Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cooking for One or More

Risi e bisi with chicken: serves 2
4 oz (110g) long grain rice
1 dessp olive or sunflower oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 cooked chicken breast (or meat substitute fillets)
9 fl.oz (250ml) veg. or chicken stock, hot
2 oz (50g) frozen peas
2 oz (25g) grated hard cheese, pref. Parmesan
Measure the rice and put into a pan with just under twice the measure of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes until just tender. Drain and set to one side. Put the oil in a frying pan and add the onion and fry gently until softened. Shred the chicken. Add the stock to the onions and when simmering, add the peas, chicken and rice. Heat for 2 - 3 minutes stirring to mix everything together. Stir in the cheese. Serve in bowls.

Sticky Onion Make-ahead: (makes 600g) (F)
This is worth making as it will keep for a week in the fridge and can be frozen for several weeks.
Fried onions, given lengthy cooking, will begin to brown (caramelise) and start releasing their natural sugars. Adding a tsp of sugar speeds up this process. Do not fry too quickly and keep the heat no higher than medium (even less), if they begin to catch add a splash of water.
2 oz (50g) butter
12 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp sugar
Using the largest frying pan you have, melt the butter then stir in the onions. Cover with a lid (or foil) and cook gently for about 10 minutes until the onions have softened. Remove the lid, sprinkle in the sugar then cook for 12 -20 minutes longer, stirring from time to time, until all the liquid has evaporated. By then the onions should have turned golden and sticky. Spoon into a lidded container and keep chilled. If freezing, divide into 6 batches, one batch will make the following 'meal for two'.

Fast Onion Soup: serves 2
1 batch sticky onions
1 tsp plain flour
15 fl.oz (425g) beef stock (from a cube)
little crushed garlic (opt)
Reheat the onions in a saucepan, add garlic (if using) and cook for 2 mins. Stir in the flour and cook for one minute, then add the stock. Bring to the boil, stirring all the time, when thickened check seasoning, adding some if necessary. Pour into bowls. Serve with croutons. Traditionally served topped with toasted cheese.
Tip: It has been known for me to use an oxtail flavoured cup-a-soup instead of using a stock cube. Well, nobody says I am perfect.

Bangers and Mash with sticky onion gravy: serves 2
4 - 6 sausages
1 batch sticky onions
2 tsp plain flour
7 fl.oz (2ooml) beef stock
Worcestershire sauce
mashed potatoes
Fry the sausages in a pan until browned, then remove and keep warm. To the juices in the pan add the onions and the flour and stir for 1 minute then gradually stir in the stock. Simmer for five minutes until smooth. Add a dash of Worcestershire sauce and serve with the sausages and mashed potatoes.

Chocolate and Marshmallow Pudding: serves 8 (will reheat)
This is based on a Jamie Oliver recipe where he uses a basic cake batter (the same weight of eggs, sugar, flour and butter) and adds other ingredients, so a smaller amount could be made by adjusting measurements. Then use a smaller tin, or allow less baking time.
14 oz (400g) butter
14 oz (400g) caster sugar
7 eggs
14 oz (400g) self-raising flour
6 tblsp cocoa
hot water
2 tsp baking powder
1 bag small marshmallows
Make the cake batter in the usual way by creaming together the butter and sugar then adding the eggs and beating until the mixture is very light and fluffy. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Blend the cocoa powder with enough hot water to make it runny then add both the flour and the cocoa mixture to the cake batter and mix well, adding a little milk if the mixture is too firm. Stir in the marshmallows then pour the mixture into a large greased shallow dish (a roasting tin would be ideal), and bake for 40 minutes at 18oC, 350F, gas 4.
Serve as-is with ice cream, or - for special occasions - first top the hot pudding with the following sauce THEN add the ice cream
Fudge Sauce:
8 oz (225g) each, butter, dark (70%) chocolate, icing sugar
8 fl.oz (225ml) double cream
Stand a metal bowl over hot water, put in the chocolate, when that is melting add the butter, then stir in the icing sugar and the cream. Whisk together until smooth. Pour this warm sauce over the hot pudding and - another reminder - don't forget the ice cream.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Meals for Picky Eaters

Today I am including recipes which might suit children, teenagers, and possibly even older folks who won't touch certain foods even though should because they are very good for them. It often helps to name a dish in a certain way such as Bart Simpson's Super Soup (or in Grandma's case: The Queen Mum's Favourite Soup) Let whoever you are cooking for believe their idol actually has eaten it, and they almost certainly will give it a go.

Sunshine Soup: (F) (V)
1 oz (25g) butter
1 lb (450g) carrots, chopped or grated
1 medium potato, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 pints (1.2 litres) vegetable (or chicken) stock
4 oz (100g) cheddar cheese, grated
5 fl.oz (150ml) milk
Melt the butter in a pan and add the carrots, potato and onion. Fry for about 10 minutes until the onion has softened. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil, partly cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes, until all the vegetables are very soft. Remove from heat and pour into a blender or food processor (or use one of those electric wand mixers you can use in a saucepan) and blitz until a smooth puree. Add the cheese and blitz again. Reheat adding milk (cream is even nicer), and let them add their own seasoning. Serve with whatever they like best: buttered toast, crusty bread rolls, breadsticks or croutons.
Tip: This is the type of soup where you could include just a little of another vegetable such as butternut squash, or parsnip. Even blitz in cooked yellow peppers as they are quite sweet (most children like to eat anything sweet). If you prefer to omit the grated cheese, you could blitz in some cream cheese.

Tuna Fingers or Balls: (F)
1 x 200g can tuna in oil
3 oz (75g) fresh breadcrumbs
2 oz (50g) cheddar cheese, finely grated
1 large egg, beaten
oil for frying
Tip the tuna, together with its oil, into a bowl and add the breadcrumbs, cheese and egg. Mix everthing well together. Either form into 12 balls, the size of pingpong balls, or make 6 -8 larger ones and form into fish-finger shape. Chill (or freeze) until ready to cook.
Heat 2 tblsp oil in a pan and fry the chilled shapes for 8 - 10 minutes (allow longer if from frozen), turning often. They need to be golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm until the rest of the dish (which should be whatever they like to eat) is ready.
Tip: use canned salmon AND tuna together if you wish, include any bones as these are packed with calcium and grind down to nothing anyway. Herbs add extra flavour. So does tomato ketchup which can be served with the meal or some incorporated into the mixture.

Not normally recommended, but favourite crisps crushed and used with egg to coat fish balls, fish cakes, chicken or what you will (as you would use egg and crumbs) will often get picky eaters gobbling up whatever they cover. Once they accept what they have eaten, use less crisps and more crumbs next time, and eventually you can leave out the crisps altogether.

Beckham's Burgers: makes 8 (F)
Full of healthy ingredients, start by incorporating very small amounts of any that are disliked, then increase slowly each time you make them. By using more of the ingredients they DO like, the less favourite ones can usually be disguised.
2 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 oz (75g) porridge oats
1 lb (450g) fresh turkey or chicken mince
3 oz (75g) no-soak apricots, finely chopped
1 carrot, grated
1 egg, beaten
Heat 1 tbslp oil in a pan and fry the onion for five minutes, stir in the oats and fry two minutes longer. Tip into a bowl and leave to cool. Add the rest of the ingredients and using hands, mix together well. For a smoother texture blitz them all together in a food processor. Season to taste and form into 8 patties. They can be frozen at this point, thaw before cooking. But see tip below).Heat the remaining oil in a pan and brown the burgers on each side (3 - 4 minutes) then transfer to a baking sheet and cook in the oven for 15 minutes longer at 200C, 400F, gas 6. Serve in baps with favourite toppings: fried onions, pickle, cucumber slices, salad...
Tip: Quite a few things can be added to burgers without them being noticed. Grated cooked beetroot is another good addition and if blitzed with the turkey or chicken will colour it to look more like beef, the flavour will be hardly noticed. (If using thawed frozen mince to make the burgers DO NOT refreeze).

Sweet 'n Spiced Your Choice: serves 4
This dish is made with chicken wings, but - as the name suggests - you can choose another main ingredient. Could be chicken fillets, sausages (best split lengthways), even baby burgers, and a good way to introduce meat substitutes to youngsters.
4 tblsp runny honey
4 fl.oz (125ml) soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed (opt)
small piece of ginger, peeled and grated*
6 tblsp sweet chilli sauce
16 - 20 chicken wings (or your choice)
Mix together the honey, soy, garlic, ginger and chilli sauce. Put the chicken wings into a roasting dish and pour over the dressing. Leave to marinate for an hour, preferably overnight in the fridge, turning and basting from time to time. Cook in the oven 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 35 minutes, again turning and basting. Cook until crispy and browned. Serve with a favourite salad.
Tip: * Keep root ginger in the freezer and grate it from frozen. The peel usually keeps on the top side of the grater so you may not need to remove it first.

Subs for Students: serves 2
2 sub rolls or 1 ciabatta
1 tblsp mayo or horseradish sauce
1 small (pref. sweet or red) onion, finely sliced
1 tblsp sunflower oil
thinly sliced cooked roast beef*
thinly sliced tomato
grated cheese
salad leaves (pref. watercress)
Split the rolls or the ciabatta down the middle (leaving one side just attached) and spread the cut sides with mayo or horseradish. Heat half the oil in a pan and fry the onion until soft and tender (10 minutes) or longer if you want it crisp. Drain and set aside. Put some salad leaves on the base of the sub, top this with grated cheese, cover this with the tomatos, then the beef and finally top that with the onion. Add more salad on the top of that if there is room. Close the subs and start eating. If using one ciabatta loaf, once filled, cut this in half to share.
Note: * It doesn't have to be roast beef (unless home-cooked this will be expensive), use instead thin slices of corned beef, or those wafer thin slices of ham or chicken. Or even cooked and split (lengthways) sausages or those ready-to-eat thin slices of chorizo/pepperami.

Join the Club: serves 1 (V)
This American club sandwich can be filled with favourites, tucking in a few 'extras' (if you know what I mean). We all know the BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato), but here is a veggie version which of course, can be adapted to suit.
3 slices bread (preferably granary)
2 dessp. hummous
1 handful watercress (or rocket)
1 carrot, grated
lemon juice
2 tomatoes, thickly sliced
1 oz (25g) cheddar cheese, grated
1 tblsp olive oil
Mix together the watercress, carrot, and oil with a squeeze of lemon juice. Toast the bread and spread the hummous on each slice. Top one slice with the cress mixture, lay over the second slice of toast and top with with the tomatoes and grated cheese. Cover with the final slice of toast, hummous side down. Press down and eat as-is or cut across diagonally. If serving to adults, you can spear the diagonals with a cocktail stick to keep the layers in place.
Tip: Instead of hummous you could use peanut butter, or mayo. Or - if you want something a bit upmarket - introduce cooked prawns and cucumber with a guacamole spread.

Nutty Nibbles:
Whisk together equal amounts of olive oil and honey, season with a pinch of sea salt and a pinch of spice according to taste: cayenne, paprika, or chilli. Pour this over a bowl of mixed unsalted nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts etc), stir so the nuts are all coated, then roast in the oven 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 10-15 minutes, stirring and turning halfway through. When golden leave to cool before serving.
Tip: include some of the larger seeds as well - the sunflower, pumpkin etc. as they will look like small nuts anyway. Best coat the seeds separately as they need adding halfway through the cooking stage to prevent burning.

Of course I cannot finish without including a cake recipe. One that is full of goodness, and - as ever - add a few more bit and pieces (nudge, nudge, know what I mean!). The nuts are optional and again can be what you have rather than going out to buy what it says.
Apricot, Nut and Chocolate Loaf: cuts into 12 slices (F)
4 oz (100g) no-soak apricots, chopped
5 fl.oz (150ml) orange juice, pref fresh
4 oz (100g) butter, softened
4 oz (100g) light brown sugar
2 eggs
4 oz (100g) ground almonds
6 oz (175g) self-raising flour
3 tblsp milk
2 oz (50g) chocolate chips or grated chocolate
3 oz (75g) pecan or walnut halves
icing sugar for dusting
Butter and line the base of a 2 lb (1.2ltr) loaf tin, it helps to butter and flour the sides as well. Put the prepared apricots in a small pan with the orange juice and simmer for five minutes. Cool. Into a bowl put the butter, sugar, eggs, almonds, flour and the milk and beat until smooth (this part can be done in a food processor if you wish). Into this mixture stir in the chocolate and two-thirds of the nuts (these can be chopped if you wish) and finally stir in the apricots with their liquid. Mix well then pour into the loaf tin, smoothing the top. Scatter over the remaining nuts and bake for 50-60 mins at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until firm and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to stand in the tin for 5 or so minutes before turning out onto a cake airer. Dust with icing sugar. When completely cold wrap tightly in foil. It will then keep moist for up to a week. Can be frozen for up to 3 months.
Tip: If using the juice from an orange, grate the zest and add this to the mixture along with the sugar, eggs etc. If no ground almonds then substitute with plain flour (the gr.almonds have no raising agent), but the end result may not stay moist as long. If the cake is wolfed down (as it surely will be) next time you make it use half apricots and half prunes.

A final Tip: when making a dark cake, such as chocolate brownies or a fruit loaf, blitz a couple or so (stoned) prunes into a puree and mix these into the cake batter. They will make the cake darker, more succulent and will almost certainly not be noticed.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Cheaper or Not?

The advice these days is to allow 100g per animal protein per serving - originally every day but now even less, maybe four times a week, vegetable proteins taking priority. Checking on-line at Tesco's I see the cheapest stewing beef worked out at 38.8p per 100g (and this is 22g of protein). Om a tight budget, then this is the starting point.
Medium Eggs: (7.2g protein) would need 3 to match the meat - average price is 10p egg, so this works out cheaper.
Porridge Oats: (20g per 1p for cheapest). 30g oats gives 3.5 of protein so multiply by 6 to almost equal the meat and this could work out at around 9p. Good value.
Pulses: Practically all pulses contain around 11g protein per 50g dry weight, which works out to equal the meat as long as we remember that once soaked it will weigh a lot more. Cost depends upon which pulse used.
Soya beans at 18g protein per 50g. A good meat substitute.
Split Peas: This is the best! 22g protein per 50g. One of the cheapest dried foods on the market (sorry price not found).
Sweetcorn: Another good one. 25g protein per 100g. Canned or fresh (cob weight not counted) a good one to serve.
Quorn Chunks: 12g protein per 100g (half the protein value of meat)
Tofu: 8.1g per 100g (even less protein value)
Cashew nuts: 8.9 Mixed nuts: 11 Peanuts: 13 (all per 50g)

With garden vegetables, an average of 4g protein per 100g for Broad Beans, Broccoli, Sprouts. Runner beans are very low at 1.6g. Fresh peas are 6.9g frozen 5.7g.

Other animal proteins are fish - which are between 18-20g protein per 100g weight. Canned salmon has 24g as against 20g fresh. Canned sardines 23g (drained weights only). Canned tuna has the same protein content as fresh (slightly higher if canned in oil).

yogurt: 5.7g protein per 100g
cheddar cheese: 13g per 50g.
Brie: 9.6g per 50g
milk: 3.3g per 100 ml.

Obviously I haven't covered everything, but when cutting costs or planning a vegetarian meal, then the above info I hope will be useful. If anything has been left out that you wish to know more about, then just ask. Please remember I am not a nutritionist, just a housewife with more than a normal interest in food. All the information above I get from books.

Worth remembering that although animal protein is the most expensive, it does contain other necessary nutriments such as minerals which are often lacking with vegetarian proteins. Also vegetable protein is not as easily absorbed by the body unless taken with another type of veggie protein (or an animal protein such as milk) . So there is more to adjusting to a meat-free diet, than just cutting it out altogether.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Corn-ucopia of Delectable Dishes

Now to sweetcorn, an alternative name is maize. Have to admit I could eat sweetcorn straight from the can, I love the crunchy sweetness. An interesting fact is that fresh sweetcorn should be cooked within minutes of picking 'which is why really perfect sweetcorn can never be bought in a shop'. It seems that canned or frozen corn is thus the best. In the Americas, in Italy, and many other countries, maize is ground and used as a flour, where we would normally use wheat. In Africa it is called 'mealies', and in Italy 'polenta', here we call it 'cornmeal'. An aside to this - semolina and polenta are often substituted for each other in certain dishes, but as semolina can be made from both wheat or corn, perhaps best to read the packet if allergic to wheat.

Sweetcorn is inexpensive enough, a 200g can (own-brand) can cost around 15p (in truth it was a pack of three for 46p) . Other (named) brands can triple that price. So here are a few recipes which use this sweet-tasting vegetable. You will note I have highlighted certain words in blue or green to draw attention to parts of the dish that can be frozen, or suitable for vegetarians.

Sweetcorn Dumplings: makes 8 (V)
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
pinch salt
2 oz (50g) butter, chilled and cut into cubes
salt and pepper
1 tblsp chopped chives
5 oz (150g) sweetcorn kernels
8 tblsp cold water
Put the flour and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter until like crumbs (or sling the lot in a food processor and blitz for a short time). Season to taste. Add the remaining ingredients, and mix together to form a smooth, soft dough. Form into eight balls. Twenty minutes to half an hour before the end of the cooking time of a oven-baked casserole, put the dumplings on the top and cook, uncovered, for the remaining cooking time.
Variation: Instead of butter, used suet grains (these can be vegetarian suet), and if cooking the meal on the hob, place on top of the stew but cover with a lid before the final cooking time.
Tip: If using canned sweetcorn, share between the above and one of the following recipes. Surplus canned sweetcorn can be frozen.

Smokey Fish Pie: serves 4
1 lb (450g) potatoes
4 tblsp creme fraiche
16 fl.oz (450ml) milk
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb (450g) smoked haddock
1 tblsp finely chopped parsley
1 carrot, diced
half a red bell pepper, diced
1 small onion, or a shallot, finely diced
3 oz (75g) frozen or canned sweetcorn
3 oz (75g) frozen peas
bare ounce (20g) of cornflour
Boil the potatoes until tender, drain and mash with 1 - 2 tblsp creme fraiche, adding a little milk only if necessary to make a smooth mash. Season to taste. Put the milk into a pan with the bay leaf, black pepper and the fish. Poach for about five minutes until the fish is just cooked. Remove the skin, flake the fish and place at the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Strain the poaching liquid and reserve. Boil or steam the vegetables until tender, drain and spread these over the fish. Scatter over the sweetcorn and peas. Make a white sauce by mixing a little of the fish liquor with the cornflour, then stir this into the remaining liquid. Bring to the boil until thickened, remove from heat, stir in the remaining creme fraiche, and the parsley. Pour this over the fish/vegetables and top with the creamy mashed potatoes, keeping the top roughly peaked (at this stage it can be kept chilled in the fridge to cook the following day). To cook, bake for 40 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for forty minutes until golden brown.

The following recipe is based on Jambalaya, and although intended for microwave cooking, would cook just as well (and probably in the same amount of time) on the hob.
Jumbleaya: serves 4
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
easy-cook rice
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
8 oz (200g) chorizo sausage, cut into chunks
1 x 200g can sweetcorn drained
sprinkling Cajun seasoning (or whatever you wish)
salt and pepper
Tip the tomatoes into a microwavable bowl. Fill the empty can with the rice and add that to the tomatoes, fill the can with water and pour this over the rice and tomatoes. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, season to taste. Cover bowl with cling-film, making two holes in it with a knife. Microwave for 10 minutes on High. Remove the cling-film, give everything a good stir (jumbling it all up together), then return the bowl, this time uncovered, to the microwave for a further 10-12 minutes until the rice is cooked. Remove from the oven, cover with a plate and leave to stand for 1 minute before serving. Good served with a dollop of creme fraiche.

Tuna and Sweetcorn Fish Cakes: makes 8
1 lb (450g) potatoes, boiled and mashed
2 x 185g cans tuna in oil, drained and flaked
4 spring onions, finely chopped
1 x 200g sweetcorn, drained
2 tblsp finely chopped parsley
lemon juice
salt and pepper
plain flour
Put the mashed potatoes into a bowl and add the flaked tuna, the onions, sweetcorn and parsley. Add the juice of a lemon, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine everything thoroughly. Divide into eight, using floured hands, form the mixture into fishcakes. Dust each with flour and then put in the fridge to chill for half an hour.
To cook - fry in shallow oil for five minutes on each side until crisp and golden and heated through.

Grasmere Gingerbread: has a shortbread like texture
8 oz (225g) flour
4 oz (110g) butter
4 oz (110g) soft brown sugar
2 oz (50g) candied peel or preserved ginger
1 dessp ground ginger
1 tblsp golden syrup
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
Cream together the butter and sugar, then add the golden syrup. Add the rest of the ingredients and press into a buttered tin and bake at 150C, 300F, gas 2 for 40 minutes until firm.
Note: suggest sifting the flour with the bicarb and salt before adding to the creamed mixture. If no golden syrup in the cupboard, substitute runny honey, not traditional but an alternative.

Lard is used in many old recipes, much cheaper than margarine it does work well. If you prefer use all margarine. In the old days margarine was hard and came in blocks, this is also cheaper than the soft margarine we use today, so worth buying a block for using in old recipes.
Westmorland Parkin:
1 lb (450g) medium oatmeal
8 oz (225g) demerara sugar
8 oz (225g) flour
8 oz (225g) black treacle
4 oz (110g) lard
4 oz (110g) margarine
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
milk to mix
Mix together the flour, oatmeal, ginger and spice. Melt the lard and margarine in a pan with the sugar and treacle. Once the sugar has dissolved remove from the heat. Pour into the dry ingredients. Mix the bicarb with the milk then add to the bowl. Combine all thoroughly. Put into a well greased tin and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until firm (the recipe didn't give times). Cut into squares when cold, or wrap and store for several days before eating.

Kendal Mint Cake:
1 lb (450g) sugar, white or soft brown
1/2 tsp peppermint essence
1/4 pint milk (5 fl.oz/150ml)
Put the milk and sugar into a pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Boil rapidly until soft-ball stage has been reached (118C/240F). Remove from heat and add the essence. Beat thoroughly until smooth and thick then pour into a buttered tin to 1/4" depth. Mark into squares as it sets.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Is It Worth It?

When you feel like snacking, but trying to avoid the crisps, make up a batch of these:
Indian Spicy Snack:
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp paprika
salt and peper
3 oz (75g) each: almonds, brazil nuts, pecans, cashew nuts, walnuts
Put the oil and the spices into a bowl and mix well. Stir in the whole or partly chopped nuts* and stir to coat, season to taste. Spoon out on to a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes at 200C, 400C, gas 6 or until lightly toasted. Best served warm.
Note: Instead of the paprika you could use a smaller amount of chilli powder. As long as you keep the weight of the nuts the same you can keep it down to three varieties. *Keep the nuts whole, or chop the brazils in half or quarters, none should be smaller than a whole cashew nut.

Savoury Flapjack Loaf:
4 oz (110g) porridge oats
2 tsp baking powder
4 oz (110g) plain flour
4 oz (110g) chopped dates or sultanas
2 tblsp thyme leaves, chopped
1 small onion, grated
1 egg
good pinch salt
black pepper
4 fl.oz (125g) milk
2 - 3 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
Mix together all the ingredients except the oil. The mixture should be fairly wet, like a thick batter, if too dry add more milk, if too wet add more oats or flour.
Take a baking tin and put in half the oil. Put into the preheated oven, temperature 200C, 400F, gas 6, and heat for five minutes. Remove from oven (take care the tin will be hot) and immediately tip in the mixture and shape into a 7" (18cm) flattish loaf. Brush the remaining oil over the top. Return tin to the oven and bake for 20 minute then, using a fish slice, turn the loaf over and bake for a further 6-8 minutes until brown. Remove from oven, place on a cake airer, cool slightly, then cut into wedges to serve. Best served and fresh the day it is made (if cooled down, reheat in the oven or microwave). Lovely served with cheese, soups, Ploughmans's etc.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Counting the Cost

Brunch or Lunch Apple Rarebit: serves 2 (V)
2 thick slices wholemeal bread
6 oz (175g) Wensleydale or Cheddar cheese, grated
couple or more shakes Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp mustard powder (or made mustard)
3 fl.oz (900ml) milk
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 apple, peeled and cored
2 eggs
2 oz (50g) butter
(for non veggies include 4 rashers smoked bacon)
Using a grill, toast the bread on one side only. Mix together the cheese, W.sauce, mustard, milk and pepper to make a smooth paste. Spread this over the untoasted sides of the bread. Cut the apple into four rings. Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the apple slices, turning as they start to caramelise. While these are cooking, poach the eggs (these can be done in advance and kept in chilled water then plunged into hot water for one minute to reheat). Put the bread and cheese under the grill, and when golden and bubbling, put onto two warm plates. Place two slices apple over the cheese, and a poached egg on top of each slice.
For non veggies: fry the bacon with the apples, and when serving, place over the apples and under the egg.

In one of Nigella's programmes I saw people dunking crisp biscuits into their drinks. Maybe it was coffee, could have been something stronger. However, you might wish to do the same so here is a recipe to make your own Biscotti - the twice baked biscuit.

Biscotti: makes 24
2 oz (50g) butter, softened
2 oz (50g) whole almonds, blanched
4 oz (115g) caster sugar
1 egg
15ml Grand Marnier liqueur*
finely grated zest of one small orange
6 oz (175g) plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 oz (40g) polenta (or fine semolina)
2 oz (50g) shelled pistachio nuts
Put the butter and sugar into a bowl and cream together. Beat in the egg, liqueur and orange zest. Sift together the flour, baking powder and coriander, stir in the polenta and mix these dry ingredients into the creamed mixture. Beat at low speed (or stir) to form a dough. Turn this out onto a floured surface and knead in the nuts. Divide the dough in half and roll each into a sausage shape approx 2" (5cm) wide by 3/4" (2 cm) deep. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 or 4 for half an hour or until just firm. Remove from oven, leave to cool for 10 minutes then cut into 1/2" (1 cm) slices, lay these, cut side down on the baking sheet and return to oven for a further 5 - 10 minutes until the biscotti are crisp. Cool and store in an airtight container.
Note: * any orange flavoured liqueur would do. Why not make your own. A recipe for this was given in an earlier posting, possibly late last year. If you do not wish to add alcohol, then substitute orange juice and more zest.
You could omit the coriander, it is only there for the flavouring, likewise use all almonds and leave out the pistachios. The end result should be much the same in texture but with slightly less flavour.

Some hints and tips which I have collected over the past years:
to dress salads:
Pour salad dressing into a bag, then add the salad leaves, give a good shake and just tip the leaves onto the plate - saves a lot of mess.
to prevent bananas browning:
Put firm, unpeeled bananas into a bowl of iced water. Leave for 10 minutes. These can now be peeled and sliced and should keep up to four hours without browning.
American frosting:
Using a double boiler, or bowl standing over simmering water, put in 6 oz (175g) jam and 3 large egg whites and beat together for about 10 minutes or until it holds its shape when the beaters are lifted. This needs to be used immediately, spread over a sponge cake or whatever, best served at once but should stand for a couple of hours.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Eat now, Freeze for Later.

A selection of dishes which can also be frozen.

Mediterranean Meatballs: (F)
handful of parsley and basil, stalks removed
1 lb (450g) pork mince
1 egg, beaten
1 slice bread, crumbed
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper
2 tblsp light olive oil, or sunflower oil
Chop the herbs and mix together with the pork, egg, garlic, breadcrumbs and onion (this can be done by putting the lot in a food processor and giving a quick blitz), Season to taste. Shape into 20 balls, or more if you like them smaller. Put the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and fry, turning often for about 10-20 minutes, depending upon the size of the meatballs. They need to be cooked through if intending to freeze. Once cooked, drain, bag up, cool and freeze. If intending to make the meatballs to eat that day, then cook for five minutes, then pour over a tomato (passata type) sauce and simmer for 25 minutes longer. Serve with pasta. The complete pasta dish can also be frozen. Thaw in the fridge overnight then reheat gently until piping hot.

Beetie Burgers: makes 4 (F)
18 oz (500g) minced beef steak
4 oz (100g) cooked beetroot
1 onion, grated
1 tsp horseradish sauce (opt)
fresh breadcrumbs/ egg yolk
salt and pepper
Put the meat into a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Grate the beetroot and mix into the beef together with the onion and horseradish. If the mixture is a bit slack, add a few breadcrumbs and an egg yolk to bind together. Divide into four (or more) and shape into burgers (they can be frozen at this stage).
To cook, thaw if frozen, then fry in a frying pan, or preferably a griddle pan, for 3 -4 minutes on each side, making sure they are cooked through. Serve on half a toasted bap with a slice of beetroot or onion, and a dollop of creme fraiche. Green salad on the side.

Parsnip Hash Browns: serves 6 (F) (V)
1 lb (450g) waxy (salad or new) potatoes
12 oz (350g) parsnips (or carrots)
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 egg, beaten
4 tblsp sunflower oil
Peel and core the parsnips and coarsely grate. Peel the potatoes (only if you wish to) and also coarsely grate. Put into a clean tea cloth and wrap up, twisting the ends tightly to squeeze out as much liquid as possible, then tip the veggies into a bowl and add the onion, garlic and egg. Form into a circle which will fit a large frying pan and divide into six. Separate the triangles and flatten the pointed end to make a wedge shape (you can make them smaller and thicker if you wish). Heat half the oil in the frying pan and fry three of the wedges over a gentle heat for five minutes on each side until golden. Drain on kitchen paper and repeat - adding remaining oil to the pan. To freeze, cool the Hash Browns, interleave with foil, put into a bag and freeze for up to six weeks. To serve from frozen unwrap and place on a greased baking sheet, brush with a little oil and reheat at 190C, 375F, gas 6 for 15 minutes. Whether freshly made or reheated from frozen, serve as a breakfast dish with the usual: take your pick from fried eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, sausages, bacon (or the lot depending upon how greedy - sorry, I mean hungry - you are).

Cheddary Cheese Scones: makes 12 - 15 (F)
7 oz (200g) self-raising flour
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) butter, softened
1 oz (25g) porridge oats
3 oz (75g) grated cheddar cheese
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
Put the flour into a bowl with a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper, then rub in the butter. Stir in the oats and cheese, then stir in the milk. Don't use all the milk at once, if too dry add extra. The dough needs to be soft.
Place the dough on a lightly floured board and roll out to no thinner than 2 cm (roughly just under an inch). Use a 4 cm (1 1/2") cutter to stamp out the scones, resisting the urge to twist the cutter as this will make the scones rise unevenly. Any left-over bits can be gathered together, re-rolled to make more scones.
Place on a non-stick, or lightly greased and floured baking sheet, dust the top of the scones with a little more flour or give each a sprinkle of grated cheese and bake 220c, 435F, gas 7 for 12 - 15 minutes until well risen and golden. Cool before serving. Lovely spread with cream cheese, topped with ham, cucumber, or guacamole.
To freeze: put scones into a bag, freeze and store up to 2 months. Thaw at room temperature, covered to prevent drying out. Can be refreshed in a microwave for a few seconds.

Fruity White Chocolate Tray-Bake: cuts into 16 (F)
1 x 375g pack shortcrust pastry
500g cream cheese (Philly type) or mascapone
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
4 oz (100g) ground almonds
2 large eggs
9 oz (250g) raspberries, blackberries or strawberries
4 oz (100g) white chocolate, roughly chopped
Roll out the pastry thinly and large enough to cover the base and sides of a Swiss roll type tin 12"x 8" (30 x 20cm). Bake this blind for 10 mins, then remove paper and beans (or whatever used) and return to the oven to dry out the base for a further five minutes. Beat the cheese, sugar and eggs together then finally beat in the ground almonds. Fold in the chosen fruit and chocolate (chop the strawberries if using), then pour the mixture into the pastry (which is still in the tin). Bake for 20 - 25 minutes (see note below) until just set and turning golden. Turn off the oven open the door a tiny bit (tuck in a tea-towel if a drop-down door), and leave to cook on in residual heat until cooled down naturally. Chill for one hour before serving. This keeps well in the fridge and can be frozen.
Note: this was adapted from a recipe which gives the baking temperature as 160C/gas 4
which is incorrect according to my charts. As it also gave a fan temperature of 140C, then presumably it is the gas temp. that is incorrect. I would play safe and bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 and check after 20 minutes.

Lemon Ice Cream Cake: serves 8 (F)
1 lemon drizzle cake, or madeira type
8 meringues, roughly crushed
1 x 500ml tub creme fraiche
jar lemon curd
Take an 8" (20cm) round cake tin and line it with clingfilm (if you have a springform tin line it with baking parchment). Cut the cake into 1" (2 cm) thick slices and line the base of the tin, use small pieces of cake to fill up any gaps. Put the broken pieces of meringue into a bowl and pour over the creme fraiche. Fold gently together. Add a couple of good dollops of lemon curd and stir slightly to give a ripple effect. Spoon this into the tin, level with a knife and lift the tin and bang back on the table to knock out any air and to help settle the mixture. If you wish you can cover the top with more cake slices but not essential. Cover with clingfilm and freeze for at least four hours before serving. If freezing for longer, allow to thaw slightly for about 20 minutes before serving. To serve, remove cake from tin and peel off the wrapping.

Mandarine Orange Parfait: (F) 8 - 10 slices
9 fl.oz (250ml) milk
5 oz (125g) caster sugar
4 eggs
1 orange, zest and juice
1 small can mandarin oranges
10 fl.oz (300ml) double cream
coarsely crushed meringue (optional)
Heat milk until not-quite boiling. Remove from heat. Whisk together the sugar and eggs until thick, then whisk in the milk. Return this to the pan and cook/stir until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Sieve, then leave to cool. When cold stir the orange zest and juice into the custard. Drain the can of mandarin oranges, and chop half finely (open freeze the rest if not wishing to eat the dessert within a day, then bag up, otherwise keep in the fridge), add these to the custard. Whip the cream until standing in peaks then fold into the mixture (along with any oddments of meringue if using). Pour into a cling-film lined 2lb (900ml) loaf tin and freeze for at least six hours before serving. It will keep in the freezer for at least a month. To serve remove from the tin and peel off the wrapping. Decorate with mandarin segments, make it more impressive by drizzling over melted chocolate. Leave to thaw slightly before slicing.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Meal in a Bowl

Fast Fudgie Brownies: makes 9
6 oz (175g) butter
4 tblsp chocolate spread
10 tblsp soft brown sugar
2 eggs
2 oz (55g) self-raising flour
2 tsp cocoa powder
2 oz (55g) walnuts or pecan nuts, chopped
Put everything except the nuts into a food processor and whizz until smooth. Stir in the nuts.
Spoon mixture into a 7" (18cm) square cake tin which has been base-lined with cooking parchment, and bake for 25 -35 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin then cut into squares. Optional extra, dredge with icing sugar before cutting.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Easy but Impressive

Today am giving a few recipes and suggestions on how to make a simple meal turn into something special. Hope you like them.

Chargrilled Vegetable Pie: serves 6 (V)
one pack of shortcrust pastry
2 oz (50g) grated hard cheese
1 red onion, cut into wedges
red, orange, yellow peppers, cut into chunks
2 courgettes, sliced
1 -2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
4 oz (100g) feta cheese, cubed
1 tomato, sliced
1 egg, beaten
Put the oil into a large frying pan and fry the onion, peppers, courgettes and garlic until just browning (this may need to be done in batches). Transfer to a plate and season to taste.
Roll the pastry out to a 12" (30cm) circle (or a rough square, it doesn't matter if it is a bit of an odd shape), and lay this on a baking sheet which has been sprinkled with flour. Pile the vegetables into the middle, flatten slightly, leaving plenty of pastry around the edges, and tuck in the pieces of feta cheese. Take the edges of the pastry and pull over towards the centre making a rustic open parcel shape. Glaze the pastry with egg and sprinkle over the grated cheese. Bake for half an hour at 190C, 375F, gas 5.

Upper Crust Fish Cakes: serves 4
1 1/2lb (675g) potatoes
8 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
1 lb (450g) fresh salmon (ends of tails would do)
2 oz (50g) capers
1 lime
dash Tabasco
2 tblsp fresh flat-leaf parsley or tarragon
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
3 tblsp sunflower oil
Peel two thirds of the potatoes, leaving the skin on the others. Boil them together in a pan of salted water, for about 7 minutes, then remove the unpeeled ones whilst still hard enough to grate. Drain these and rinse under cold water. Continue cooking the remaining potatoes for a further 8 or so minutes until tender. Drain and mash. Scrape the skin off the part-cooked potatoes and grate coarsely. Peel off skin from the salmon and chop finely. Taking a big bowl, put in the salmon, the mashed and grated potato, stirring in the capers, lime juice and Tabasco. Chop the chosen herb finely and add this to the mixture together with the spring onion. Add the egg and fold gently just enough to bind the mixture together. Season to taste.
Using a 3" (7.5cm) scone cutter as a mould, gently press in the mixture to make 8 cakes. Chill these for up to 2 hours until needed. To cook, heat the oil in a frying pan and cook for 3 -4 minutes on each side until really crusty. Drain on kitchen paper before serving with tartar sauce.
quick tartar sauce:
Mix together 142ml carton soured cream (or creme fraiche or yogurt) with 3 tblsp mayo. Stir in 2 tbslp each finely chopped gherkins, capers, fresh parsley (chives or tarragon). Chill until needed.

Maple Pork with Sage: serves 4
4 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
2 tbslp Dijon or wholegrain mustard
4 tblsp maple syrup
salt and pepper
4 pork chops
1 lb (500g) small or new potatoes
Put the sage, mustard and syrup into a bowl and mix together. Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Spoon half into a shallow dish, place in the pork chops and spoon the rest of the marinade over, making sure the each chop is thoroughly coated. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for an hour. Boil the potatoes in the normal way (adding them to salted boiling water), this takes about 15 minutes. Then grill the chops, turning them once for about 8 -10 minutes, until tender and cooked through. Drain the potatoes, put them back in the pan and add any remaining marinade, heat through thoroughly (remember raw meat has been in that marinade), tossing the potatoes to coat with the marinade, then serve with the pork chops. Serve with baby carrots, string beans, or your choice of vegetables.

Sherried Chicken Livers with Tagliatelli: serves 4 -5
3 x 100g packs chicken livers
3 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
3 bay leaves
3 tbslp sherry
2 tblsp tomato puree
2 tblsp water
salt and pepper
1 lb (450g) pack tagliatelli
3 oz (75g) Parmesan cheese, grated
Remove chicken livers from the packs, rinse and cut away any stringy bits. If possible soak in milk overnight, then drain and continue: Begin by cooking the pasta as this takes the longest to cook. Cut the livers into small strips, heat the oil and fry the onion for 5 minutes. Add the livers and bay leaves and stir-fry over a low heat for five minutes. Add the sherry and cook for a further 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato puree with enough water to bring it to sauce consistency. Season to taste. Drain the pasta, add it to the livers in the pan and toss until the pasta is coated with the sauce. Serve in a deep warm dish, sprinkling over the Parmesan.

Instead of serving pasta noodles, peel long thin strands from carrots, courgettes, parsnips etc. These will be quick to cook and when drained and piled on a plate look remarkably like coloured pasta. Tastes more interesting though.
Similarly, one beaten egg, one third poured into an omelette pan, in a very thin layer, then fried, one side only - as the top will dry out almost immediately placed on a plate, then with more egg - one egg should make three pancakes - stacking one upon the other. Roll up and then slice thinly from the end to make alternative 'noodles' .

Boozy Cups of Chocolate: serves 4
5 oz (150g) quality cooking chocolate*
2 - 3 tblsp brandy, rum, Cointreau or Grand Marnier etc.
400g pot of fromage frais
Coarsely grate enough chocolate to sprinkle over four pots. Break up the rest of the chocolate, place in a bowl with the spirit of your choice and melt over simmering water.
Remove from heat and stir in fromage frais. Spoon into four coffee cups (the wide shallow type, but any individual bowls would do), sprinkle over the grated chocolate and chill until ready to serve.
Note: use only the best chocolate for this, the one with 70% (or more) cocoa solids

Moist Gingerbread: (F)
4 oz (100g) margarine
4 oz (100g) light muscovado sugar
5 oz (150g) black treacle
5 oz (150g) golden syrup
2 eggs
8 oz (225g) plain flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp bicarb. of soda
2 tblsp milk
2 eggs
Put the margarine, sugar, treacle and syrup into a warm bowl and whisk together until thoroughly blended, then beat in the eggs. Sift the flour with the gr.ginger, stir the bicarb. into the milk, and fold the flour into the mixture first then finally the milk. Pour this into a greased and lined 7" (15cm) square cake tin. Bake at 160C, 325F, gas 3 for one hour, then reduce temperature to 150C, 300F, gas 2 for a further 15 - 20 minutes until the gingerbread is well risen and firm to touch. Remove from oven and cool in the tin for about 15 minutes then turn out onto a cake airer to finish cooling completely. Wrap in clean paper, then foil or clingfilm and leave for a couple or three days before cutting.

Treacle Parkin:
6 oz (175g) black treacle
5 oz (150g) margarine
4 oz (100g) muscovado sugar
6 oz (175g) plain flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
10 oz (275g) medium oatmeal
1 egg
5 fl.oz (150ml) milk
1 tsp. bicarb. of soda
Put the treacle, margarine and sugar into a pan and heat until all have melted. Put to one side to cool slightly. Sift the flour with the spices and add the oatmeal. Mix together the egg and milk then stir in the bicarb. Add to the dry ingredients together with the treacle mixture and stir well to combine. Pour into a greased and line 7" (18cm) square deepish tin and bake at 180C, 150F, gas 4 for one hour or until firm to touch. Cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out to finish off cooling on a cake airer. Wrap in greaseproof or parchment paper, then overwrap in foil or clingfilm and leave for at least a week before cutting.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Warming up the Colder Days

Today's selection of recipes are mainly basics with the addition of one or more ingredients to add that little extra flavour and maybe warmth to a dish. As ever, all easy to make.

Pasta with Creamy Cheese Walnuts: serves 4
7 oz (200g) pasta shapes, any kind
1 tblsp light olive oil
3 shallots (or 1 small onion) peeled and diced
10 oz (275g) soft cream cheese
4 oz (110g) walnut pieces, toasted
2 oz (50g) green veg (could be rocket or herbs...)
2 oz (25g) Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente stage. While this is cooking, heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the shallots (or onion) for 4 minutes. Stir in the cream cheese and heat through until this has melted. As soon as the pasta is cooked, drain - keeping back a little of the liquid - and stir the pasta into the creamy onion mixture, adding a little of the reserved water if you want a thinner sauce. Stir in the walnuts and green vegetable of your choice and season to taste. Serve sprinkled with the Parmesan.
Tip: If on a low-fat diet, use the extra-light cream cheese. For a variation, add crispy bacon.

Cauliflower Quiche Lorraine: serves 6 - 8
shortcrust pastry to line a 9" (23cm) flan tin
1 small cauliflower, broken into florets
4 rashers smoked streaky bacon, cooked but not crisp
3 large eggs
284ml carton double cream or creme fraiche
3 oz (75g) grated hard cheeses *
1 oz (25g) grated Parmesan cheese
grating of nutmeg
salt and pepper
Line a loose-based 9"/23cm quiche tin with thinly rolled pastry. Bake blind for 15 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4, then remove lining and continue baking for a further five minutes until the base is drying out. While the pastry is cooking (or the case can be done in advance) boil the cauliflower florets in salted water for five minutes (timing starts once the water has returned to the boil). Drain well and leave to cool.
Put the cream into a bowl, stir in the eggs, beating together lightly with a fork (the eggs should not be frothy). Stir in the cheeses and the nutmeg, add seasoning to taste. Fold in the cauliflower and the bacon (this could be cut up into smaller pieces if you wish), and pour the mixture into the pastry case. Bake for half an hour or until the filling is set - with the hint of a wobble. Remove from oven, leave in the tin for half an hour, then lift up the base, setting the quiche (still on the base for ease of cutting) onto a plate and serve, whilst still just warm (best eaten just warm but can be eaten cold), cut into wedges.
Note: *the 'cheeses' can be a mixture of various hard cheeses or just Cheddar alone but do include the Parmesan.

Odds and Ends Chunky Chowder: serves 4
This dish uses up the oddments of chicken and ham that might be left after cooking and carving your own home-cooked.
1 tblsp sunflower oil
2 leeks OR...
1 small sweet onion,
3 medium potatoes
1 tbslp plain flour
30 fl.oz (700ml ) milk
1 pint measure of cooked chicken pieces
1/2 pint measure cooked ham
6 oz (175g) each, frozen peas and sweetcorn (thawed)
salt and pepper
First prepare the ingredients by thinly slicing the leeks (or onions if using). Cut the potatoes into small cubes. Cut the chicken and ham into similar sized chunks.
Heat the oil in a pan then fry the leeks/onions gently for about 3 minutes until just softened. Stir in the potatoes, then the flour and slowly pour in the milk, stirring with a wooden spoon until beginning to thicken. Season to taste. Simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are cooked (roughly 10 minutes or so). Add the peas and sweetcorn, cook for one minute, then stir in the chicken and ham. Cook for five minutes longer, making sure the Chowder is hot and bubbling. Check seasoning, adding more if necessary. Serve with hot, crusty, preferably granary bread.
Variation: Instead of ham you could throw in the same measure of cooked small prawns (very fresh or frozen -thawed), but add these about two minutes before the end, allowing just enough time for them to cook or heat through otherwise they will toughen.
Tip: Any milk could be used, full fat, semi- or skimmed.

This next recipe eats well hot or cold and uses mainly odds and ends that might be left in the fridge. Feel free to adapt, alter, adjust ingredients and weights according to what you want to use up. Using common sense of course! Not everything goes together.
Nothing-in-the-fridge-but-this Dish: serves 3-4
8 rashers bacon, any kind, chopped
roughly a pint measure of mushrooms
1 tblsp sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 mugful (300g) long-grain rice
2 mugsful (600ml) hot stock (chicken or vegetable)
grated cheese (use up oddments of hard cheeses)
Using a large frying pan, fry the bacon gently until the fat runs. Chop or slice the mushrooms and add to the bacon, increasing the heat slightly and fry for about 5 minutes until the mushrooms are cooked and the bacon crisped up. Spoon this out onto a heated plate, cover and keep warm. Using the same pan (no need to wash), add the oil then fry the onion until softened. Stir in the garlic and fry for one more minute, then add the rice. Qive a quick stir to coat the rice with the oil then pour in the stock. Give one more stir, bring to the boil, then simmer until the rice has absorbed almost all the stock (this should take about 10 minutes). The rice will seem 'al dente', but that is how it should be. Turn out the heat, cover the pan and leave for a further five minutes for the rice to cook through. Once this is ready, stir in most of the cheese and season to taste. Either stir the mushrooms and bacon into the rice, or serve the rice in bowls with the bacon and mushrooms on top sprinkled with the remaining cheese.

Finishing with a cake recipe (it seems many of you really like these), thought this might appeal as said to be an easy cake for beginners, and - well wrapped - it will keep for at least a week, improving by the day. What is more, it can be frozen!
Keep-me-eat-me Sticky Lemon and Ginger Cake: (F)
8 oz (200g) stoned dates
boiling water
8 oz (200g) butter
10 oz (300g) dark muscovado sugar
2 eggs
2 oz (50g) fresh or frozen* root ginger, grated
zest of 1 lemon
8 oz (200g) self-raising flour
9 oz (250g) approx. cooking apples, peeled and cored
2 oz (50g) white chocolate
1 tblsp candied peel
1 tblsp sugar crystals (coffee sugar)**
Put dates into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Chop the apple into very small cubes or you could grate it. Heat the butter until melted, then add the sugar. Stir then leave to cool slightly. Into a bowl beat together the eggs, ginger and lemon zest, drain the dates, chop finely and add them to the eggs, and stir in the butter/sugar. Mix well. Sift in the flour and stir into the mix together withe the prepared apples. Pour this into am 8" (20cm) round cake tin that has been greased and lined. Bake for 1 1/2 hours at 170C, 325F, gas 3 until well risen (the recipe says a skewer stuck into the cake should come out with a few crumbs still sticking to it). Leave the cake to cool in the tin.
Melt the white chocolate in a bowl set over simmering water, then when runny, trickle over the cake, scattering over the candied peel and sugar crystals. When set, remove the cake from the tin and peel off the paper, re-wrap with clean paper and it will keep for a week, getting better and better. To freeze wrap in several layers of cling-film. Will freeze for up to (possibly longer) two months.
Note: *freeze root ginger and it can be grated from frozen, returning unused ginger to the freezer.
**sugar crystals are coarser than granulated sugar, usually sold as 'coffee sugar'. A good substitute is to crush down sugar lumps.
The muscovado sugar helps to give the 'sticky ginger cake' texture and flavour. At a pinch demerara or even granulated could be substituted, taking away one heaped tablespoonful replacing it with one level (or as near as possible) of black treacle. If no choice but to use demerara, then the cake won't improve with keeping, but should still keep for several days in an airtight container, and can still be frozen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice..

A recipe for gnocchi, which can be served with many different sauces to suit everyone from meateaters to vegetarians.
Potato Gnocchi: serves 4
1 lb (500g) large floury potatoes (the baking kind)
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk, beaten together
good pinch salt
freshly ground black pepper
8 oz (225g) plain flour
Boil the whole potatoes in their skins until tender (or microwave). When cool enough to handle, cut into chunks and press through a ricer (or scrape all the potato from the microwaved ones and mash with a fork, making sure there are no lumps - with microwaved spuds there shouldn't be any). Put the potato 'puree' onto a large, deep plate, make a well in the centre and pour in the egg and seasoning. Sift over the flour, then - using fingertips - work the potato and flour into the eggs aiming to make a soft dough. If too wet and sticky, add just a little more flour. Too much and it will make the gnocchi tough and chewy.
Knead the dough gently with the heel of your hand until it feels smooth and elastic, this should take only a couple of minutes. Dust hands and work surface with flour and take a piece of dough and roll it into a 3/4" (1.5cm) sausage. Repeat, using the rest of the dough, then cut each sausage into 1" (2.5cm) pieces with a knife.
The gnocchi can be left as they are, but I prefer to roll them partly over, using a fork to do this so that they have indentations which will help hold the sauce.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, lower in the gnocchi in batches and when they rise to the surface, start timing. Check after 3 minutes to see if they are cooked through, they should take no longer than 4 minutes. Remove carefully with a slotted spoon and drain well. Drizzle over olive oil and put into a warmed dish. Cover with foil and keep warm whilst preparing your chosen sauce.

To make flavoured gnocchi:
Blend in 2 oz (50g) finely grated Parmesan along with the flour.
Or work 2 tblsp sun-dried tomato paste into the dough.
Or why not both?

suggestions for sauces to use with gnocchi:
This could be the meat sauce as mentioned above, then serve with a good sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese. Or it could be a tomato (pizza type) sauce - pour this over the gnocchi, dot with mozzarella and finish off under the grill.
garlic, butter and sage sauce:
4 oz (110g) butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
10-12 sage leaves
Parmesan cheese shavings
Melt the butter to foaming and add the garlic. When this has started to turn golden, throw in the sage leaves and cook for about half a minute, until the leaves have crisped. Divide the gnocchi between individual bowls, spoon over the sauce, adding the sage leaves at the end. Garnish with Parmesan shavings.

Chana Dhal: serves 4 (V)
Traditionally made with lentils, why not use split peas?
7 oz (200g) dry lentils or split peas
1 tsp ground turmeric
salted water
sunflower oil
1 heaped tsp cumin seeds
2 onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tsp grated root ginger
1 tsp red chilli powder
8 tomatoes, finely chopped
Pre-soak lentils or split peas in water for half an hour before using.
Drain the soaked lentils, and put into a pan together with turmeric with enough lightly salted boiling water, using just enough to cover. When tender, but not quite cooked, and all the water has evaporated, remove from heat.
Put the oil into a saucepan, add the cumin and fry until the start to crack. Stir in the onions and saute until golden. Add the garlic, ginger and the chilli powder. Stir/fry for a couple of minutes then add the tomatoes (these could be from a can) and cook for about 15 minutes until the mixture has turned into a coarse puree. Add the lentils, stir well to combine, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Serve as a side dish with curries.

Apricot 'Jaffa' Cup-cakes: makes 8
6 oz (175g) self-raising flour
4 oz (115g) butter, softened
4 oz (115g) caster sugar
2 large eggs
zest and juice of 1 orange
8 tblsp apricot jam
Whisk together the flour, butter, sugar, eggs with the zest and juice of the orange. The mixture should drop off the spoon, if too thick, add a drop or two of water to slacken. Fill eight muffin cases 3/4 full with the mixture and bake at 180C/350F/gas 5 for 12-15 mins or until cooked. Remove from oven and allow to get cool. Taking a small knife, carefully remove the middle of each cake (not all the way down) leaving about 1/2" (1.5cm) around the edge. Fill each depression with jam. Slice off the top parts of the removed piece and using the flat tops replace over the jam. Cover with the following chocolate topping:
chocolate topping:
5 oz (150g) dark, milk or white chocolate
a bare 4 fl.oz (100ml) single cream
2 - 3 tblsp icing sugar, sifter
chocolate shavings
Put the chocolate and cream into a bowl standing over simmering water. When the chocolate has melted, stir to combine, then beat in the icing sugar. Allow to cool, beat again gently and pour over the cakes. Sprinkle over the chocolate shavings. Chill in the fridge until set.
Tip: Stand the muffin cases in a muffin tin. If no tin, use two or three cases together to give stability.

Home-made Tortillas: makes 12
7 oz (200g) cornmeal flour
just under 1 tsp salt
up to half a pint (275ml) cold water
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and gradually pour in most of the water, stirring constantly. Knead with the hands, adding as little more water until the dough is firm and no longer sticks to the fingers. Divide into three or four batches and, using a rolling pin, roll between strips of waxed paper or clingfilm until about one-sixteenth of an inch thick (don't ask me what that is in metric). Using a plate, cut into 5" (13cm) rounds you may wish them larger, if so you won't make as many). Once prepared stack between sheets of greaseproof paper.
Heat an ungreased frying pan over a moderate heat and cook each tortilla for 2 minutes on each side, turning once with a fish slice when the bottom has turned a delicate brown. Lower the heat if they brown too fast. As they are cooked, wrap four or five at a time in foil and keep warm in the oven.
Tortillas may be cooked several hours ahead as long as they are kept warm in the oven (temp 110C/2225F/gas 1/4. Stack 10 together, wrap each batch with greaseproof paper and then a damp cloth and finally in foil.
To reheat tortillas, brush both sides with water and heat singlymfor a few seconds on each side in a dry frying pan.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

It's a Wrap

Today am covering the alternative snack, using a flour tortilla (or it could be a chapati or even a pancake) instead of sliced bread. I first ate a tortilla wrap when out for a pub lunch, and am quite hooked on them. Since then I have used the soft tortillas as a base for making a quick pizza or calzone, even a quesidilla - the Mexican style 'toasted cheese sarnie'. Anyone who needs a gluten free diet could use tortillas made with cornmeal. By the way, no tortillas to be had? Then just serve the fillings on lightly toasted bread, preferably granary.

As with pizzas and the ordinary sandwich, up to a point a tortilla filling can be what you wish, with or without cooked meat, so the given recipes are just a guide. As you can see I am having fun with choosing the recipe names (would you rather I didn't) and, as I write, am seeking an Italian (Roman) based filling just because (well you will later see). How sad can I get? But determined nevertheless. Even sadder it seems as the next recipe name has just popped into my head:

The Grecian 'Turn': makes two large wraps
1 large tomato, chopped
half a large cucumber, sliced into thin sticks
6 green olives, sliced
2 oz (50g) feta cheese, crumbled
2 - 3 tblsp hummous
2 very large soft tortilla wraps
First prepare the filling ingredients, keeping them separate, then heat the tortillas (two ways of doing this). Either hold the tortillas between tongs and lay over a lit gas ring for 10 seconds, immediately turning to char the other side for 8 seconds - the slight charring gives added flavour, OR just lay one tortilla at a time on a dry, pre-heated frying pan and heat through for the same length of time.
Put the warm tortillas on a plate and spread with the hummous. Pile the remaining filling down the centre of each and fold in the side to hold everything in place, then roll up tightly. Cut in half using a diagonal cut, and eat with your fingers. To be eaten for a packed lunch, slice when ready to eat.

2 soft tortillas
grated cheese
Place a tortilla on a dry, pre-heated frying pan. Cover with the cheese, place another tortilla on top. Press down. When the bottom tortilla is beginning to char, turn and cook the - what was the top - tortilla. By the time this is done, the cheese will be melting. Slide onto a plate and cut into wedges.
Other fillings could be added, or make a triple layer of tortillas with cheese, first heating through the tortilla that will be the one in the middle.

Mexican Rarebit: serves one or two
Made in the same way as the above quesidilla but with this variation-on-a-rarebit filling.
3 oz (75g) mature cheddar, grated
half a small red onion, finely chopped or grated
2 small tomatoes, thinly sliced or chopped
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
1 or 2 soft flour tortillas depending upon size
Combine all the ingredients, seasoning to taste. Either cover the tortillas with this mixture and top with another, heating through in a pan as in the above recipe, or leave as an open tortilla, spreading the filling right to the edges, then grill until the cheese is bubbling, pizza style. Good served in wedges with a dollop of guacamole.

Hot Russian 'Rap: serves 2
250g pack of mushrooms, sliced
1 oz (25g) garlic butter
2 large soft flour tortillas
1 tsp mustard
5 tblsp sour cream or creme fraiche
salt and pepper
2 flour tortillas
Into a large frying pan melt the garlic butter. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until tender and juicy. Stir in the sour cream/creme fraiche. Season to taste. Put to one side and keep warm. Using a large clean and dry frying pan, heat the tortillas on both sides for a few seconds until lightly charred then remove these to serving plates, pile the mushroom filling into the centre, wrap sides to middle and then roll up. Best served hot, diagonally sliced. Indoors, to save mess, eat with a knife and fork, but at a pinch, outdoors, tucking a napkin into your kneck, they could be eaten in the hand.

Oh, Bless, I've found a Caesar Salad based filling, just what I was looking for, so feel free to cringe. My excuse is that a toga was a Roman wrap-around garment, which Caesar presumably wore. So what better name could there be?
The Toga Tortilla: serves 2
6 rashers smoked streaky bacon, fried and chopped
1 ripe avocado, peeled, stoned and sliced
4 tbslp Caesar Salad Dressing
1 Little Gem lettuce or 8 cos lettuce leaves
2 soft flour tortillas
Heat the tortillas on both sides in a pre-heated dry frying pan, they need to be just warmed through. Place each on a plate and spread first with some of the salad dressing, top this with shredded lettuce, avocado, and the bacon. Drizzle over remaining dressing. Fold over the tortilla to make a roll, and eat with a knife and fork, or fold sides to midde, wrap like a parcel, cut in half diagonally, and eat in the hand.
(The feminine in Italian ends in 'a', so presumably a tortilla is of that gender. With my sense of humour I will make one for Beloved just so I can say to myself "glad-e-ate-'er" once he'd eaten and enjoyed it). Yes, I know - you are all shuddering. And I don't blame you. Must be the pills.

The final recipe for today is a cake made using no flour, and special enough to be served to guests (although all food we provide should be good enough for that - but you know what I mean). It will look even more impressive when baked in a ring mould. I bought mine for 20p at a jumble sale.
Orange and Semolina Syrup Cake: makes 8 slices (F)
4 oz (100g) hazlenuts (skinned and finely ground)
2 oz (50g) semolina
6 oz (175g (caster sugar)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
zest and juice from 2 large oranges
4 eggs
7 fl.oz (200ml) light olive oil, or sunflower oil
pinch saffron (optional)*
3 oz (75g) icing sugar
Put the ground hazlenuts into a frying pan, place over medium heat and toast/toss until lightly and evenly browned (they could also be toasted in the oven or under a low grill, but take care they don't burn). When cooled, mix with the semolina, baking powder and caster sugar.
Using finely grated zest from one of the oranges, mix this into the eggs and oil. Using a wooden spoon beat the eggs well then stir into the semolina mixture. Pour into a lightly oiled and lined 9" (23cm) ring mould (or use an 8" (2o cm) round, or 7" (18 cm) square cake tin). Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 30-40 minutes until risen and firm to the touch.
Whilst waiting for the cake to cook, prepare the syrup by removing the zest from the second orange (this time the zest needs to be coarser, either by using a zester or cutting the peel of very thinly and then shredding finely). Put this into a pan together with the juice from both the oranges, adding the saffron* and icing sugar.
Once the cake is cooked, leave in the tin for fifteen minutes to cool, then turn out on to a plate. Remove the paper, stick a skewer into the cake (the more holes the better) and spoon the syrup over (I have found this works better if the cake is put back into its tin which has now been lined with clingfilm, skewer and pour over 2/3rds of the sieved syrup. When this has been absorbed, turn out the cake onto a serving dish and pour over remaining syrup which holds the orange shreds.
Serve warm or cold with whipped cream or creme fraiche. The cake will keep well in the fridge for several days in an airtight container, or can be frozen.
Note:* saffron is included to give colour to the syrup, plus it has a subtle flavour of its own. Instead of expensive saffron, use dried pot marigold petals which is the old fashioned way (but still often used) to adding natural colour. Infuse the petals in some hot orange juice, then drain and discard the petals, adding the juice to the rest and continue making the syrup. For adults only, stir a couple or so teaspoons of an orange liqueur into the syrup before pouring over the cake.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Egg Substitutes.

Eggs are using in cooking mainly as a binder, but (especially when making lighter cakes) beating eggs traps the air which helps the cake rise. Other ingredients can be used instead of eggs to bind, and adding extra raising agents will also help cakes to rise. Replacing an egg with a substitute works better with heavy cakes, such as the fruit cake (recipe mentioned above which used syrup and milk instead of an egg, which maybe would have used only one egg anyway), where lightness is not of paramount importance. The same goes for dense squidy cakes, such Chocolate Brownies.

For light-textured cakes, which use more eggs, it was stated that one egg only be substituted, still keeping at least one or two to add to the batter. It seems a cake would be doomed to failure if all the eggs were substituted. But it would be interesting to see what would happen if they were. Over to you if you wish to experiment and if you do - please let us know the results.

For savoury dishes, tofu - blended with a little milk - is said to be a good substitute for eggs in quiches, sauces etc. Am not sure how much tofu should be used, possibly a tablespoon, but it would probably be no cheaper than using an egg in the first place. When using tofu in a quiche, it was suggested blending in a little mustard to look like eggy-yellow (a white quiche would not look so appetising). An alternative suggestion of mine is to blitz the flesh of half a yellow sweet pepper to a puree and add that to the tofu as a colouring (memo - hold that thought, it could be used in another recipe).

For cakes, there are several alternatives to eggs, the important thing being that any mixing that needs to be done is at the last minute, not in advance.
egg substitutes: each replacing one egg
1 small ripe banana, mashed.
1 tsp. baking powder, 1 tblsp water, 1 tblsp. vinegar.
1 tblsp. apricot puree (as in baby foods).
1 tblsp. applesauce.
1 pkt. plain gelatine dissolved in 2 tblsp warm water.
1 tblsp. golden syrup (used in wartime).
1 1/2 tblsp. oil and the same of water plus 1 tsp. baking powder.

Obviously fruits and syrup help to bind, but it could also be the vitamins in the fruit that might help to give a lift. It is a known fact that vitamin C, added to bread dough, help it rise faster, and having myself added grated apple to a bread mix, have found this does seem to be true, it also made a lighter-textured loaf - good to know when home-made, hand-kneaded bread ends up a bit on the heavy side (as mine was before I got a bread machine).

This may seem strange, but using mayonnaise as an cake ingredient to replace all eggs (and some fats) is fairly common in the US. But, when you think about it, mayo - being made with oil, eggs and vinegar, is not really a million miles away from using the ingredients in their original state. Have used mayo when making a chocolate cake, I can say that it did work. So that's another egg substitute suggestion.

Here is yet another eggless cake from my collection, which (having a feeling of deja vu here) I may have already given, but - due to the topic of the day - worth another airing:
Spicy Yogurt Cake:
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarb. soda
4 oz (110g) soft margarine
4 oz (110g) caster sugar
4 oz (110g) mixed dried fruit with peel
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1 dessp. golden syrup
1/4 pint plus 1 tblsp natural yogurt
Sift the flour with the bicarb and spice and rub in the margarine until like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, and fruit. Warm the syrup and pour into the cake along with the yogurt. Mix to a soft consistency. Pour into a greased loaf tin and bake for at 179C, 325F, gas 3 for one hour. After 20 minutes baking time, place a tent of foil over the cake to prevent it browing too quickly.
Tip: to prevent browning, place foil shiny side up to reflect heat away.
Nothing to do with cooking, but place a strong sheet of kitchen foil (or cardboard covered with foil) behind central heating radiators (shiny side towards the radiator) to stop heat escaping through the walls and reflect heat back into the room.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Balancing Act

Choose-your-Fruit and Almond Tray-bake: cuts into 16-24 slices
This can be made using blackberries, raspberries, plums, cherries, chopped peaches, pineapple, mango, even apples. A doddle to make as the basic mix is thrown into a food processor (or mixed by hand) and very little else to do.
9 oz (259g) self-raising flour
2 oz (50g) ground almonds
8 oz (200g) butter, diced
10 oz (280g) gran. sugar
2 oz (50g) dessicated coconut
2 eggs
12 oz -1lb (350-450g) fresh fruit of your choice
Put the flour, gr.almonds, sugar and butter into a food processor and blitz until coarse crumbs. Remove 3 rounded tblsp of the mix and add this to the dess. coconut. Set aside. Add the eggs to the remaining mixture in the processor and give a quick whizz (or mix with a wooden spoon). The mixture does not need to be smooth. Spread this mixture over the base of a greased oblong cake tin 12"x 7"x 1" (31x17x3cm) or thereabouts, then scatter half the fruit over the top. Sprinkle with the coconut mixture and bake for 40 mins at 180C, 350F, gas4 then lightly press remaining fruit into the cake and bake for a further 15 minutes. Cool in the tin and cut into slices. Will keep up to 3 days in the fridge.

Blackberry and Apple Tray-bake: serves 8
6 oz (175g) butter
10 oz (300g) plain flour
8 oz (225g) caster sugar
284ml carton whipping cream
3 eggs
1lb 12oz (800g) cooking apples, peeled, cored, sliced
10 oz (300g) blackberries
Put the butter and cream into a pan and heat until the butter has melted, bring to the boil then remove from heat and set aside. Whisk together the sugar and eggs until they turn pale and thicken, this takes from 3 - 5 minutes. Then whisk this into the cream mixture and fold in the sifted flour until smooth. Pour this batter into a greased 12" x8" (30x20cm) tin (a roasting tin is ideal). Arrange the apple slices on top and cover with the blackberries. Bake for an hour or slightly less, at 200C, 400F, gas 6. When cooked the mixture will have shrunk from the sides of the tin. Remove from oven, cool in the tin and cut into squares. Keeps up to three days in the fridge.

The following recipe was taken, some years ago, from an American magazine. Useful because it uses oil (not butter or marg), and contains no eggs. It can either be made as a tray-bake or spooned into muffin cases. As with most muffin recipes, you can make up the dry mix in one bowl and put the wet ingredients into a jug, let them stand overnight and then combine the next day. Thus saving time when it matters, and also means the oven can be used when heated for something else. As always with American recipes cup measurements are used 1 cup being the equivalent of 8 fl.oz (225ml). Easy to measure out if you use a Pyrex measuring jug marked with fl.oz. or ml.
No-egg Orange Cocoa Cake: makes 9 servings
1 cup plain flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
3/4 tsp bicarb. soda
1 tsp orange zest
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup semi- or skimmed milk
1/2 cup orange juice
1/3 cup sunflower oil
icing sugar for sifting
Mix together the dry ingredients (includes the orange zest but not the icing sugar). Put the wet ingredients (the milk, orange juice and oil) into a jug. When ready to make, mix the two lots together until well blended. Pour into a greased 8"x 8"x 2" (20x20x5cm) cake tin (or could use a 9" (23cm) round tin. Alternatively spoon into 12 muffin tins filling the paper cases 2/3rds full. Bake at 190C, 350F, gas 4 for 30 - 35 minutes (slightly less for muffins). Cool on a wire rack. Sift with icing sugar.

The Australians also use cup measurements in their recipes and I am liking this measuring-by-volume method more and more as it seems much easier than the imperial or metric. I was reminded of this cake when watching a recent TV programme (think it was 'Neighbours'), so dragged out my huge Australian cookbook, sent to me by my friend in Oz (the postage alone must have cost more than the book) in which, of course, appears the following recipe:

for the cake:
3 eggs
3/4 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup self-raising flour
pinch salt
1 1/2oz (45g) butter, melted
3 tblsp boiling water
for the icing:
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
3 tblsp cocoa
1 oz (30g) butter, melted
4 tblsp boiling water
2 cups dessicated coconut
To make the cake beat eggs and sugar until thick and pale. Sift flour and salt and fold in, then mix together the melted butter and boiling water and quickly fold into the batter mixture.
Pour into a greased and floured 11" x 7" (28" x18") lamington tin (I think this has fairly deep sides) and bake in a hot oven 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 20 mins. or until cooked through. Cool on a wire rack and cut into squares. Note: this is best left for a day before cutting.
To make the icing sift together the icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl, and add the melted butter and boiling water and mix until smooth. Then stand the bowl in a pan of very hot water. Put the coconut into a shallow dish. Using two forks, dip each square of cake into the hot chocolate, letting the drips fall off, then into the coconut, turn until coated on all sides. Leave in a cool place for icing to firm up.
Tip: If a tin is not deep enough, improvise by lining a shallower tin with two sheets of foil large enough to come well up the sides of a shallow tin to the height you want, fold over the top to make it even firmer, then grease and flour in the normal way. To make really firm sides, tuck in foil-lined pieces of cardboard between foil and sides of tin.

Two more interesting recipes in that you can play around with them adding different ingredients if you so wish.

Oat and Fruit Cookies: makes 18
6 oz (175g) butter
6 oz (175g) gran. sugar
4 oz (100g) golden syrup
3 oz (85g) plain flour
1/2 tsp. bicarb. soda
9 oz (250g) porridge oats
1 tsp cinnamon
4 oz (100g) each no-soak dried apricots and stem ginger
75g pack dried cherries
2 tblsp boiling water
1 egg, beaten
Put the butter, sugar and syrup into a pan and heat gently until the butter has melted. Sift together the flour, bicarb. and cinnamon, and add to the pan together with the oats. Chop the dried fruits and ginger and stir these into the mixture. Fold in the water, and finally stir in the egg. Leave to cool. Using wet hand, rolls the mixture into 18 balls then lay these, well spaced apart on to as many parchment lined baking sheets as will take them. Flatten with a knife, fork or the ball of your hand to biscuit shape - they will spread. If aiming for a softer chewy biscuit, bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 15-20 minutes until golden. To make crisper biscuits, reduce heat to 160, 325, gas 3 and bake for 5 - 10 minutes longer. Remove from oven and cool on their trays for five minutes before lifting onto a cake airer. Store in an airtight tin (separate layers with parchment to prevent sticking together) and they will keep for up to a week.
Variations: use different dried fruits, add nuts, use different sugars, treacle instead of syrup, include orange zest. Make each batch different and then choose your favourite.
Tip: Instead of using fresh parchment each time you bake, buy some 'magic carpet' ( it comes in a roll which can be cut to size). This can be used many, many times (I have used the same ones for years) and all it needs is to be wiped down after each use.

Fruity Soda Bread: makes 1 loaf
12 oz (350g) plain flour
good pinch salt
1/2 tsp bicarb. soda
4 0z (100g) dried fruit (sultanas etc)
1/2 pint (300ml) buttermilk*
Sift together the flour, salt and bicarb into a bowl. Add the dried fruits. Make a well in the centre and pour in the buttermilk mixing lightly and quickly with a fork to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and form into a ball, handling as little as possible gives a lighter result. Place dough on a well-floured (but not greased) baking sheet and press lightly to form an 8" (20cm) round. Score the top across top to bottom side to side and then in between to make 8 wedges, and bake for 30-35 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 or until risen and golden. When baked, wrap in a clean towel to keep the crust soft. Although best eaten warm the day it is made, it is very good toasted on the following day.
Variations: omit the fruit and have just a plain loaf. Make a brown loaf by using half plain white flour and half wholemeal flour. Instead of the fruit use the same quantity of chopped nuts to either the white or the brown loaf.
* Buttermilk is traditional when making soda bread, but a good substitute is skimmed milk.