Yorkie bits had gone so delightfully crisp that my husband crunched them with delight. Must do that again- and again. Methinks I have got to the sad lady stage when I can't even bear to throw away a couple of individual Yorkshire Puddings.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Coming up to Easter

Tips for making Hot Cross Buns.If using a bread mix, then add a little lemon zest, about a tsp of mixed spice and cinnamon, a tsp. sugar, and about 4 oz of mixed dried fruit (incl. candied peel). Otherwise use your ordinary white bread mix, maybe a little more yeast and - after the first proving - knead in the dried fruit. When formed into buns, place them about 1"-2" apart on a greased baking sheet, brush the buns with water and on each bun lay over pastry strips to form the cross (use readymade shortcrust pastry). then cover and leave to rise until the buns are almost touching. The longer they rise the less dense they will be. If at all possible cover the buns also when cooking - the steam they give off will make them very light and the tops won't get crusty. I suggest a big tent of foil over might work. Just prick a hole or two in it to get rid of excess steam.
The buns should take about 15 mins to cook, and hopefully will have risen enough to be attached to each other. Remove the whole batch to a wire tray and brush with a glaze made from 2oz sugar and 3 fl oz water, boiled for three minutes before using.
Traditionally best eaten whilst still warm, and with lashings of butter.

As to Simnel Cake:
Again many different recipes, some with a lot of fruit, many with less. I tend to use my 'boil and bake' fruit cake - the recipe given in an earlier posting, or you could use either or both halves of the two-tone Australian Cake given in the posting entitled 'The Wizardry of Oz' (not sure which month). Here is an easy alternative recipe:
8 oz (225g) each soft margarine, sugar and S.R. flour
4 eggs
12 oz (325g) mixed dried fruit
4 oz (100g) glace cheeries, washed and chopped
2 oz (50g) candied peel
zest of 2 lemons
2 tsp mixed spice.
(1 lb marzipan - divided into three plus egg white and jam)
Put all the ingredients (except the marzipan, egg white and jam) in a large mixing bowl and beat until thoroughly mixed.
Place half the mixture into a well greased 8" round cake tin and roll out one third of the marzipan into a circle to fit the tin and lay this over the cake mix.. Cover with the remaining cake mixture and level the surface.
Bake at 150C/300F/Gas 2 for about two and a half hours until risen, golden and firm to the touch. Cover after 1 hour if browning too early. Cool in tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto cake airer.
When cold brush the top with apricot jam and take half of the remaining marzipan and roll it to fit the top of the cake. Press down and crimp edges beteen thumb and finger. Brush the top with egg white and place on 11 small marzipan balls (these represent the Apostles excluding Judas) arranged evenly just inside the crimped rim.
Brush the top of the balls with egg white and place under a medium to hot grill so that the balls and the centre of the cake turn golden.
Tip: You can omit the middle layer of marzipan if you haven't got enough. The important part is the marzipan topping and the balls. You can of course cheat by purchasing a fruit cake and just top with marzipan yourself.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Still up and runniung.

One (or two) of you mentioned slicing machines. I do slice cooked chicken by hand, usually buying the largest chicken I can get. First I roast it, leave it to get cold then chill in the fridge overnight before slicing. But when it comes to home-cooked hams (gammon), even the small joints, the slicer is MOST useful. Also for slicing boneless beef (topside etc). When buying a leg of lamb I ask the hutcher to bone it, but then put the bone back in, as meat cooked with the bone has a much better flavour than without. When cooked I remove the bone, tightly roll up the lamb and then slice it when cold.
Cold lamb does not seem appetising but I pack it with a little mint sauce or mint jelly between the slices, the flavour penetrating the meat, and this way it is really good.
A turkey roll or the large boneless breasts (usually around at Xmas), once cooked, also slices well using the slicing machine.
The advantage with the machine s that you can get really thin slices which makes the joints of meat go so very much further. Any scraps that get ripped off are gathered up and made into a meat paste to spread on toast (just blend with a bit of softened butter, some pepper and maybe a grind of nutmeg for beef, mint with lamb, cranberry sauce with chicken, or mustard with beef or chicken).

Slicing machines are also good for cutting thinner slices of home-made bread than normally would be sliced by hand. I know I can get at least 20 slices of toasting thickness from a granary loaf and they are all even - just like the bought bread.

Am still not in the mood for food. How bad is that? My leg is most painful, and I can't seem to get my head around things but here is a good recipe that I know works (but boo hoo I am unable to eat it now) that you might find worth trying - it really is simple but impressive. It's not even Greek, but the yoghurt is.

Greek Lemon Sponge Roulade: (F)
equal quatities of Greek Yoghurt and Lemon Curd (pref homemade)
slab of fatless sponge cake
Fold the yogurt and lemon curd together, completely, or aim to make a ripple pattern.
Put this into a cylinder (suggest a clean baked bean tin with base and top removed, and lined with clingfilm. Freeze.
When frozen, push out the ice-cream and lay it on the sponge cake, roll up untl completely covered by cake. trim off rest of the cake (keep for trifles). Wrap in clingfilm and return to freezer. Serve in slices.
Tip: This can be served without the cake just as ice-cream, in which case thoroughly mix the yoghurt and curd together before freezing.