Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Christmas Hampers

Several years ago I worked as a food stylist for a photographer. One of my jobs was to prepare the food from a Christmas Hamper to make it look very appetising. However, in almost every hamper I have seen advertised, from the least expensive to the costly, there are always some foods that probably wouldn't get used. Time now to make up your own Hamper by adding one or two cans of favourite foods to your shopping list then squirreling them away out of family viewing until the festive season. This way you can always take advantage of any that are coming to the end of their 'best-before-dates' and therefore reduced in price.

Blackberry Chutney - makes just under 3 lb.
3 lb (1.4 kg) blackberries
8 oz (225g( onions, chopped
1 lb (500g) soft dark brown sugar
1 lb (500g) cooking apples (after peeling, coreing etc)
1 oz (25g) ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground mace
1 tsp salt
1 pint (400ml) distilled white vinegar
Put the blackberries into a preserving pan with the onions, sugar and the apples. In a small bowl blend the spices and salt to a paste with a little of the vinegar and stir this into the fruit. Add the rest of the vinegar, and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved then bring to the boil. Simmer for about one hour or until the fruits are very soft and most of the moisture has evaporated.
Pour into hot sterilized jars, cover the chutney with a wax disc (wax side down) and then seal with vinegar-proof screw top lids.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Over to You

With summer on the horizon, many of you may be taking self-catering holidays. If so, I always suggest taking your own kitchen utensils because you can be quite sure the ones provided won't do the job. If they did, someone would have taken them home. So take your own sharp knives, scissors, can-opener and anything else you need to rely on.
If wishing to take frozen foods and you have a chest freezer - then put your cool box into the freezer a couple of days before leaving. Pack with frozen foods (frozen milk is always useful) the night before leaving and they will stay frozen in the box far longer than if it hadn't been chilled. In some ways the box has become a mini freezer. Incidentally, don't freeze the lid if it has a plastic carrying handle because the handle, once frozen, will easily break. I did this once and the handle snapped when I picked up the heavy box. Put the lid on at the very last minute before lifting the box from the freezer. I know I have said this all before, but newcomers to this site may not bother to scroll back.
If possible, plan your menus according to how you have packed your cold box (or vice versa). Use the top foods first - the remainder will stay frozen if not removed - and replace the lid as speedily as possible.

A couple or so years ago I went to stay in a cottage in Ireland which had very few kitchen essentials. Even the cooker was leaning to one side. A lot of improvising had to be done if I wanted to make a good meal. Several thicknesses of kitchen foil made good baking tins for pies, quiches and Yorkshire Pudding. So worth taking a new roll of foil on holiday too. Oh, and don't forget matches. You may find the cooker runs on gas.

My favourite kitchen 'thingy' is a clear plastic roll-top container (I have two, one larger than the other). I think they was originally meant to store cheese, but are great for keeping sarnies fresh outdoors (keeps the flies off too), and - in the early spring - I raise my seedlings in one (standing it on the window sill). The larger one I always use for raising bread. Once the dough has been made and put into the tin I pour some hot water in the base of the container, pop in the tin and the dough rises beautifully in the moist atmosphere. If necessary I can add more hot water as it cools down. Even if the weather is hot, I still add warm water to give that damp air around the dough which it seems to thrive on.
The containers have even been used at a car boot sale where small precious items could be kept under cover but still able to be seen - then no-one could steal them from the stall when attention was elsewhere.

Time now for me to go down and plan my day. I think a few hours will be spent trying to sort out which books to keep and which to dispose of. Not a job I am looking forward to.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Back in Action

Further ti testerday's blog. When I had the fruit salad in the restaurant it was served with dollops of cream on the platter, and I ate it directly from the plate with a spoon and fork. Here at home I put the platter in the centre of the table (with a tub of cream at the side - jug of cream would have looked better!) and we just scooped up the fruit into bowls using a fish slice and spoon and poured over the cream. Normally I would serve fresh fruit salad all mixed together in a bowl with added fruit juice , but I wanted to copy the restaurnat idea mainly so that I could show you how good it looked - absolutely perfect for dinner and buffet parties don't you think?

All sorts of different fruits could be used, chunks of pineapple, slices of pears, soft fruits in season. I was particularly intrigued by the apple, it appeared to have a small slice cut off the end which looked so attractive when on the plate. So I copied this, then cut the apple in half through its middle, and sliced thinnish wedges from this half which were nearly enough on its own, leaving over a quarter left (which we ate later with more apple and cheese).
The melon the restaurant used was a white one, I bought one of those small round ones (white with green stripes) and it turned out to be pink inside. White would have looked better against the orange slices, so remember that. The overlapping of the fruit was a very original idea and I found it easy to do. I began with the orange, overlapped the middle slice with the largest pieces of melon and then added the rest of the fruit.
Believe it or not, the plateful I was given at the restaurant was almost as large as the one I photographed. I had to force myself to eat most of it (being brought up to clean my plate). The others were stuffing themselves with Baklava (one had to ask for a doggy bag to take home their surplus, the restaurant is very generous with their helpings). The platterful I made here served three! And two helpings each at that. Just shows how a little fruit can go a long long way.
Incidentally, most of the fruit except the bananas, can be prepared in advance. Dunk the apple in lemon juice to prevent it discolouring, although the apple I used (Royal Gala) didn't discolour several minutes after slicing. Choose apples with the darkest red skin for best effect.
This is a lot of information on how to present a fruit salad, but the more onfo I can give, the easier it will be to put together.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A very hectic Goode Life

Back again after two long weeks. Stevan has set up broadband for me which seems to be working very well. It seems I had viruses in my comp. which was probably the cause of all the previous problems. These have been cleared and any further ones should now be blocked.
Initially I had planned to put pictures onto my other site ( but for some reason we couldn't seem to post up a picture. So have decided to abandon that site and put the pics up on this site which seems to make a lot more sense anyway.
So - from time to time you will be seeing pics that I feel are that little bit different. Not sure what happened to the format when I typed out the recipe, too many gaps between lines which we could not seem to edit out. So hope you will forgive those. It does seem that there is always a gremlin around when it comes to my media work - as you well know. I'm just glad to be back.

What a week we've had. We went to Morecambe for a few days (my daughter lives close by in Lancaster). I twisted my knee so ended up being pushed around in a wheel chair. Otherwise had a lovely time. The family (and Beloved) have decided it is time to downsize, so we are looking for a bungalow in that region. This means going over to view properties from time to time - although we have been sent details of one that seems perfect (this we will be returning to view later this coming week). Then comes the trauma of selling and leaving this house which I love to bits, and also getting rid of a lot of my 'clutter'.

When we were in Lancaster we went to a wonderful Turkish restaurant called Istanbul (excellent value for money) and for dessert I chose fruit salad. The portion size was huge and I thought the presentation was so unique it was well worth sharing with you, so yesterday I made the same dish for supper and later today (with Steve at my shoulder and me making copious notes at the same time so that I can do it again all on my own) I will be posting up the picture. Incredibly I used less than half a small melon, about threequarters of one red apple, a few strawberries cut in half, one banana, and the last of the grapes I found in my fridge. Oh yes, and one orange.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Introducing the first of my 'specials'.

Every cooks nightmare. But oh, so simple to make. Really it is.
Follow the directions below and - believe it or not - a huge cone of unfilled profiteroles can turn into the classic French Wedding Cake. All for under £10. I promised you a feast - now you can have one.
In the picture you will see on the left, the small blobs of uncooked pastry. Next to them are what you will discover once you have opened the oven door.
Then fill with cream and top with melted chocolate, or dust with icing sugar.
9 fl.oz water
4 oz butter
4 1/2 oz sifted flour
pinch salt
1/2 oz sugar
4 eggs
This amount makes 40 unfilled profiteroles for around 75p.
Put the water into a saucepan with the butter, sugar and salt. Bring to the boil. Immediately tip in the flour and, using a wooden spoon, beat well over a low heat until the mixture leaves the side of the pan and begins to look a bit oily.
Beat in the eggs two at a time and - using a teaspoon - put small blobs of the mixture onto a wetted baking sheet leaving plenty of room between each. They really do grow in size.
Note: The mixture works just as well if used immediately or left to get cool.
Put a pan of hot water on the oven floor then bake the profiteroles on the centre shelf at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 20 minutes. Then remove the dish of water, quickly make a small split in each profiterole with a knife to let out the air, and return them to the oven and leave to dry out for a further 10 minutes. If you want really crispy buns, leave them on a cake airer overnight.
Filled buns can be deep frozen. Pour melted chocolate over when they are thawing out.
Tips: You can beat the eggs into the flour mixture using an electric hand whisk.
Use larger spoonfuls to make the bigger choux buns, or pipe or spoon fingersize to make eclairs.
Use whipped cream, or a blend of whipped cream and custard for the filling.
To make a wedding cake (called a Crouquembouche), the unfilled profiteroles are dipped in sugar, which has been boiled to the crack stage, this makes them stick together. Decorate with spun sugar over the crown.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Up and Quivering

To save fuel today I am giving some recipes for my favourite sweets (not that I am now able to partake), but they are so easy to make they will keep the children occupied the next rainy day. If using heat, make sure you are controlling that part.
Coffee Creams: makes about 3 dozen
1 oz (25g) butter
2 tsp instant coffee
2 tsp milk
8 oz (225g) icing sugar
Put the butter in a pan and heat gently until melted. Add the coffee and the milk and mix until the coffee has dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in the icing sugar, a few ounces at a time until well blended and formed a smooth dough. Turn out onto a board and knead until smooth then roll out to 1/8" (3mm) thick. Cut into small circles (use the lid from a bottle of sauce or something of similar size) . Knead back any scraps and continue until all used up.
Place on a baking sheet and leave uncovered, for several hours to firm up. Store in an air-tight container, they will keep in a cool place for up to two weeks.

Coconut Ice: makes about 1 lb (450g)
3 fl oz (85ml) evaporated milk
8 oz (225g) granulated sugar
6 - 8 oz (175-225g) dessicated coconut
1 -2 drops food colouring (pink or red)
icing sugar
Put the milk and the sugar in a pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the coconut. Leave to cool then divide the mixture into two. Put the one half into a small loaf tin lined with greaseproof paper and press down lightly. Tint the remaining half with the colouring and put this on the top, and press down firmly. Leave in a cold place until set then turn out and remove the paper. Dust surfaces with icing sugar and cut into small slices. Store in an airtight container for up to a month.

Apricot Chocolates: makes about 10
4 - 5 no-soak apricots
3 - 4 squares of chocolate, preferably dark
Melt the chocolate in a small bowl which is standing over (not in) hot water. Split each apricot in half, then cut each half into 2 or 3 pieces. Stir these into the chocolate to coat each piece completely. Using a cocktail stick or skewer, removed each piece and place on some non-stick (silicone) paper. Leave until set. Store in an airtight tin between layers of kitchen paper. They will keep for several weeks.

Orange Twiglets:
Remove pith from orange peel and cut the peel into matchsticks. Boil in water for 2 minutes to remove bitterness. Drain and dab dry with kitchen paper. Dip into melted chocolate and remove and spread out singly on parchment paper, leave to set. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Hopefully I will be back with you tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Questions and Answers and more...

Spring Risotto:
1 large onion, diced
2 - 3 carrots, diced
2 0z (50g) butter
4 os (110g) mushrooms, chopped
1 tblsp. chopped parsley
12 oz (350g) rice
3 pints (1.8 lts) stock (depending upon the rice)
4 oz (110g) grated cheese
(other vegetables such as peas, chopped string beans, green soya beans, sweetcorn, can be used . Also asparagus tips, or their substitute - bracken shoots!). Add a clove of garlic if you wish.
Put the butter into a pan and gently saute the onion and carrots for 5 minutes, adding garlic if you wish.
Add the mushrooms and parsley and continue cooking for a further 3 minutes. Remove the clove of garlic (if using) and stir in the rice until well coated with the butter. Pour on a halfpint of boiling stock and simmer until absorbed. Keep stirring in small amounts of boiling stock , adding more as each is absorbed. When the rice is cooked but the risotto is creamy rather than dry add an ounce of the cheese. Let the risotto stand for a minute or two before serving with the rest of the cheese.

Bobotie: An economical version of a South African dish.
1 lb (500g) cooked lamb, minced
1 oz (25g) butter
2 onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 dessp. curry powder
1 slice bread
1 dessp. chutney
2 eggs.
Melt the butter in a pan and cook the onions and garlic. When softened stir in the curry powder and fry for a further 2 -3 minutes. Add the minced cooked meat. Soak the bread in some water, squeexe it out and add to the pan with the chutney, working both in with a fork. Beat up one egg with a tblsp. stock and stir into the mixture in the pan. Season to taste and spoon into a well-buttered pie dish. Beat the final egg and pour this over the top of the mixture. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for half an hour.
Note: This recipe uses cold meat, minced. Alternatively you could use fresh lamb mince and then cook this before proceeding with the recipe.

Cheats Cock-a-leekie Soup:
Make this when you have several chicken carcases to boil down for stock. Remove any flesh from the bones and use this for the soup along with some of the stock.
8 oz (225g) or more of cooked chicken bits
3 oz (75g) bacon bits
1 lb (5oog) leeks
4 oz (110g) cooked prunes
Chop the leeks, discarding the green tops and add to a saucepan. Cover with chicken stock and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for five minutes. Add the chicken flesh, bacon bits and the prunes and continue simmering for a further 15 minutes. Season to taste.
Tip: Don't throw out the green bits from the leeks. Shred finely and use in stir fries or make an inspired table decoration by removing the white part to use in above recipe, then make very narrow cuts from the top down to within an inch and a half (4cm) of the base. Plunge this, head down, into a deep bowl of iced water. After a while the 'fronds' will curl back and look like an exotic plant.
Using your finger, push the inside of the leek up from the base end and tweak up the segments from the top as they appear. This will make it grow taller and taller and makes a great centrepiece for a buffet table.

Leek and Potato Soup:
The Romans believed that leeks improve the voice, so the story goes that Nero, needing rich, clear tones for his orations and singing, demanded leek soup to be served to him every day.
8 oz (225g) leeks
1 oz (25g) butter
1 3/4 pints (1 litre) chicken stock
1 large or 2 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
chopped parsley
Trim off the green part of the leeks and thinly slice the white part. Add the butter to a pan and when melted, lightly fry the leeks for 2 - 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and the potatoes and sommer gently until the potatoes are very tender. Season to taste. Can be eaten as is, or blitzed in a food processor or blender for a few seconds. Garnished with chopped parsley and serve with crusty bread.
Note: For a vegetarian version use water or water/milk instead of stock and just before serving swirl in a little cream.

My Dad used to love eating Fig Roll biscuits, and if you enjoy them too, why not make your own. The addition of grated chocolate may seem unusual but it really is worth including. The lemon flavoured pastry is also made in an unusual way. Make, taste and admit they are gorgeous. Even I think so andI don't normally like Fig Rolls.
Figgy Rolls: makes 28
there are two parts to this - the filling (which will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge) and the pastry.
Note: a mixed pack of large dried fruits saves buying a pack of each, but you must include dried figs if you want to make these, otherwise call them something else.
8 oz (225g) mixed large dried fruits: apricots, apples, pears, FIGS, and dates etc.
2 oz (50g) candied peel
4 tblsp. runny honey
2 oz (50g) grated dark chocolate
1 tsp. cinnamon
Mince or process the dried fruits and candied peel. Blend in the rest of the ingredients. Cover and chill for at least two hours. Or keep covered in a container in the fridge (see above).
2 oz (50g) softened butter
1 oz (25g) caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp grated lemon rind
6 oz (175g) self-raising flour
Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and lemon rind. Stir in the flour and knead lightly to a smooth dough. Cover and chill for at least one hour.
Divide both the filling and the pastry into two. Roll out the first piece of pastry into an oblong measuring 13" x 6" (33 x 16cm) . Roll one filling into a tube 13" (33cm) long. Place this on the pastry and roll up as you would when making sausage rolls. Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling.
Place both rolls onto a greased and floured baking sheet and flatten slightly with the rolling pin. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 190C, 375F, gas 5 until the pastry is golden.
Remove from the oven and, while still warm, slice into 1" (2.3 cm) portions. Cool on a wire rack.
Tip: Cutting after baking prevents the filling from oozing out and gives a much neater effect.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

To Use or Not to Use

Tips to save time. When cooking (but it works with other things), do as much advance preparation as you can. Have to say that having my shopping delivered saves an enormous amount of time trawling around the stores even though I might miss some offers (although you get plenty online - it is only the foods reduced because they are close to their sell-by-date that I miss). At one time, shopping for food I found very theraputic and - if I was more mobile and I had a car - I would certainly try out different stores and enjoy doing it.
Much of what we do is by habit, it helps to stand back and see if we could try a different approach. If it works re cost-cutting-cookery, it should also work in other areas.

Yesterday I found a newspaper cutting that had been saved for me when I was in hospital. It gave a daily list of foods that one person threw away during the week. Considering herself thrifty said person was amazed to read that the average mum throws away one-third of her shopping a week, so a check was made with her own discards. Having a family of four (two of them teenagers) the family shopping bill on average was £110 per week which - on the face of it seemed OK. But by the end of the week the foods she had chucked out had come to £46.37 which was almost half her budget.
Everything was listed, and as far as I could see, most of the foods she threw out could have used or frozen. Sausages with the sell-by date too close for comfort were discarded. Likewise bacon. Sell-by date always gives a day or two's grace, so both had still time to be used - the bacon certainly should keep for far longer in the fridge. The sausages could have been cooked and then frozen to be later sliced and added to pizzas or pasta dishes.
With a half a defrosted cheesecake that was left - possibly the only one thing I agree that had to be binned. But Covent Garden soup? She just didn't feel like eating it although it was OK. Again worth freezing? Half a French stick bought for sarnies (never made sarnies with a French stick) that could have been blitzed to make crumbs. Surplus coleslaw - why throw out, just force yourself to eat another salad.

Remains of a cooked turkey - she couldn't be bothered to make curry. So it was chucked. Freeze the meat AND make stock from the carcase. Half a bag of watercress - make soup. Half a tomato and pesto tart - should last longer than the sell by date. Why not make a meal with the turkey and coleslaw. Leeks, reduced in price thrown because the comment was 'they had to be eaten two days ago'. Most vegetables keep longer in the fridge than the given dates. Use common sense.
Smoked mackerel and creme fraiche. Bought to make a pate and now the fish was past its sell by date. Again - this is probably vacuum packed and should be OK for a few days longer. Can also be frozen. Like milk and yogurts, creme fraiche keeps a while longer in the fridge than you think it should.
Six free-range eggs discarded because they were past their sell-by date. Dear oh dear. If kept in the fridge I have found eggs at least a month (in truth two) past their date still sink to the bottom when put into a bowl of water. Proving they are still fresh enough to use.
Mushrooms thrown out because they were past their best. Couldn't make an omelette because she had thrown away the eggs. Chop and fry mushrooms to make duxelles - and add them to casseroles.
Too many carrots (don't tell me they have a sell-by date too - but of course everything does). These keep for literally weeks and weeks in the fridge. Semi-skimmed milk poured down the drain. Freeze it, freeze it.
A pot of basil - a few leaves used for garnish, the rest - she says - wasted! I could cry.

Remember - the sell-by date is purely for the stores protection. Once you have brought food home, the only date you need be concerned with is the use-by date and that generally allows a couple of days more useful life (especially when kept in the fridge). Just use your common sense - experience also helps. Myself, I find that bacon (kept in a special drawer in the fridge) lasts longer than the given date, as do eggs of course. Pots of cream, creme fraiche, yogurts also keep well. And cheeses. If there is a bit of mould growing on the cheese - then cut it off, the rest should be fine (we have eaten Red Leicester six months after its sell-by date). Grate any cheeses that have hardened, use like Parmesan. Best-before dates you can almost ignore as they mean very little apart from the flavour might diminish after that time. Just don't keep them forever. Some foods such a wheatflour are best eaten within the dates given. Dried pulses take longer to cook the older they are, so again best bought a packet at a time and used up with a year - two at the most. Rice and sugar do keep virtually for ever. Likewise honey.

A final warning. Although I am pretty laid back re given dates, I never EVER take risks. It is up to you what you do with what you've got and, if in doubt - throw out (rather than throw up!). Just remember the dates are there for our safety - that goes without saying but there is always a built-in safety margin purely to cover the stores and the manufacturers backs. If there was no margin - on a very hot day foods could have 'gone over' even before we get them home. In the summer, it is worth taking a cool-bag or cold box with you to the store and putting in foods you feel will benefit from keeping chilled.

Beef Carbonnade -serves four to six
An excellent family or dinner party dish as it makes the most of the cheaper cuts of stewing beef. To make it even cheaper, reduce the meat and add a lot more onions. It is mainly the gravy that makes this dish, so as long as there is some meat there, it needn't be the full amount. Ladled into individual large Yorkshire Puddings, with vegetables served on the side, this is a dish to be proud of.
1 lb (5oog) stewing steak
1 lb (5oog) onions, sliced thinly
2 tblsp. plain flour
1 pint (600ml) brown ale
1 pint (600ml) beef stock (use a cube if you wish)
2 oz (50g) dark brown sugar
pinch dried mixed herbs
Melt a knob of butter in a pan and add a little oil. Over medium heat cook the onions until golden. Drain, returning any oil to the pan. Add the beef, turning on all sides until brown. Layer the beef and onions in a casserole dish. Add the sugar to the dregs in the pan, stir and cook for 1 - 2 minutes. Stir in the flour to absorb the oil then slowly whisk in the brown ale followed by the stock and herbs. Heat slowly until thickened and pour over the meat. Cover and cook at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 2 - 3 hours or until the meat is very tender.
Serve with potatoes, carrots and a green vegetable. Or spoon the meat and gravy into large individual Yorkshire puddings (made in sponge cake tins - or can be bought from the frozen section of the store).
If there is any surplus gravy (which I doubt) it can be frozen to add to the next (basic) beef casserole, or it can be reheated thoroughly the next day for soup. Wonderful mopped up with crusty bread.

Monday, May 07, 2007

A Little Can Go a Long Way

Today my offerings are a hotch-potch of my cost-cutting recipes, hints and tips. Hope you find them to your taste.

Meat Loaf: - very economical and very, very good
4oz (110g) grated apple
4 oz (110g) minced beef
1 slice brown bread, crumbed
1 carrot, grated
1 onion, grated
dash of brown sauce
1 egg, beaten
1 tblsp. tomato puree
1 tsp. honey
Mix together the first seven ingredients and press firmly into a small loaf tin. Blend the tomato puree and the honey together and spread this on top. Bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for one hour then cover with foil and turn out the heat. Leave in the cooling oven for a further 15 minutes. Serve sliced, hot or cold.

Hints and Tips:
Buy tomato puree in the large cans or jars. Spoon contents into ice-cube trays and freeze. Then bag up cubes once solid. Usually no need to thaw, just stir one or more into stew, bolog. sauce, or whatever it needs adding to.
Chicken breasts have a small loose chicken'fillet' on the underside. Remove these, freeze and use for stir-fries, chicken strogonoff amd kebabs etc.
Use up surplus whipped double cream by piping it into rosettes and open-freezing. They freeze even better if a little icing sugar has been whipped in. When solid, store in a lidded container, and use for topping trifles and other desserts. These thaw out quite rapidly.

Coffee Cream Dessert:
2 oz (50g) dried milk powder
1/2 pint (400 ml) black coffee - hot
2 tblsp. sugar
2 eggs
Stir the milk powder and sugar into the coffee until completely dissolved. Break the eggs into a bowl, beat well and then gently whisk in the coffee mixture . Strain into a jug and pour into individual pots. Stand pots in a roasting tin with hot water half-way up the sides (bain-marie), and place in the oven and cook for one hour at 150C, 300F, gas 2. Remove pots and cool. Best served chilled with a rosette of cream on top.

Another use for an individual Yorkshire Pudding tin.
Small amounts of left-over pastry are often enough to roll into a saucer size. Keep a stack of these frozen flat as, once thawed, they are perfect for lining the four individual hollows in a Yorkshire Pudding tin. Follow the tip below and you can end up with four completely different dishes, all baked at the same time.
Line each depression with thinly rolled shortcrust pastry, and fill one with a quiche mixture, another with a cooked meat and vegetable filling (topping with pastry to make a meat pie); in the third spread a little jam over the pastry and fill with a little sponge cake mix to make a Bakewell Tart; the fourth fill with cooked apple and again top with a pastry lid to make apple pie (or use other fruits). Bake at 180C, 350F, Gas 4 for about 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden.
Ideally eat the meat pie on the day it is cooked (although it can be reheated thoroughly the following day), The rest will keep quite well to be eaten over the next few days.

Coconut Cookies:
These are a cross between a bun and a biscuit, as they can either be removed from the oven when just cooked through - to be eaten like a cake - or, baked on for a little longer, they turn into a crisper biscuit. Either way, they are delicious. Makes 2 dozen, so why not make 12 of each!
4oz (110g) margarine
4 oz (110g) caster sugar
few drops vanilla extract
1 tblsp honey
1 egg
7 oz (200g) plain flour
2 level tsp. baking powder
2 tblsp. milk
desiccated coconut and glace cherries)
Cream the margarine and the sugar, beat in the vanilla, egg and honey. Sift together the flour and baking powder and blend alternately with the milk into the creamed mixture. Drop heaped teaspoonfuls into a dish of dessicated coconut and roll into balls. Place on greased baking sheets leaving room to spread and flatten slightly, pressing a halved glace cherry into the centre of each. Bake at 200C, 400F, Gas 6 for about 10 minutes or until just turning golden. If wishing to make them crisper, cover lightly with foil, turn out the heat and leave them to cook on for a further five or so minutes.
For an alternative, coat with crushed cornflakes and decorated with a halved walnut.

Hints and Tips:
To prevent pancakes, drop scones etc. from sticking to the pan, heat the dry pan over a medium heat for several minutes before using. Add fat just before frying.

Meringue Crunch:
2 egg whites
5 oz (150g) caster sugar
6 oz (175g) 'crunch'
(crunch = crispy cereal, broken biscuits, chocolate chips, nuts etc)
Beat the egg whites with half the sugar until thick, then beat in the rest of the sugar until the meringue is really thick. Carefully fold in the 'crunchy bits'. Line 3 baking sheets with foil and either dot with spoonfuls of the mixture, or form three large circles of the meringue(one on each sheet), spreading flat. Place the meringues in a pre-heated oven (around 200) and immdiately turn off the heat. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR for at least 8 hours (ideally plan to leave this overnight). They should then be completely dried out. Peel off the foil and store in airtight tins. They should keep crisp for weeks or even months. Sandwich layers together with whipped cream and fruit (I used orange segments and slices of kiwi fruit).

Weight and See:
When fresh produce is priced by the unit they may appear to be the same size but differ in weight, often by many ounces. Wherever possible weigh - or if no scales you can often judge by holding one in one hand and one in another - especially iceberg lettuce, cabbage, even celery, because the looser the leaf the larger they may appear, but the lighter they will always be. No sense in paying for air trapped between the leaves.

Tips: Use a scone cutter to cut through the centre of large (party size) round quiches, fruit flans, cheesecakes etc. This make for an extra 'centre' helping (sometimes this can be cut in half to make two helpings) and you can cut neat wedge-shaped portions from around the side - leaving no tips to drop off on your clothes.

Pick herbs for drying during the morning (but wait until the dew has dried from the leaves) because this is the time the leaves will have their most intense flavour - after mid-day it diminishes. This is a scientific fact.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Pamper Yourself

Elderflower Cordial:
2 1/2 pints (1.5 lts) water
3 lb (1.5 kg) granulated sugar
2 oz (50g) citric acid
25 elderflower heads, washed and shaken dry
2 unwaxed lemons, sliced
Bring the water to the boil and stir in the sugar. When dissolved, remove from heat and cool. Stir in the citric acid, the elderflowers and the lemon slices. Cover and leave to infuse for 3 days, stirring occasionally.
Strain through a fine sieve or muslin and pour into warm, sterilized bottles. Seal. Store in a cool place (the books says it will keep indefinitely). Serve diluted to taste with water or use sparkling mineral water.

Elderflower Lotion: a smoothing toner for the skin
3 1/2 oz (100g) fresh elderflowers (no stalks)
OR 1 oz (25g) dried elderflowers
1/2 pint (300ml) boiling water
3 tblsp eau de cologne
Crush the flowers using a pestle and mortar (or whizz in a food processor). Put into a bowl and pour over the boiling water. Leave to cool. Strain through a fine sieve/muslin and stir in the cologne. Store in a dark bottle with a stopper and keep in the fridge. Use within a month.

Skin Scrub:
4 oz (11og) cornflour
2 oz (50g) wheat flour
4 oz (110g) dried milk
Mix together and store in an airtight container. After washing, blend a little of the mix with warm water to make a paste and massage face for a few minutes before rinsing off.

Face Masks:
1. Mix together one tblsp. natural yogurt with 1 tblsp mashed ripe strawberries. Apply to face and neck. Cover with a warm cloth. Leave for 10 minutes then rinse off with cold water. (not suitable for those with allergies).
2. Mix together 2 finely grated carrots, with 1 tblsp. potato flour and 1 egg yolk. Wash face and neck and immediately apply the paste. Leave for 20 minutes. Wash off with warm water and rinse with cold water.
3. For slack tired skin - mix together 100g ripe raspberries, one egg yolk, 15g each of ground almonds and honey. Smooth over face and neck. Leave for at least half an hour before rinsing off with tepid water.

Orange and Mint Tooth Powder
1 1/2 oz (40g) orange peel
1 oz (25g) dried mint leaves
2 tsp sea salt
Wash orange peel to remove any wax. Dry with a towel then grate to remove zest and leave this to dry overnight. Crush the mint with a mortar and add to the dried zest and the salt. Put in a screwtop jar or shallow tin. To use, dip a damp toothbrush into the powder and clean your teeth as normal. Rinse.

1 handful fresh blackcurrant leaves
18 fl.oz (500ml) water
2 tsp lemon juice
Boil the leaves in the water until half the water has evaporated. Add the lemon juice (freshly sqeezed) . Strain through a fine sieve. Bottle up in sterlized jars with lids and use 2 tsp in a glass of water to freshen the mouth.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Shopping Around

My only concern with shopping around (and here I am being very picky and mega-frugal) is to ask myself whether, in our case, the savings made by buying at the lowest prices from the three or four supermarkets will come to more than the cost of fuel used. In our case an emphatic NO. Too much travelling, too much time, too much hassle. And would we miss out on the bonus points.
Perhaps, because I always do one big shop from Tesco, as infrequently as possible, I am able to collect many points which convert to pounds. They send me, via their statement, enough vouchers = money I can deduct from my bill to cover the delivery costs leaving me extra to deduct from the online shopping bill plus more voucher-points which can be used when shopping personally in store. I still have £10 of online money-off vouchers (they can be used over several years) to use PLUS the points money on my last order. The instore points vouchers can only be used over a short period.
Also when you shop as infrequently as I do, the store begins to worry. 'Let's coax her back they say' and so offer me extra points to send another online order. I ignore that as I don't want anything anyway. Eventually, after many weeks, the offer goes up. When I ordered a week or so ago I was able to claim 700 extra points as a 'thank you' (my previous order was just before Xmas)'

Here are a couple of recipes, the layered pie (more a method than a recipe) ( like to think of as being my own invention. I say almost because, as with any recipe, you can be sure someone else has thought of it first.

Vegetable Layer:
I once made this for a demonstration (to be shown over two days) held in a marquee at our local park (the annual Flower Show). It was left in the fridge overnight (which was in the tent supposedly guarded by security men and dogs) and the next day I found most of it had been eaten and a lot of my canned and other foods left there had also gone missing. So much for security.
The Method:
This is a deep flan which uses the colour and flavour of vegetables to great advantage. Great for a summer buffet it also makes a very impressive vegetarian party dish.
The proportions are flexible according to the size of the flan and the variety of vegetables used.
Choose a loosebased container (spring-sided is ideal) and line this with shortcrust pastry.
For a small flan, beat one large egg (or two yolks) into 5 fl oz creamy milk. Double the amount for a larger flan. Pour a little of this egg mixture into the flan to just cover the base then lay over slices of part-cooked potato. Cover this with a layer of grated carrot. Continue with layers of lightly fried sliced onions, spinach or watercress leaves (or any dark green vegetable) and continue with different coloured layers until the flan is full. Top with sliced tomato and pour over the remaining milk/eggs (this is just to fill the gaps and hold the vegetables together).
Finish with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Cover with a trellis of pastry and bake for one hour at 300C, 400F, gas 6 or until the centre is firm to the touch. Leave to cool, remove from the tin and serve in slices.

Curried Potatoes:
2 tsp ginger root, scraped and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp each dried cumin and turmeric
1 tsp curry powder
3 ripe tomatoes, sliced
1/2 pint measure frozen peas, thawed
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
Heat a little butter in a saucepan and stir in the ginger and onions. Fry gently over a low heat until the onions are soft and golden. Add the spices, curry powder and tomatoes and continue cooking until any liquid has evaporated and the mixture has turned to a paste.
Stir in the potatoes until coated, then add 1/4 pint of water. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes then stir in the peas. Continue cooking until the potatoes are just tender. Serve hot with fresh chopped coriander.

Seasonal Tips: Time NOW to sow the seeds taken from a bought red bell pepper and they will grow into large plants. If growing indoors, pollinate the flowers using a small paintbrush (the type used by artists not interior decorators). Restrict the fruits to no more than six to a plant, four is better - the less you have the larger they will grow. They will start green, then later turn to red.
You can of course save the seeds from your own ripe peppers to grow on next year. Likewise, you can save the seeds from a ripe butternut squash and grow these on in the same way.
When buying fresh ginger root, look for one that has little fresh growing 'lumps' on it. Cut these off with a good piece of ginger connect to it, and these should grow into plants, eventually with the large roots beneath.
Remembering also, when picking mint (especially from plants bought in pots) to cut long lengths of stalk. Pick off only the bottom leaves, leaving the top few intact. Put these stems in water and they will root easily. Plant these to grow into more pots of mint. There are so many varieties of mint that canny cooks will beg a stem or three from a friendly gardener who is growing the one you need for making mint sauce. I think this is called spearmint but not sure. Anyone know?
Likewise do the same with basil. Cut down to a pair of leaves growing lower down the stem. These leaves will branch off into two stems, thus you get twice the amount of basil as originally. As with the mint, remove only the lower leaves from the removed stem (use these for cooking) and place the stem in a jar of water, and eventually these will also throw out roots. Plant these and once gone leggy, you can cut the stems down to a pair of leaves (as above) and start all over again. Believe me - one bought basil can make you twenty pots or more of flourishing herb by the autumn. Again, canny cooks might be able to barter these for some other produce at the local greengrocers or farmer's market.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Pot Luck or Planning Ahead?

For Lemon Curd, there seem to be quite a few different recipes, some use whole eggs but the following recipe uses just the yolks - which then, of course, leaves you with the whites. With these egg whites you can make meringues or (best of all) my Soft Scoop Ice-cream.

Lemon Curd:
8 oz (225g) sugar lumps, or gran./caster sugar
4 oz (110g) butter, pref.unsalted
3 lemons, pref. unwaxed
4 egg-yolks
If using waxed lemons, wash under a hot top. Rub the lumps of sugar over the peel to absorb the lemon oil. If not using lumps, finely grate some of the the zest and use this instead. Lightly beat the lemon juice into the egg yolks and put into a basin with the sugar, butter and zest. Placc over a saucepan of boiling water, the water should touch the bottom of the basin, and cook until the mixture has thickened - this can take about 20 minutes and keep stirring all that time. Pour into clean warm jars which have clean screw-top lids. When cool keep in the fridge.
Lemon curd does not have a long-shelf life. Eat within a month.
Tip: If you have a food processor, whizz together the sugar, egg yolks, softened or melted butter, lemon juice and zest, and then pour into the bowl and continue cooking over hot water. This helps to cut a few minutes off the cooking time.
I believe Lemon Curd can also be made in a microwave. If anyone has done this - please let us know the procedure.
Note: In a much earlier posting (before Xmas I am sure) there was an excellent recipe given for Lemony Apple Curd.

While searching for the above recipe I came across this unusual one which - although sounding strange - tastes absolutely wonderful.
Apricot and Carrot Jam:
8 oz (225g) dried apricots*
8 oz (225g) grated carrots
1 orange
2 large lemons
2 lb (900g) sugar
1 1/2 pints (300ml) water
* use the 'proper' dried apricots, not the no-soak kind - although you can experiment if you wish.
Soak the apricots overnight in the water then bring to the boil until softened. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, put the carrots into another pan with half a pint of water (450ml), and the grated rind and juice of the orange and the lemons. Add the lemon shells to the carrots to help extract pectin. (If you have some muslin, tie the lemon shells and its pips into this and add this to the carrots).
Bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour until the carrots are very, very soft. Remove the pieces of lemon. Whizz the carrots with their liquid in a processor to make a smooth puree then add to the pan of apricots with the sugar. Heat until the sugar has dissolved then bring to the boil. After about 20 minutes the jam should be at setting point. Bottle up in hot, sterilised jars and seal.
Tip: A good way to gauge setting point of marmalades and jams is to stir with a clean wooden spoon then lift it above the pan. When the last drips fall slowly from the spoon and the very last one sort of dangles from it, then it is ready to pot up.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Take Advantage of the Seasons

With trees in blossom so much earlier this year it is worth considering just what might be around for free. Even in the suburbs you should soon see elderflowers in bloom and with these you can make a really pleasant sparkling drink which was originally called 'elderflower champagne' only we are not allowed to call it by that name any more (well hard luck, I still will).
Another free food is Dandelion. In France they have a dish called Pissenlit au Lard made with dandelion leaves- (the translation of Pissenlit is 'wet the bed' - trade descriptions puzzle your head over that one) due to the diuretic properties of the plant. Best made with the tender new or blanched shoots (pop a flowerpot over the plant a week before you intend picking the leaves). The dandelion flowers will make a great wine, the roots- when roasted - can be turned into a type of coffee, even the milky sap can be used like a sticky glue (remember Gloy?). As far as the dandelion 'clocks', I was determined to find a use for those too. If given a coat of hairspray, and a cocktail stick stuck up the stem, the 'clocks' will stay in place and I have used these successfully in many a flower arrangements.

Elderflower 'champagne'':
Because this can be made with fresh, dried or even frozen elderflowers, this drink can be made all the year round. Avoid trees facing a road due to traffic fumes coating the blossom.
4 large heads of elderflowers, picked on a dry sunny day
juice and thinly pared rind of 1 lemon
2 tblsp. white vinegar
1 1/2 lb (700g) granulated sugar
8 pints (4.5 lt) water
Place everything into one large container (a new, washed bucket would do). Stir to help dissolve the sugar. cover with a cloth and leave for 24 hours (if possible in a warmish place ). Strain and pour into bottles* that have a screw-top. Screw on the lids and leave for a week (in warm weather) or two then test one to see how much 'fizz' has developed (see note below **re plastic bottles). If very fizzy, then unscrew all the lids to let out some pressure, then reseal and the fizz will build up again. Store in a cool place and drink within six weeks. If keeping longer, test for pressure every few days and release any if necessary as it can build up very rapidly.
* I always use plastic bottles that have contained a fizzy drink such as lemonade. Rinse well with cool boiled water and then bottle up the 'elderade' in these. Glass bottles were used in the past but all too often they can explode. **With plastic bottles you can at least give them a squeeze and when they feel tight you know the pressure has built up to the level where some must be released.
When opening any bottles containing fizzy drinks, always cover the lid with a cloth and hold the top away from you.
Tip: Depending on the weather, the flowers may contain so much natural yeast that the fizz will develop quite rapidly. So keep testing, testing. The drink is not alcoholic (at least up to six weeks) but having left some for much longer, I did feel a bit giggly after downing several glasses.
When drying elderflowers you will find the little flowers will fall from the stems, so pick and dry as-is in sets of four and, after removing the stems, measure the flowers in spoonsful from one set so that you will know how many to use when making the next batch of drink. Remember to write this down on the container label.
Don't forget that remaining elderflowers left on the tree will turn into berries which can then be used to make a wonderful wine, or added to jams, to make jelly etc.

Pissenlit au Lard:
The French have a lot more respect for their wild herbage than we do, so this dish is often served in their restaurants. Dandelions are also rich in minerals - so if they spring up in your garden - use them!
diced bacon, smoked or unsmoked
youn dandelion leaves, shredded
lemon juice
Fry the bacon gently until the fat flows. When crisp add the bacon, with its fat, to the shredded leaves. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and toss together. Grind some black pepper over the top and serve as a starter or side salad.

Parsley Honey: makes 1 1/2 half (700g)
Not quite a freebie, but a very good way of using up curly parsley that is past its prime. Originally this ancient recipe was made with just parsley, sugar and water, and - in truth - it is very much like runny honey, but I include just a small amount of honey to give it an even better flavour. Well worth making.
4 oz(110g) parsley, leaves and stalks
1 lb (450g) gran. sugar
1 1/2 pints (900ml) water
1 heaped tablespoon thick honey
Wash the parsley and put it into a pan with the water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain through a sieve into a measuring jug. You should now have 1 pint (570ml) of liquid. If not, make it up with plain water. Return the liquid to the pan, add the sugar and bring to the boil stirring all the time. Then leave at a rolling boil for 20 minutes. Add the honey and stir until dissolved. Remove from the heat and pot up in small, hot, sterilised jars. Screw on lids, label and store. It will keep for many weeks. Use as you would runny honey.

Herbs: A few hints and tips
To freeze parsley:
pack into a small poly bag. Roll up tightly and freeze, then you can just slice off what you need, removing the plastic as you go.
To dry herbs:
Early summer is the best time to dry herbs, just before they come into flower, as at that time they have the maximum amount of flavour in their leaves. So - even though it seems to make more sense, don't leave it until the end of the season to start drying. Ideally, pick the leaves still on their stems and and to dry in bunches. Once dry, put them in a paper bag (leaves still on stems) and just remove what you want when you want.
Bay leaves:
Although I have a huge bay tree by the back door (I just lean out and pick), I have heard chefs say that they believe dried bay leaves have an even better flavour.
Bouquet garni:
These are little muslin bags of fresh or dried herbs (trad. thyme, marjoram and bay) made to pop into stews and casseroles. Buy some muslin (Lakeland stock squares), and make your own. Tie with thin string leaving a long piece to dangle over the top of the pan so that the bag can easily be fished out after cooking.

Later I'll be giving recipes/method for making herb butters, herb jellies, and herb oils. (Remind me if I forget). The butter used is unsalted because this will keep for many months in the freezer.

Lavender Pillows:
Nowadays lavender is counted as a herb, the flowers used in cakes and to scent sugars (although I have never been tempted to try either). When in hospital my neighbour brought me a gift of a lavender spray which I used on my pillow each night (and subsequently) as it really helps me to sleep.
Use one third of dried lavender, one third of dried hop flowers*, one third dried scented rose petals. The amounts depend upon the size of the pillow you want (it can be quite small and needn't be too thick, just large enough for you to be able to smell the flowers). You could use an old, worn pillowcase cut to size. Fill with the above and stitch to close the end.
*Hop flowers can be bought from a home-brew shop (incidentally, as can citric acid crystals which are sometimes used in recipes).

Mentioning home-brew reminded me of a time when we used to make our own lager using a kit. It was excellent and far cheaper than when bought in cans. It helps to have a warm place for it to ferment, but a hot summer is just as good. If not too fussy about brands - and lager is the only drink to serve with curry as far as we are concerned - it might be worth thinking about.

So many 'white-goods' are sold well-below market price these days. We got Boris like that. See what is on offer, if you can pay cash then haggle.
Likewise, once you have freezer space, buy that slicer, and stock up with home-cooked cold sliced roast beef, turkey, ham, chicken, tongue, lamb, pork - even sliced home-baked bread If you have normally bought ready cooked and sliced meats, you will find your slicer can pay for itself after being used twice (mine did - details in an earlier posting), and it won't be long before the freezer is paid for either. Sometimes you need to put money up front before you can start to gain it back again. But believe me, over the months, you should end up quids in.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Pleasing your Purse

If you have an electric oven, then you may find it can take a long time to cool down. So you can either switch off about fifteen minutes earlier if cooking a casserole or joint, (or anything that is baking for a long time like a fruit cake), or use that heat when the oven is switched off - meringues can be popped in, and left overnight to dry out, croutons can dry out in a cooling oven, quick-to-bake biscuits such as oatcakes. When preparing a roast (which needs to stand for a while before carving), use the residual heat in the oven to warm the dishes for the vegetables (and also keep them warm) and also warm plates.
Any of you out there know of more tips to use a cooling oven?

Yes, I was inspired to be much more self sufficient after seeing The Good Life. Our kitchen is rather similar to their kitchen in the series, the back door and sink being in the same place, table in the middle, units at the end. Where their hall door was, we have a set of open shelves holding numerous plates, dishes and glasses we use every day, and on the higher shelves steamers, a cous-coussiere, spare saucepans, fondue set, Our hall door is in a different place and where Tom and Barbara had their range, we also have a place where a Yorkshire range used to be about 100 years ago, but which now houses our gas boiler. Like the Goods, we have a similar wooden table in the middle of the kitchen. Sadly no, our neighbours were nothing like Margo and Jerry, it would have been fun if they had been. But we have lovely neighbours on both sides.

Yesterday I cooked and strained some redcurrants ready to make jelly today. As I want the jelly to be clear it was a lengthy process insofar as it takes ages for the liquid to drip into a bowl. Had I used a sieve instead of a cloth it would have been speedier but the liquid would not have been so clear. The clarity is only for effect and does not make any difference to the flavour.
Left with pulped but dryish redcurrants in the bag (which you are expected to discard) I added some to a crumble I was making (rhubarb), also stirred some into a couple of yogurts I was going to eat for dessert (that worked wonderfully well). I could have frozen the pulp to later add when making jam, or to similarly use with other whole berries when making a Summer Pudding. If too many pips are a problem, then rub the pulp through a coarse sieve and most should get left behind. It really does pay not to throw anything away that can be later used.

One recipe for making the redcurrant jelly uses 4 lbs of currants, and 1/2 pint of water, both to be put in a pan and simmered for up to one hour until the fruit has collapsed. Then strain through muslin (or use a sheet of kitchen paper - peel to separate the sheet, most are usually two thin pieces fused together), and just use the one thin piece put into a sieve) . Leave until the juice has drained away (leave overnight if you can) and avoid pressing the fruit if you want a clear set. Measure the juice and to each pint add 1 lb sugar.
Put in a pan, bring to the boil for about 8 mins until at setting point. Pot in the usual way.

For a very firm set it was suggested you omit the water and add one and a quarter pounds of sugar to each pint of juice.
I am compromising. To 2 lbs of fruit (which is the amount I used), I used 1/4 pint of water and will add 500g of sugar to each pint of juice.

By the way, in the freezer I had two boxes of redcurrants. One contained fruit picked when they were seemingly ready (red bunches had been hanging on the bushes for a week or so), the other box contained fruit left a couple or so more weeks before being picked. These were much larger and juicier, perhaps because we had rain. So don't be too eager to bring in the crop, if unsure, pick in instalments, and you will then find the last lot could be double the size of the first berries. Same with black-currants.
Berry fruits can be extremely expensive when sold in supermarkets, and still relatively expensive from pick-your-own farms. As we are now urged to eat these berries because they are good for us I can't see the price coming down. Another great saving when we grow our own.

One thing I used to do when in the early days of self-sufficiency and DIY in the kitchen was to cost out how much money I had saved when bothering to make something instead of buying it as I had previously done. These savings were put into a jam jar and they mounted up so fast that it inspired me to seek more and more ways so that I could keep adding to the pile. Being able to see the jars fill up made me even more determined to continue. This money was used to buy useful kitchen equipment which then helped me save even more. Because I had only enough cash for a down payment, I bought our Kenwood Chef through a neighbour's mail order catalogue, putting down the initial deposit (only a few pounds - which of course came from my jar) and then paying off the rest weekly. This weekly payment was found by savings deliberately made during each week using the Chef so that when it was all paid for I could say it was (to my way of thinking) free - well at least it paid for itself. Nowadays I would first save (which I still do but not in the same way) and then shop around to find the best price.

Although there are not so many freebies around these days, we can all keep our eyes open to see what's on offer, and by using a little more thought (and a bit more effort - which uses up calories if you need more of an incentive) we can start filling those jars and fattening our purses.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Cost of Living

You won't believe this - but I have just picked up 'The Goode Kitchen', which a member of the family had put in a new place on my desk (having the new printer means everything had to be shuffled sideways), and underneath that isImy one and only copy (which I thought I had lost) of 'Have a Goode Year' (subtitled How to Celebrate on a Shoestring). As I have been searching for this book for what seems like several years, I am so thrilled because it was my favourite of all the three I wrote in that series. The book covered many festivities, saint's days etc. throughout the year, and dealt with not just recipes but gifts and decorations that can be made. Leafing through the pages I see I suggested that we throw a buffet on the first Sunday in May (bank holiday weekend) and "recall the good old days by serving some of the dishes your ancestors would have eaten". Here are a few from the book:

Cock-a-Goode'll-do (my name for it) - Chicken in a spicy sauce which, in the fourteenth century was so expensive to make that it was served mainly to monarchs (interestingly served at the Coronation of one of the kings - hence the origins of 'Coronation Chicken' even though some cook said she invented it specially for the Coronation of QEII. . Today I suggest using leftovers from a chicken and the end of a bottle of wine and scour the storecupboard for the rest.
6 fl. (175ml) white wine
6 oz (175g) thick honey
grated rind and juice of 1 small lemon
1 good pinch ground cloves
2 0z (5og) sultanas
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 lb (750g) cooked chicken, diced
1 oz (23g) flaked almonds, toasted
Put the wine, honey, lemon juice and rind of the lemon into a pan and simmer for five minutes until thickened.
Stir in the sultanas and cloves and simmer for one minute longer. Remove from heat. Beat the egg yolks and then fold into the wine and honey syrup. Heat very gently, stirring all the time until thickened. Cool, then fold in the chicken pieces. Chill and serve in a dish, sprinkle over the flaked almonds. Serve with a green salad or as part of the following dish.

Salamagundy: this is the salad to beat all salads and makes a wonderful buffet dish. In the olden days the ingredients were cut into small pieces and layered into a cone shape, but during the eighteenth century the foods were kept seperate. Ideally the Salamagundy should consist of as many balanced ingredients as possible, so choose your centrepiece (cold meats or fish) and surround this by small bowls of vegetables and pickles. Take your choice from these:
diced cucumber, chopped apples, shredded lettuce, gherkins
tomato wedges, shredded celery, seedless grapes, sliced mushrooms,
diced peppers, potato salad, hard-boiled eggs, sliced spring onions
diced beetroot, diced radish, coleslaw, saffron rice,
and I am sure you can think of many more.

From an earlier part of the book but well worth a mention:
Lemon Butter Biscuits: these delicate biscuits have a delightful texture due to the cornflour. Traditionally made with plain flour I once accidentally used self-raising and I felt they were fractionally better.
4 oz (100g) softened butter
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
1 egg
grated rind and juice of one lemon
2 - 3 drops vanilla extract
6 oz (175g) plain or self-raising flour
4 oz (100g) cornflour
Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg, lemon zest and juice, and vanilla. Sift together the flour and cornflour and fold this into the butter mixture. Knead lightly to form a smooth dough. Form into a tube and wrap in clingfilm. Chill for at least 2 hours.
Remove clingfilm, and either cut the tube into thin slices or roll out thinly onto a floured board and cut into chosen shapes. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for about 5 - 7 minutes or until just beginning to colour. Cool on wire rack and store in airtight tin when cold.
Tip: You can cook these biscuits in ten minutes using the residual heat of a just-turned-off oven which was heated at 200C, 400F, gas 6. So plan for this by making the dough a day or so in advance and keeping chilled in the fridge.