Sunday, December 30, 2007

Cupboard Love

The advantage with the grains, pulses and pastas is that they can all make the foundation of what could, with the small addition of a wide variety of 'bit and pieces' turn out to be a really good and satisfying meal.

Here are a few recipes to get you going.
Riz au Chou (Cabbage Risotto): serves 4
2 tblsp light olive oil
10 oz (300g) long grain rice
1 1/2 lb (750g) white cabbage
4 oz (100g) smoked bacon, diced
2 onions, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) grated cheese (pref Gruyere)
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. When hot put in the bacon and onion and fry until beginning to colour. Remove the core and outer leaves from the cabbage and shred the remainder finely, then add to the onions and bacon. Cook on for 15 minutes, stirring often.
Add the rice, mix thoroughly, and cook for a further 10 minutes then pour in enough boiling water to cover. Season with the paprika, salt and pepper to taste, place on the lid and simmer over a low heat for about 20 minutes or so, or until the rice is cooked. Remove the lid, stir in the cheese with a fork, and turn out into a heated serving dish. Serve hot.

Instead of serving rice with a curry, try this Arabian dish:
Burghul Pilaff: serves 4
11 oz (325g) burghul (bulgar) wheat
5 oz (140g) butter
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 pints (90cl) boiling stock
salt and pepper
Fry the chopped onion n 1 oz (25g) of the butter until softened. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep to one side. Add the remaining butter to the pan and when melted, stir in the burghul and fry for 5 minutes until softened. Stir in the onion and the stock, adding seasoning to taste. Tip the mixture into a buttered casserole dish and bake, uncovered, at 180c, 350F, gas 4 for 30 minutes, then stir gently with a fork. Continue baking for a further 15 minutes by which time the liquid should have been absorbed and the burghul moist and fluffy. Serve with curry.

Lentils with Apricots and Walnuts: serves 4
8 oz (250g) green lentils
2 oz (50g) no-soak apricots
1 large onion, chopped
2 oz (50g) butter
salt and pepper
8 walnut halves, chopped
2 tblsp chopped parsley
Soak the lentils for 3 - 4 hours, then drain and cook in fresh water for 45 minutes. Drain and return ot the pan and set aside.
Meanwhile soak the apricots in water for 15 minutes, then drain and set to one side.
When all the preparation has been done, put the butter into a frying pan over medium heat and fry the onions and apricots until the onions begin to soften. Season to taste, then add these together with the walnuts to the pan of cooked lentils and cook over a very low heat for 10 minutes to allow the lentils to heat through but not dry up. Serve, sprinkled with the chopped parsley.

Millet and Lentil Loaf: serves 4 - 6
3 oz (75g) millet, cooked
7 oz (200g) lentils, cooked and drained
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
3 tblsp sunflower oil
4 oz (100g) spinach, roughly chopped
2 eggs, beaten
2 apples, peeled, cored and grated
1 tblsp ground coriander
1 tblsp lemon juice
salt and pepper
Put the oil in a frying pan and saute the onions for one minute, then add the spinach and toss or fork up to allow it to steam for a minute or two. Add the remaining ingredients, seasoning to taste and turn into an oiled 1 lb (1.2lt) loaf tin and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 30 - 40 minutes until firm and golden on top. Unmould onto a warm serving place, serve warm.

The final recipe today is one from the olden days, but because of the protein content of split peas, is well worth reviving with possible room for improvement by adding flavouring. This experimenting I leave to you, just offering the original recipe - but cost-wise a very worthy dish to make.
Pease Pudding: serves 6
1 lb (500g) split peas, soaked for 1 hour
2 oz (50g) butter, diced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
salt and pepper
Drain the soaked peas and put them in a pan with plenty of fresh water to cover, and simmer until tender. This can take up to an hour, check from time to time in case they need a little more water. Drain off any liquid, then put the peas in a food processor with the butter and blitz until smooth. Turn out and blend in the egg (if you add the egg to the processor it may scramble in the heat). Season to taste.
Put the mixture into a buttered 2 pint (1.25lt) pudding basin, cover with foil and steam for one hour over a pan of boiling water. Turn out the pudding and served with boiled ham, roast pork, or similar.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Quick-Step Cooking

You may remember how I always save the chicken wings when jointing a chicken, first removing the pointed wing tips. Collected up, on their own, they do make very good chicken stock, with some cooked flesh to use for a pie. On the other hand, they also make a good dish in their own right, served with rice, which can be extended (without the rice) to a pile-high plateful of party nibbles.
Spicy Tender Chicken Wings: serves 4
8 large chicken wings OR 16 small ones
4 fl oz (125ml) sweet chili sauce
1 tblsp lemon juice
1 tblsp molasses or black treacle
1 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp chili powder
pinch salt
3 drops Tabasco sauce
If the chicken wings are large, cut in half across the joint. In a karge bowl mix together the remaining ingredients and add the chicken pieces. Stir to coat each piece. Place the chicken in a slow cooker, pouring over the remaining marinade. Cover and cook on low for 8 (longer won't hurt) hours or until chicken is tender.

Next comes a retro dish, now back in favour. The 'Marie-Rose' sauce (ketchup and mayo) can have yogurt added to give a sharper texture, or - as seen done recently on TV, a spoonful of whisky added to give even more flavour. This is another version with limes giving added flavour.
Although this is speedy to make, if using frozen prawns, allow time for them to thaw:
Prawn Cocktail with and Asian flavour: serves 4
2 Little Gem lettuces
9 oz (250g) cooked, peeled, tiger prawns
3 tblsp mayonnaise
1 tblsp tomato ketchup
zest and juice of 1 lime
desiccated coconut (optional)
Pull the lettuces apart, using the paler inner leaves (save the outer leaves to add to a mixed leaf salad). Use some of the larger leaves to line 4 serving glasses, and shred the rest of the leaves, dividing between the dishes. Divide half the prawns between each serving, scattering over a little desiccated coconut if wished.
In a bowl, mix together the mayo, ketchup (a little Greek yogurt if using) and some of the lime juice, adding all of it only if you need it (taste as you go).
Spoon half the dressing over the prawns in the dishes, top with the rest of the prawns and drizzle the remaining dressing on the top. Garnish with a sprinkle of lime zest. Chill for half an hour before serving.

The final recipe, a dessert as almost promised, is a classic and always desired. Because the sauce is inside the pud, and not served outside, I have given it my own special name:
Inside Out Chocolate Pudding: serves 6
5 oz (150g) dark chocolate
5 oz (150g) butter
3 large eggs
5 oz (150g) caster sugar
2 oz (50g) plain flour
Break up the chocolate into chunks, and dice the butter. Put both into a bowl standing over simmering water. Stir from time to time until both have melted and combined.
Line the interiors of greased individual pudding basins or ramekin dishes with baking parchment.
Put the eggs and sugar into a bowl and beat lightly to break up the eggs, then add the flour and beat well together until smooth. Add the melted chocolate mixture and mix thoroughly, then pour into the prepared containers placing them on a baking sheet. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 12 - 14 minutes until the top is quite firm - and it will be cracked.
Turn each pudding out onto its serving plate, very carefully removing the paper. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or creme fraiche at the side. As you break into the puds, the chocolate sauce will appear. Eat and enjoy.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Where to Start?

Although this next recipe is for orange pickle, I see no reason why tangerines or clementines couldn't be used instead. If you have a standard orange, weigh it then multiply it by six to find the weight of oranges needed for this pickle and then make up the required weight with clementines instead, or you could use some of each.
Orange Pickle:
6 oranges
1 tsp salt
hot water
1 lb (450g) sugar
2 tblsp golden syrup
6 fl.oz (175ml) malt vinegar
4 fl.oz (125ml) water
seeds of 6 cardamons
6 black peppercorns, crushed
half tsp ground cinnamon
quarter tsp mixed spice or allspice
12 cloves
Put the fruit and salt into a large pan, pouring over just enough hot water to cover them. Bring the water to the boil over moderate heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer the fruit for 50 minutes (time given for oranges) or until the fruit is tender, then remove the pan from the heat.
Drain the fruit and leave on a board until cooled. Meanwhile, in another saucepan pu tthe sugar, syrup, vinegar, water, and the rest of the (spice) ingredients and heat slowly until boiling, then simmer for ten minutes, then leave to cool.
Using a sharp knife, cut the fruit into thin slices. Pour the spiced vinegar through a strainer into a pan, discarding the spices. Add the sliced fruit to the vinegar, bring to the boil, stirring frequently, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Turn out the heat, leave to cool for fifteen minutes then ladle into warm, sterisised jars. Seal, label and store in a cool place for at least three weeks before using. Good with goose, duck, or pork.

This next recipe began life as a lemon pudding, but easily adapted to using another citrus fruits. Be cautious when using the zest of a clementine as it can be a bit powerful, but as always, adjust the flavour to suit yourself.
Citrus Sponge Drops: serves 4
2 large eggs, separated
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
zest and juice of one clementine
2 oz (50g) plain flour, sifted
7 fl.oz (300ml) water
2 tsp orange flavoured liqueur (opt)
creme fraiche or fromage frais
ground cinnamon
Whisk the egg whites with 1 oz (25g) of the sugar until soft peaks, the whisk in a further 1 oz (25g) sugar together with the clementine zest and egg yolks. When well blended, gently fold in the flour.
Spoon the mixture into a greased four-compartment Yorkshire pudding tin, or use greased flexible muffin moulds. Bake for 10 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until risen and firm to the touch.
While they are baking, put the remaining sugar into a small pan with 7 fl.oz (200ml) water and the clementine juice (or - to give a stronger flavour - use more juice less water or all juice if you wish). Heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, turn out the heat and stir in the liqueur.
When the sponge puddings are cooked, remove and place each in a shallow dish. Pour over the warm syrup and leave to cool at room temperature - this gives them time to soak the flavour up into the sponge.
Top each pudding with a dollop of creme fraiche or fromage frais, dusting each with a little cinnamon before serving.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Mornings After

Just a couple of recipes for you today as still not quite got back into my stride. The first makes use of 'stuff we have around' and much can be prepared in advance ready to 'throw the lot together'. An easy one for learner cooks or those hard-pressed for time (take note of the tips).
Sort of an Egg Casserole: serves 8 with leftovers
6 slices of toasting bread cut into cubes
2 oz (50g) butter, melted
4 oz (100g) Gruyere or Jarlsberg cheese
2 cloves garlice, peeled and crushed
salt and pepper
2 tsp mild paprika
8 fl oz (225ml) creme fraiche or sour cream
8 fl oz (225ml) plain yogurt
4 spring onions, minced or finely chopped
8 hardboiled eggs, sliced
8 oz (225g) cooked bacon, crumbled
1 pint measure grated Cheddar cheese
Mix together the bread, butter, grated Swiss cheese, garlic, half the paprika, and salt and pepper to taste, and spread over a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until the bread is toasted and the cheese melted. Cool, then blitz in a food processor or blender in small batches until well combined.
Into a bowl put the creme fraiche, yogurt, spring onions, the remaining paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Thin with a little more yogurt and/or milk if too thick. It need to be as a pouring sauce.
Put the crumbed mixture into the base of a 13" x 9" x 2" (33 x 23 x 5 cm) casserole dish. Arrange the sliced eggs over the crumbs and sprinkle the bacon over the eggs. Top with the cream sauce. Sprinkle over the grated Cheddar and bake at the same temperature (200C etc) for 15 minutes or so until heated through and the cheese melted and golden. Serve hot with cooked meats, salads, or leftovers (whatever that might be).
Tips: The crumb mixture can be prepared days in advance and once cooked and processed can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge. The whole dish can be prepared and then kept chilled in the fridge and cooked the following day.

This final recipe makes a really good side dish to serve with a Chinese stir-fry (which in itself can make use of oddments of vegetables , plus some shredded cooked turkey).
Curried Pineapple: serves 6
2 oz (50g) butter
1 fresh pineapple, cut into chunks (or used canned/drained)
pinch salt
1 - 2 tblsp curry powder
3 oz (75g) brown sugar
1 small onion, finely chopped
Melt the butter in a saucepan over high heat. Stir in the curry powder, the sugar, salt, onion and fry for 3 minutes, then stir in the pineapple and heat through for approx 3 minutes. Serve hot.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Last Minute Suggestions

Christmas Eve would normally be my busiest day, but this year I've been considering ways to cut down any intense labouring. Bread sauce for instance. Why crumb the bread? If I remove the crusts and tear the bread into chunks (or not even that), and pour the onion-steeped milk over it, cover and leave in the fridge overnight, all it will need is forking together before heating, seasoning, adding butter and stirring together. Even that can be done a day or two in advance and kept chilled ready to reheat. That's time saved.

And again, serving mashed potatoes with turkey alongside the roast. The easiest way to make lump-free mash is to bake large potatoes in their skins, in the microwave, then cut in half, remove all but a thin layer of potato, and mash up with butter and cream (see an alternative use of sprouts and mash below). The skins can be brushed (or sprayed) with oil on both sides, cut into wedges and frozen to later be crisped up like oven-chips (200C for about 10 - 20 mins) and served with for dips. Almost two for the price of one.

Cook extra sausages, then chill and keep in the fridge to use over the following days, either as an addition to a cold meat platter, or sliced as part of a topping for pizzas or to include in other dishes (a recipe given below). Beloved just loves cold sausage sarnies, the sausages split lengthways with a squirt of HP over the buttered bread.

When cooking the turkey, put roughly chopped vegetables (carrots, onions and celery) in the base of the roasting tin for the bird to sit on. Add about a pint of water, tent the bird loosely with foil and roast for the recommended time, removing the foil for the last half hour to allow the bird to brown.
Using forks, place the bird onto a heated plate, cover tightly with foil and leave to stand for at least 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to settle in the bird and keep it moist. Spoon most of the fat from the roasting tin, remove the vegetables (cool and keep these in the fridge for the following day) and use the pan juices to make gravy. If the turkey comes with giblets (most whole birds do), then simmer these separately in water for an hour, then add the liquid to the gravy before reducing down.

Brussel sprouts are often sold at farmer's markets still on their stalks, are much the best way to buy them fresh as all you do is stand the cut end of the stalk in water, stand them in a sheltered part of the garden, and they keep fresh - could be several weeks - just take off as many sprouts as you need at the time. Small children are more inclined to eat sprouts if you serve them very small ones and call them Fairy Cabbages. One grandson of mine who really hated them (as normally served) managed to eat a goodly helping after I had first finely shredded raw sprouts and steamed them for a very few minutes. They were pale green and didn't look a bit like sprouts. Even better, lightly steamed and tossed in hot bacon fat, and mixed into mashed potatoes with or without the addition of crisply fried bacon, they taste very good.
As people who keep hens probably already know, the sprout stalk and tops can be hung in the pen as they love to peck on it. I've no doubt the core of the stalk and the leafy tops can also be shredded down to make soup, as I do with my cauliflower trimmings.

Originally this recipe called for raw veg, which were diced and cooked in the stock until tender. My version uses the vegetables cooked under the turkey - as they have even more flavour.
Brussel Sprout Soup for Boxing Day: serves 4
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
onion, celery, and carrot cooked under the turkey
a couple of leftover roast potatoes or use one raw
200g can chopped tomatoes
2 tblsp tomato puree
salt and pepper
around 8 oz (250g) raw Brussel sprouts
200g can butter beans, drained
fresh parsley, chopped
2 tblsp grated Parmesan or other hard cheese
1 3/4 pints (1 litre) hot stock, chicken or vegetable
Roughly chop the cooked vegetables. If using raw potato, peel and dice finely. Put the oil in a large saucepan, and fry the vegetables for a few minutes. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, then add the chopped and pureed tomatoes and season to taste. Boil for five minutes, then cool slightly and blitz for a very few seconds in a blender or processor, aiming to keep the vegetables fairly chunky, but you can make it as smooth as you like. Return to the pan and reheat. Shred the sprouts finely, and add to the pan with the butter beans and simmer for about 10 - 15 minutes until the sprouts are tender. Serve in individual bowls sprinkled with the parsley.
To make it almost a complete meal, some raw or cooked pasta shapes can be added. If raw, add them with the sprouts and beans. If already cooked, add them towards the end of the cooking time, just long enought to heat through.

Easy Sausage Pasta: serves 4
14 oz (400g) pasta, any shape
14 oz (400g) sausages, pre-cooked
small knob of butter
little sunflower oil
5 tblsp creme fraiche
2 tblsp milk
2 tblsp wholegrain mustard
chopped parsley
Cook pasta according to packet directions. Drain and return to the pan. Slice the sausages. Melt the butter and oil in the pan and when hot add the sausage and cook through until hot, then tip these, with some or all of the pan juices, into the pasta, Blend together the creme fraiche, milk and mustard and stir this into the sausages and pasta. Heat through then serve garnished with the parsley.

With champagne or other bubbly served around this time of year, remember you don't have to drink the full bottle. Although most of the time we do. If at all possible, managed to save some - especially at party time, and rustle up this (if you prepare the strawberries ahead) almost instant dessert.
Red Berry Sparkle: serves 8
8 oz (225g) frozen raspberries
8 oz (225g) fresh strawberries, hulled
6 tblsp sugar
7 fl.oz (200ml) champagne, chilled
mint sprigs for garnish
Crush the strawberries with the sugar and place in the freezer for a couple of hours. Remove, add the frozen raspberries and crush together, the spoon into cocktail glasses and top up with champagne. Garnish with a sprig of mint and serve immediately.

My final recipe is usually something sweet, and in some ways this is - but served as a starter instead of a dessert. Perhaps a good one to start off the Christmas Lunch - although in our house, we dive straight into the main course with gusto, knowing that with starters less room for the pudding which somehow, on Christmas Day, seems to have more importance. But each to his own.
Fruit Salad with Prawns: serves 4
12 oz (350g) fresh or frozen cooked, peeled prawns
425g (approx) can pineapple chunks
1 orange, peeled and segmented*
1 tblsp chopped fresh mint
salt and pepper
quarter pint measure diced celery
5 fl. oz (150ml) plain yogurt
Drain the pineapple, reserving the juice. Mix together the pineapple and orange segments. Cover and chill.
In a bowl mix together 2 fl.oz (50ml) of the pineapple juice with the mint and a mere pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh (or thawed and drained) prawns and the celery. Blend together 2 tblsp of the remaining pineapple juice with the yogurt, pouring this over the prawn mixture. Toss to blend together. Place in a covered container and chill overnight. Serve in shallow champagne type glasses.
TipL * Instead of using a large segmented orange, a substitute could be a can of mandarin orange segments (drained), but why spoil the boat for a ha'porth of tar? If wishing to include orange segments in a fruit salad of any kind, instead of messing around with the large oranges, use clementine segments which, after peeling, have been left to soak in some orange juice overnight. This makes the membrane virtually invisible. You can do the same with satsumas, but their segments have a thicker membrane so they do need tidying up by removing the strings of pith attached.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Something Fishy

Most fish dishes are quick to cook, and often these dishes can be prepared in advance.

Prawn and Tomato Pan-fry: serves 4
2 - 3 tblsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
half tsp sugar
12 oz (350g) large, frozen, peeled prawns, thawed
salt and pepper
4 oz (100g) feta cheese
cooked rice or pasta for serving
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute gently for about seven minutes until softened and beginning to turn brown. Add the tomatoes and the sugar and bring to the boil. Simmer for five minutes.
Drain the prawns well, and add them to the pan with seasoning to taste, and heat through for about five minutes until the prawns are heated through.
Serve on a bed of hot rice or pasta and sprinkle over the parsley.

Often we find we have one small frozen cod steak, one smoked haddock fillet, or maybe a small piece of salmon and the end of a bag of prawns etc, at the bottom of the freezer basket. So although this next recipe used just the one fish, it could easily contain a small selection of what you wish to use up.
Easy Fish Risotto: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 pints hot veg. or fish stock
9 oz (250g) risotto rice
9 oz (250g) smoked haddock, or fish of your choice
half pint measure frozen peas, thawed
2 oz (50g) butter
freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges
If the fish is frozen, thaw and poach in some of the stock for 10 minutes, then drain (reserve the liquid) remove any skin and bones and cut the fish into chunks. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion until softened, then stir in the rice until it coated with the oil.
Add the stock the fish was cooked in, stir and simmer until absorbed, then add a further ladle of hot stock, and repeat as the stock is absorbed, until the rice is nearly cooked, but still has a white core. Stir in the peas and fish with a ladle more stock and heat through. Cover and leave to stand for a couple or so minutes to allow the rice to absorb the liquid then stir in the butter. Season well with the pepper and serve garnished with the lemon.
Tip: the rice in a good risotto should end up slightly 'runny' when spooned onto the plate, and not as with normal long-grain rice where the grains are meant to be separate. But neither should risotto rice be too sloppy - so towards the end, always add the stock in small amounts to gain the best result. By the way, it is best not to stir risotto once the stock has been added. Just shake the pan if you feel it needs a bit of a mix.

This next fish dish can be prepared up to the point of cooking, then left to rest in the fridge all day to be baked on return from work. Again, the fish can be a personal choice, and if you have to resort to canned salmon and tuna, then so be it. It is often said that cheese and fish do not go together, but I have found a mixture of grated cheese and breadcrumbs used as a topping only enhances the dish, not spoils it. Again, a matter of choice. Instead of breadcrumbs/cheese, it could be mashed potato or grated potato loosely piled on as a rosti. But if preparing ahead, only the mashed potato can go on top, the crumbs/cheese or rosti is added during the cooking. Details below.
Your Choice Fish Dish: serves 4
9 oz (250g) smoked haddock, or white fish
9 fl.oz (250ml) milk
4 oz (100g) large frozen cooked prawns, thawed
4 oz (100g) frozen peas
knob butter
1 tsp plain flour
salt and pepper
4 tblsp either Greek yogurt, creme fraiche or fromage frais
2 slices bread, crumbed
2 oz (50g) hard cheese, grated
Put the milk in a pan and add the fish, poach gently for five minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon (keep the milk). Take the skin from the fish and flake the flesh into chunks and place in the base of a shallow ovenproof dish, scattering over the prawns (shelled) and the peas.
Put the butter into a small pan and heat gently until melted, then stir in the flour. Cook/stir for one minute then gradually stir/whisk in the reserved milk. Bring to the boil, stirring until a smooth and thick. Stir in the yogurt, season to taste (only a little salt, plenty of pepper) and pour over the fish. Mix together the breadcrumbs and cheese and scatter these over the top. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 20 minutes or until bubbling and golden.
Tip: if preparing ahead, the dish obviously will start off colder, so tent lightly with foil and allow 10 minutes in the oven before removing foil and sprinkling over the crumbs/cheese, or rosti, then bake on for the time given above.

Keep several different curry pastes and/or sauces in the cupboard. Korma is a mild one, Tikka Masala a medium, Madras moving more to the hot. Avoid Vindaloo unless you are a curry addict as it could blow your head off. However, the hotter the curry, the more it can be modified by stirring in yogurt.

dishes using the curry sauce:
Creamy Prawn and Mushroom Curry:
Put one batch of the curry sauce into a pan and stir/heat for 5 minutes until thickened. Then quarter or slice 250g pack of button or closed cap mushrooms and add to the sauce along with 200ml coconut milk. Bring to the boil, stir and add a 400g pack of defrosted shelled prawns and 2 - 3 tblsp mango chutney. Cook for a further five minutes until the prawns are heated through. Serve with rice (for speed use a microwave pouch).
Quick Chicken Curry:
Put 1 tblsp sunflower oil in a pan, heat through then add 450g diced chicken breast. Cook/stir for five minutes. Add 9 oz (250g) cooked dice potato and 7 oz (200g) frozen (thawed) spinach. Pour over one batch of the curry sauce, and simmer cook for 10 minutes until the chicken has cooked through. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of thick yogurt, then serve with rice or naan bread.

This final recipe is fairly adaptable as almost any plain cake will do, because when you pull the recipe to bits, all it is is cake crumbs mixed with custard - and the cream just makes it that much richer. If no cream then use evaporated milk or just use all milk and add an extra egg (gaining an extra white means you can make more meringue, but allow an extra 2 oz caster sugar when beating.
Queen of Puddings: serves 6
1 oz (25g) butter
11 fl.oz (300ml) milk
11 fl.oz (300ml) double cream
5 oz (150g) Madeira (or other cake) crumbed
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs, separated
5 tblsp red jam
Heat the milk and cream together until just about to boil. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and 1 oz (25g) only of the sugar, the lemon zest and the cake crumbs. Leave to stand for 15 minutes, then beat in the egg yolks. Pour into a buttered ovenproof dish and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for half an hour or until just set (with a very slight wobble in the centre). Remove from oven and spreak the jam over the top of the sponge. Whisk the egg whites until very stiff then gradually beat in the remaining sugar until thick and glossy, then pile the meringue on top of the jam. Return to the oven and bake for a further 15 minutes until the meringue is light gold with a crispy surface. Serve hot.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Medley of Dishes

A meat that has sadly been neglected in my postings is pork. Perhaps because we, as a family, seem to prefer beef, lamb or chicken. So - having purchased a pack of fresh boneless lean pork steaks and all the other ingredients are around the house - as not all food is kept in the kitchen, because at this time of the year my fridge is full, and apart from always keeping a bowl of fruit in the hall, the porch (on frosty days being the same temperature as our fridge) is a good keeping place for white cabbage, carrots, celery and several other vegetables.
Parmesan Pork with Red Apple Coleslaw: serves 4
4 pork loin steaks, fat trimmed off
2 slices white bread
handful of fresh sage leaves (or 1 tsp dried)
1 oz (25g) finely grated Parmesan cheese
black pepper
1 egg, beaten
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 small white cabbage, finely shredded (grate the core)
3 tblsp creme fraiche or plain (pref Greek) yogurt
2 red apples, cored, halved and sliced
Lay the pork steaks between two sheets of clingfilm (or baking parchment) and bash with a rolling pin until quite thin (no more than 1 cm thick). Blitz the bread in a processor with the sage until crumbed, then mix in the cheese and tip into a shallow dish. Season with the pepper. Take each steak, one at a time, and brush each side with the beaten egg (this way the egg goes further than if dipping the steaks into the egg, but you could dip if you prefer), then lay into the crumb mixture, coating both sides, patting the coating in so that it sticks.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the steaks for 3 - 4 minutes until heated through. Meanwhile mix together the cabbage, creme fraiche/yogurt, and apple and season to taste. Serve the cooked steaks with a helping of coleslaw on the side.

Although the larger dried fruits - such as apricots and dates - are welcomed as a tasty treat by most of us, prunes seem the poor relation of the family. Perhaps if we called them dried plums, instead of giving them a different name, we might think differently. But whether or not they are used for this tart, the different way of making the pastry case is always worth trying, as it can be used for other fruit tarts.
Prune and Almond Flan: serves 8
3 oz (75g) butter, softened
2 oz (50g) icing sugar,
2 eggs
6 oz (175g) plain flour
To make the pastry by hand, cream the butter until smooth, then stir in the icing sugar and just ONE of the eggs, then add the flour. Or, put the butter, sugar, one egg, the flour and 2 tsp water into a food processor and pulse until just making a dough.
Whichever method is used, wrap the dough in cling-film (or put into a plastic bag) and chill to firm up. At this point it can be frozen for up to a month.
Roll out the pastry between 2 sheets of floured cling-film and use to line a 9" (23cm) flan tin. Cover this with baking parchment or foil and fill with beans. Then freeze the pastry until solid (takes up to 1 hour), then place immediately onto a baking sheet (preferably pre-heated in the oven) and bake at190F, 375F, gas 5 for 15 minutes. Carefully remove beans and paper, and glaze the inside of the case with the second (beaten)egg - this prevents leakages - then put back in the oven and bake for a further 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the filling -
4 oz (100g) butter, melted and cooled slightly
4 eggs, beaten
6 oz (175g) light muscavodo sugar
4 oz (100g) flaked almonds
20 prunes, stoned
Stir the butter and sugar into the beaten eggs. When the case is ready, sprinkle half the almonds over the base, then cover these with the prunes, spooning over the filling as evenly as possible . Sprinkle the remainng almonds on top and bake for 25 - 30 minutes until firm. Dust with icing sugar and serve hot, warm, or cold with creme fraiche, pouring or whipped cream, or just custard.

If there is a can of chestnut puree in the cupboard, then this is a really easy yet decadent dessert well worth making.
Chocolate Chestnut Dessert: serves six
8 oz (225g) plain chocolate
7 oz (175g) margarine or butter
7 oz (175g) caster sugar
1 x 425g (15oz) can unsweetened chestnut puree
1 tblsp rum or brandy
Break up the chocolate and place in a bowl standing over simmering water. Leave until melted.
Beat the marg or butter with the sugar until very light and fluffy, then beat in the chestnut puree followed by the chocolate and chosen spirit.
Pour the mixture into an oiled and lined 1 lb (450g) loaf tin, smoothing the top. Chill for 8 - 12 hours. Turn out onto an oblong serving plate and leave as-is or decorate in any way you wish. Serve sliced, with cream or ice-cream.

The final recipe for today is a type of muesli bar, good for packed lunches, for picnics, and especially at this time of the year, make smaller ones to pile high on plates for a quick snack. Best kept for children over the toddler stage as the seeds may be too large for them to cope with. At the other end of the age range, perhaps softer cakes such as gingerbread may be easier for teeth to cope with.
Chewy Bars: makes 16
11 oz (300g) porridge oats
4 oz (100g) pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds
2 oz (50g) sesame seeds
2 oz (50g) desiccated coconut
2 oz (50g) plain flour
7 oz (200g) butter
7 oz (200g) golden syrup
5 oz (150g) soft brown sugar
5 oz (150g) chopped dried fruits*
1 tsp vanilla extract
Put the oats, seeds, coconut and flour into a bowl. Put the butter, syrup and sugar into a pan and heat gently until melted, then stir in the fruit and vanilla. When combined, add to the dried ingredients in the bowl and mix well together.
Press the mixture into a lined 12" x 8" (30 x 20cm) Swiss roll tin and bake at 170C, 325C, gas 3 for 25 minutes or until golden and slightly firm. Cool in the tin, then lift out together with the paper, and cut into bars of the size you wish. Remove from the paper and store in an airtight container. Will keep for up to a week.
* Note: use any dried fruits you wish, chopped dates, no-soak apricots, prunes, figs, raisins, sultanas, dried or glace cherries etc. You could also add chopped nuts instead of all or some of the seeds.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tasting the Difference

Still warming up for the festivities, I continue to seek out useful recipes - especially ones that can use ingredients we already have. This first is a soft pate (best served straight from the fridge) that has a really tangy flavour:
Lentil and Cheese Pate: serves 4 - 6
5 oz (175g) dried red lentils
1 x 200g (7 oz) pack of soft (Philly) cheese
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
finely grated zest of 1 orange
salt and pepper
Wash the lentils, then boil until just tender (about 15 minutes). Tip into a sieve and drain well, using a wooden spoon to press out excess liquid. Leave to cool for five minutes, then gently mash (although pressing through with the spoon may have already mashed them). Leave to get quite cold.
Put the cheese into a bowl and beat this up with a fork until smooth then stir in the lentils, the garlic and the orange zest. Season to taste. Spoon into a serving dish and keep chilled.
Serve with Melba toast or crisp bread.

This next is a home-made pesto, this time using parsley instead of basil, and walnuts instead of pine-nuts. Put into small containers with a layer of olive oil on top, it should keep for at least a week in the fridge, but small amounts could be frozen in ice-cube trays ready to thaw and add to a pasta dish.
Parsley and Walnut Pesto:
2 oz (50g) walnut pieces
1 good handful parsley (pref flat-leaf)
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
4 fl oz (100ml) olive oil
1 - 2 oz (25 - 50g) grated Parmesan cheese
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped (opt)
Put the walnuts, parsley and garlic into a food processor and blitz until finely chopped. Still keeping the motor running, slowly pour in the oil. Taking a spatula, scrape the pesto into a bowl, and stir in the cheese. Serve by stirring the pesto into hot pasta (to serve 4), adding a few more pieces of walnuts and extra Parmesan.

For a change from the usual BLT (bacon, lettuce,tomato), here is a recipe worthy of a Boxing Day Brunch.
Turkey BLT Melts: serves 4
8 rashers smoked streaky bacon
4 slices toasting bread
1 tblsp olive oil
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
6 oz (175g) sliced cooked turkey
7 oz (200g) sliced Brie Cheese
Grill the bacon for about five minutes until crisp. Cut each rasher in half and set aside. Toast one side of the bread slices, then turn and drizzle the other sides with the oil then place overlapping layers of the tomatoes, turkey and cheese on the top . Grill for 5 minutes until hot and the cheese has melted.
variation: include slices of stoned and peeled avocado, or apple. Use feta or halloumi cheese instead of Brie.

Another variation on a sarnie is the following, again using up foods we have all over-ordered at Christmas. The advantage with these is they can be frozen up to 3 months, so turkey, turkey, turkey, does not have to be on the menu for each of the Twelve Days.
The Vicarage Supper: serves 4 (F)
6 oz (150g) cooked turkey
3 oz (75g) cooked ham
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, grated
1 rounded tsp Dijon (or English) mustard
2 - 3 tblsp milk or cream
6 oz ( 150g) softened butter
6 slices bread
2 tblsp oil
Either mince or process the turkey and ham together then mix with the cheese and mustard. Bind together with milk. Butter the bread (save some butter for cooking) and make into sandwiches with the mixture. Remove the crusts (at this point they can be frozen: wrap, seal and label, use within 3 months. To serve: thaw for 3 hours then continue as following). Heat the remaining butter in a pan with the oil, and fry sandwiches on both sides until golden. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot.

A mention yesterday of Coronation Chicken has prompted me to give you this version made with turkey.
Coronation Turkey: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
4 oz (100g) cashew nuts
1 onion (pref red), chopped
2 tblsp Korma curry paste
4 oz (100g) no-soak apricots, sliced into slivers
1 tblsp tomato puree
1 x 142ml tub of creme fraiche (or soured cream)
5 fl oz (125ml) mayonnaise
1 lb (or thereabouts ) shredded cooked turkey
1 fresh mango (or use canned) peeled and sliced
Heat the oil in a pan and add the cashew nuts, stirring until lightly toasted. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.
To the same pan, add the onion and cook for five minutes until softened, then stir in the curry paste, the apricots and the tomato puree. Cook for 2 more minutes then remove from heat and leave to cool.
Once cooled down, stir in the creme fraiche and the mayonnaise then spoon out into a bowl and add the turkey and mango. Pile onto a serving plate (or individual dishes) and scatter over the cashew nuts. Serve with a crisp green leaf salad (watercress, rocket and spinach is a good combination).

The final recipe today, using only 2 ingredients (not including the egg for glazing), and is a brilliant one for using up puff pastry and marzipan. No need to buy a pack of each because at this season of the year we may already have part-packs lurking somewhere. Just use what you have and enjoy.
Dutch Boterletter: serves 10 (F)
1 x 190g pack puff pastry
8 oz (225g) pack marzipan
1 egg, beaten for glazing
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board to a 28" x 4" (70 x 10cm) strip. Work the marzipan in your hands to soften it, then roll into an even sausage shape, 26" (65cm) long. Place this onto the pastry. Brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg and roll up (like a sausage roll), sealing the ends. Place onto a baking sheet, forming it into a letter (traditionally M for mother). Freeze at this point, open-freezing until solid, then wrap, seal, label. Use within 3 months. To cook from frozen follow next directions, allowing five to seven minutes longer). To cook, glaze with egg and bake at 220c, 425F, gas 7 for 30 minutes until golden brown. Cool and serve in slices.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Food fit for a King, Queen and You

The la Galette des Rois (the cake of Kings) which since the Middle Ages, has traditionally been eaten by the French on Epiphany (the day the Three Wise Kings paid homage to Jesus). Here the traditional date has been changed to Twelfth Night, and the last feast of the festive season gets into full swing (if not, why not?). The cake always included a bean - which should be large enough to be noticed, and everyone must be aware it could be in their slice (health and safety!!), and one of those gold or silvered almonds would be perfect but any large bean would do as it is not expected to be eaten.
It is not a matter of just slicing up the Galette and serving to the first in the queue, the tradition goes much further than that where the youngest person in the room hides under the table and shouts out which guest takes the next slice. Whoever gets the bean becomes King or Queen for the night and given a golden (paper) crown. They must then choose their royal partner (Queen or King) by dropping the bean in their glass. Don't ever give up traditions as good as this. Why not make it a fancy dress party while you are at it.

Twelfth Night Cake: serves 8
5 oz (150g) butter. softened
5 oz (150g) caster sugar
5 oz (150g) ground almonds
3 eggs
1 x 500g pack puff pastry
1 gold/silver (or plain) sugared almond
Preferably using a wooden spoon, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy, Beat two of the eggs and beat them into the mixture, adding the ground almonds until the mixture is thick and creamy.
Divide the pastry into two, rolling out one piece on a lightly floured board to make a square roughly 10" (25cm) wide, then using a plate of the same diameter as a guide, cut out a circle, repeat with the other piece of pastry (save the trimmings to make cheese straws -see tip below).
Place one circle on a large baking sheet, spreading an even layer of the almond cream on the top, but leaving a half-inch (1.5cm) border. Push the bean into the mix, somewhere between the centre and the edge. Dampen the uncovered edge of the pastry and cover with the remaining circle of pastry, pressing the edges well together to seal in place.
Using a sharp knife, score the pastry with curved lines (like the spoke of a wheel - but if you prefer score where you wish to cut each slice - this way you could end up with more, but smaller, portions). Do not score through to the filling. Place in the fridge to chill for half an hour.
When ready to cook, beat the remaining egg and brush all over the top of the Galette, bake in the centre of the oven at 200C, 4ooF, gas 6 for 25-30 minutes until risen and golden. Leave on the baking sheet for five minutes (this helps to cook the underneath a bit longer) but the remove (or the base will go soggy) and cool on a cake airer before serving.
Tip: when saving discarded puff pastry, don't scrunch it together. Lay one piece (or more if small) upon another so that the layers stay intact. Then when rolled out, they should rise fairly evenly.

A few final tips on how to use up some of those festive nuts:
Grind up handfuls of unsalted nuts and use instead of ground almonds in cakes.
Chop unsalted mixed nuts and keep in a jar to add to muesli or cakes.
Toast in a little olive oil in a pan and stir in a little curry paste to make spiced nibbles.
Grind nuts in a processor with a little olive oil to make a peanut type butter.
Store unused nuts in the freezer to give a longer shelf life.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Low Cost High Quality

Myself, I discover new things every day - such as yesterday, when I stirred a little leftover custard into some of the last of the mayonnaise and to my surprise it tasted very like salad cream. Not expecting anyone to go that far, but it just shows how the oddest combinations can sometimes give surprising results. So never miss an opportunity to try something new.

With blue cheese in the fridge around the Christmas season, broken savoury biscuits in the barrel, and packs of cream cheese which I one of my 'basics', this next offering makes is a worthy starter, best flavoured with tarragon, or you may wish to choose your own herb. The original recipe used Gorgonzola cheese, but again any good blue cheese could be substituted.
Blue-Cheese cake: makes 8 starter portions
5 oz (125g) savoury biscuits
2 oz (50g) butter, melted
12 oz (350g) cream cheese (Philly type)
3 spring onions, finely chopped
4 oz (100g) blue cheese (Stilton, Gorgonzola etc)
1 tblsp chopped fresh tarragon
salt and pepper
5 fl oz (150ml) double cream or creme fraiche
Crush the biscuits into fine crumbs and stir in the melted butter. Press into the base of an 8" (20cm) springsided tin or use a flan ring (if you have neither, form a collar of cardboard fixing the ends together cover with foil, and stand on the serving plate).
Put the cream cheese into a bowl and beat until softened. Add the spring onions, tarragon and crumbled blue cheese. Season to taste. Whip the cream until just holding its shape (or use the creme fraiche as-is as that should be fairly thick), then fold into the blue cheese mixture. Pile onto the top of the biscuit base and smooth to fill the ring. Place in the fridge to set overnight. Serve cut into wedges with a garnish of orange segments, and watercress or rocket leaves.

This next is an unusual way to serve a pizza - part baked, part fresh, and for ease (just for once) I suggest using a ready made dough (pizza) base to bake through. But no reason why home-made bases couldn't be made, shaped and then frozen to be covered later. As ever, the fresh topping can be changed to other items that may be in the fridge, but do use crisp and fresh, anything that has been languishing for a while is better off being cooked.
Pizza with a Fresh Top: serves 2
2 medium uncooked pizza bases
3 tblsp tomato (pizza) sauce, or puree
4 oz (100g) mozzarella, sliced
half an avocado, sliced
1 pack rocket leaves
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 slices Parma ham, or thin chorizo
4 thin slices cooked ham
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
Spread the tomato sauce/puree over the top of the two pizzas and bake as directed on the pack. When crisp, remove to warm plates, and either arrange the toppings over in the order you wish, or pile them into bowls and let each person assemble their own. Eat while the base is still warm.

Chicken livers are very inexpensive, you get a lot for 50p (either fresh or frozen from the supermarket). If frozen, thaw, trim off any green or white bits, and soak them overnight in milk. They make an excellent pate, but also a great starter, fried for a very few minutes in butter, adding a drop of Worcestershire sauce, and a few orange (or satsumas- membrane removed) segments. Even better with a dash of sherry, brandy or Madeira. Serve a few scattered over a small plate of assorted salad leaves, drizzled with a little of the juices from the pan.

If you have been following my postings over the year, you will probably realise that most of the ingredients in the given recipes are normally ready to hand in my own fridge, freezer or cupboard. But of course, not necessarily yours. Even so, by now you will have a good idea of what I keep, and by stocking most of them yourself, you can try almost any recipe the moment it takes your fancy.
With Christmas almost upon us, it is worth tucking a few recipes up your sleeve ready to dispose of surplus turkey, which - together with the stored ingredients - can turn into this very tasty dish:
Turkey, Apple and Mustard Saute: serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
2 leeks, washed and sliced (or use onions)
2 red apples, cored and cut into wedges (peel left on)
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
5 fl.oz (150ml) chicken or stock
2 tbslp whole grain (or Dijon) mustard
1 x 200ml pot creme fraiche
1 lb (450g) skinned leftover turkey
Heat the oil in a pan and saute the leeks (or onions) and apples for 8 minutes until just tender. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Blend together the stock, mustard and creme fraiche and pour into the pan. Bring to the simmer. Cut the turkey up into large pieces and add to the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes then serve hot with a side salad or a pile of hot mashed potatoes (a little crispy bacon in the potatoes can only improve the dish).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Use it or Lose it.

A lot of pleasure can be found by just seeing how much we can achieve, and sometimes I feel we have lost the art of making do, be it in or out of the kitchen. Being the age I am, of course I blame television and computors taking up all our spare time. And for those that can remember, wasn't life packed full of activities without them? Oh, those were the days.

There will always be those who do not agree, and many more who today do the fashionable thing and buy their lunch en route to work (plus coffee from a machine during the day) . But think on this (and purely hypothetical, just proving a point) - if lunch was made at home and taken, with a thermos of hot drink to work, at today's prices, a saving of £10.80 per week could be made. Over one working year this adds up to £475 (not a lot you may think, but it would pay for a holiday), over a 40 year working life, give or take a few days off for ill health, and no increase in prices, adding up to a saving of between £15,000 and £20,000, not including interest, and you still get your sandwiches and coffee! What I call a win-win situation.

That is is just an example of how it is worth sometimes looking at the wider picture. By all means buy your sarnies, make cuts elsewhere. By planning any small economies, the savings can be made to work and no better place to start (often the only place left) is in the kitchen.

With that in mind, today's savoury recipe is one for the winter, that can make use of several vegetables you may wish to use up (am beginning to think I shouldn't call them 'odds and ends' any more), is basically vegetarian, with barely a peel to go to waste (only the brown papery onion skin needs to be removed) and the dumplings could have additional flavour added (eg. grated orange zest) if you wish.
Veggie Hotpot with Dumplings: serves 4
1 onion, sliced
2 large carrots, sliced
half a cauliflower, broken into florets
5 fl.oz measure chopped tomatoes
1 tlsp oil
half a pint (300ml) vegetable or chicken stock
1 tblsp tomato puree/paste
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
9 oz (250g) frozen mixed veg: peas, beans etc
2 oz peanuts
Dumplings (recipe below)
Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion and carrots for 5 minutes, then stir in the tomatoes, the tomato puree, stock and herbs, season to taste (add a little salt if the peanuts are unsalted). Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the cauliflower florets , the beans and peas (or veg of your choice), and the nuts, cover and cook for a further 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the dumplings, then continue as below.
dumpling recipe:
2 oz (50g) plain flour
1 oz (25g) beef or veg. suet
pinch of dried mixed herbs
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper
4 tblsp water
Put the flour into a bowl with the suet, herbs and 1 oz (25g) of the cheese. Season to taste. Stir in the water and mix to a soft dough. Using floured hands divide mixture into eight and shape each into a ball.
Place the dumplings on the top of the vegetables, sprinkle over the remaining cheese, replace the lid and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Friday, December 14, 2007

In The Deep Midwinter

But first, we have to get through Christmas, and with a supermarket brochure (a bit more upmarket than Tesco's) by my side, it is worth mentioning a few items that could be made easily at home. I will give you the retail price and leave you to work out just how much you can save by making them yourself. It seems the 'in' word at the moment is Artisan. Who thinks up these names? Obviously someone who believes that it makes the plain sound a lot more upmarket. Perhaps the difference being that someone actually handled bread dough twice during making, rather than being left mainly to a machine. In that case we home cooks can move ourselves several more rungs up the ladder, for the home-made is becoming much sought after. Incidentally, I think almost all the below have been covered on this site over the past months. So no excuse.
Artisan inspired Rye Bread 400g (14 oz) loaf: £1.69p
Puff pastry cheese straws: 225g (8 oz) £2.49p
Fresh Bread Sauce: 300g (11 0z) £1.29p
Mushroom and Nut Roast: 550g (1 lb and a bit) £3.49
Selection of winter roasting veg: 400g (14 oz) £2.49 (includes a drizzle of honey)
Raspberry Eton Mess (raspberries, meringue, cream): 500g (1 lb) £3.99 (incl. the bowl)
Sherry Trifle (raspberries, sponge, sherry, cream, custard) 1 kg (2.2 lb) £9.99
Brandy Butter (butter, icing sugar, brandy): 150g (5oz) £2.49
Stollen: 720g (1.5 lb approx): £5.99 (decorated by hand no less!)
Artisan inspired Boule (that's just a round white loaf): 400g (14 oz) £1.69
Roasted Beetroot and Horseradish Dip: 170g (6 oz) £1.49

Am leaving you today with a so-called austerity dish. A good one to make if you have any small pickling onions as yet unused, but larger onions cut into quarters would substitute. Most of the ingredients we should have in store, so for something different - try this:
Onion Crisp: serves 1 - 2
12 small onions
half a pint (300ml) milk
4 tblsp frozen peas (thawed, cooked)
3 oz (75g) butter
2 oz (50g) flour
2 oz (50g) breadcrumbs (probably one slice)
2 tblsp minced (chopped or crushed) salted peanuts
Peel the onions and boil them with the milk (adding a little water if necessary) until tender, then remove them whole and place in an ovenproof dish with the peas. Make a sauce by melting 2 oz (50g) of the butter in the saved liquid, thickening it with flour. Season well with the pepper (no need to add salt as that comes free with the nuts). Pour the sauce over the onions, sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and the nuts, and dot with remaining butter. Place under a hot grill until browned.
Tip: work equal quantities (by weight) of flour and butter together and form into balls. These can be kept in the fridge or frozen. Use to thickening sauces, by dropping a couple of balls into half a pint of the liquid and stirring until dissolved, adding more as necessary until the required thickness. This helps to prevent lumpy sauces.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Kitchen Talk

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, and where would we be now if things had stayed always the same? So it can take hard times for someone to be inspired enough to think up ways to improve things, and from several of your comments it seems you are doing just that. Enjoying it too.

Think about it. When we have a need to penny-pinch, not only do we start doing more home-cooking, but surely ending up with more enjoyable and nutritious meals. We have discovered ways of inventing new dishes using left-overs, instead of throwing the oddments in the bin. Small-scale inventing it may be, but the sense of achievement makes up for any lack of interest that would come from the Dragon's Den.

You may say this is retro-speak because home-cooking was something our mothers and grandmothers did as a matter of course, (and who wants to go back to those good/bad old days) but with the 'invention' of packaged ready-meals, pizza parlours, burger bars and so forth, one might ask whether these are truly an improvement, and it does seem that it has taken only one generation for many to rely more on manufacturers than on their own abilities. It can get really silly, for not so long ago, ready cracked eggs could be bought in small bottles, amd only last year I saw advertised small packets of fresh breadcrumbs for sale (each costing more than one plain loaf). Recently I was given a small bottle of a liquid (extravagantly packaged) which was to be diluted with water and used for washing fruit and vegetables. And there is always someone who will buy these things.

Now and again we need to stand back and discover what we can do without, rather than what we think we need. The more cooking we do, the more we rely on electrical tools (and I am all for some of them - where would I be without my electric mixer, my food processor, my toaster and kettle?), but they are mainly labour and time-saving. More often than not I grate my cheese using my mother's old grater instead of using the processor, and whip cream with a balloon whisk by hand instead of the electric beaters. The end result is the same, and often slightly better. If anyone whimpers they cannot cook without gadgets, then a wimp is what they are. One day I may suggest we all have a go at preparing and cooking a main meal from scratch without using anything more than a fork, spoon, and knife. I'll allow the use of a hob or oven, but a barbeque would be even better, being more 'natural'.

When it comes to writing up recipes, today they are far more complicated than a hundred years ago when it was "take four tablespoons of flour, two of sugar, a good knob of butter, one egg, mix them together, place in a buttered pan and cook in a moderate oven". In older times, the heat of the oven was often gauged by counting the seconds you could hold your hand in the oven before shrieking. This was later modified to placing a slice of bread in the oven to see how long it took to go brown. No temperature gauges in those days. You knew when something was cooked when you could smell it. Even to this day I use this as a guide.
Recipes can sometimes seem very complicated, as the approach these days is to write them up as though no-one could understand what to do unless all directions are given in great detail. If you find a recipe that seems too daunting, and you have a modicum of experience, then read through and rewrite it in short-form in a way that you will understand.

Don't be afraid of trying new methods. Here I am reminded of the omelette challenge, each week on Saturday Kitchen. All chefs seem to make them the same way, stirring the eggs around so that they are almost scrambled, yet somewhere, years ago, I learned one way to do it was pour the beaten eggs in the heated (and oiled) pan, let them set a little around the edges, then draw one edge into the middle, tipping the pan to let raw egg from the top flow to fill the gap, and continue until the top was lightly set. Then fold over and plate up. This method has always worked perfectly for me, so why change. One day I will time myself and see how long it takes.

Back to cookery (my mind is wandering a bit this morning as am still a bit miserable due to my cold)- we now have the advantage of being able to cook with foods from all around the world and also experience eating traditional dishes from every continent, which can be very beneficial to our budget as almost every country other than ours seems to have had a lot more experience in cooking local produce in a very tasty way. Here I'm not talking about French haute cuisine, but peasant cookery. The great meals made with the simplest and cheapest of ingredients, and enjoyed for centuries. Of course it helps to have a warmer climate where herbs grow wild in the fields and you go out and help yourself, and fruit and vegetables grow in abundance in the back yard (but who knows, with global warming, this may happen here within our lifetime). Then maybe perhaps haring a cow, and a local baker where you can make use of his cooling down oven to bake your savoury pies. Doesn't that sound bliss?

It has to be said that for centuries, our cooking lacked a lot. Overcooked greens for a start. So always worth watching cookery programmes set in other countries. Rick Stein has done some good French/Mediterannean series, and not all to do with fish. The Hairy Bikers is another cross-countries experience. Adapt dishes to suit what you have, people around the world have been doing this since the year dot.
Every country has its own version of bread, be it made with yeast or flatbread. Apart from East Asia, all that springs to mind is rice. Or maybe they make something with rice flour. But you get the idea. Every country has its own version of omelette (and this time this includes the Far East). All you have to do is take one dish from one country and marry it to another (the posh name for this is Fusion Food), and you can make up your own very tasty and very cheap meal.

Get down to that library, hunt out cultural cook books and get reading. Believe in yourself, and you will work miracles. Teach your children/grandchildren how to cook. Whether in college or chosing a more domestic life, they will thank you for that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Keeping Account

Tip: next time you make dough in a bread-machine, to later be baked in the oven, sit down and clock-watch, writing down the timings - including the gaps between - then in the future you can easily add things towards the end. My machine takes 45 minutes to just make up the dough, so as soon as 30 minutes has gone by, and the machine is in its resting stage, it is pretty safe to add things without them breaking down too much.

Christmas Stollen: makes 1 loaf - 10 to 12 slices
12 oz (350g) strong plain white flour
half tsp salt
1 tsp ground mixed spice
2 oz (50g) butter, diced
1 oz (25g) caster sugar
2 tsp easy-blend dried yeast
zest of 1 lemon
6 oz (175g) mixed dried fruit, incl. peel
few glace cherries, finely sliced
2 oz (50g) blanched almonds, finely chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
approx 4 fl oz (125ml) warm milk
6 oz (175g) marzipan or almond paste
icing sugar and ground cinnamon for dusting
Sift the flour, salt and spice into a bowl and rub in the butter. Stir in the sugar, dried yeast, lemon zest, dried fruit, cherries and almonds. Make a well in the centre and add the egg, with enough milk to mix into a soft dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, shape into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
When ready, return the dough to a lightly floured board, punch down then shape into an oblong about 8" a 4" (20 x 10cm) and 1" (2.5cm) thick. Roll the marzipan into a sausage, just slightly shorter than the length of the rectangle.
Place the marzipan in the centre of the dough, folding over one side of the dough to enclose it, then rolling the dough to take up the excess from the other side (this means the marzipan willl be off centre). Press edges of the dough together to seal. Place onto a greased baking sheet, cover and leave to rise again for at least 45 minutes, an hour is better if you want a light textured loaf.
Bake the Stollen at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for about 40 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack. Sift together the icing sugar and ground cinnamon over the top.
Variation: drizzle thin glace icing over the top of the Stollen instead of the sugar and spice.

In a magazine recently I noticed a recipe for biscuits which contained caramel, so have adapted this to include the caramel that I suggested we make ourselves (with an additional reminder of how to make caramel just for this recipe). Now I haven't as yet made the biscuits, but the recipes states it makes a goodly number so you get a lot for your money. Even better, as the weight of the ingredients are exactly the same (not including the caramel) you could make a smaller amount by just using less of each - in other words, no need for pen and paper to work it all out.
Caramel Crunch Thins: makes at least 50
9 oz (250g) each plain flour, caster sugar, softened butter
5 oz (150g) made caramel* (amount can be approximate)
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Crush the caramel into crystals the size of coarse demerara sugar (easily done if a food processor or use a pestle and mortar), mix this into the flour then fold both into the creamed mixture to form a soft dough.
Take teaspoonfuls of the dough and roll into small balls and place well apart on baking sheets which have been lined with non-stick baking parchment or Magic Carpet. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 12 - 15 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a cake airer. Continue until all the biscuits have been baked. Store in an airtight tin.
* To make the amount of caramel for the above: put 150g sugar in a pan with 2 tblsp water, heating gently until the sugar has dissolved, then boil rapidly until the syrup begins to darken. A good guide as to when it is ready is the lovely smell of caramel it gives off. If it gets too dark it will begin to taste bitter.
Pour the hot caramel onto a greased baking tin and leave to get cold and brittle. Then follow directions above re crushing the caramel.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More Experimenting

Moving on to the Goode Kitchen, yesterday I decided to get rid of the sadder vegetables in the fridge, and decided to make a soup in a slightly different way to normal. Not feeling well enough to bother with much activity, I just cut the last of the floppy celery into chunks, did the same with one large carrot, peeled and chopped a parsnip, but left in the core, took one large onion out of the basket on the unit, peeled and quartered that, threw the lot in a saucepan and then went back to the fridge to find more oddments. To the pan I added the last of a mixed bag of spinach, watercress and rocket (removing the worst bits), also the rather grubby end of a lettuce (grubby in that it was beginning to go a bit brown where it had been cut - as usually happens when cut with a metal knife). My pots of herbs (parsley, mint and thyme) that had been bought to dress up the kitche (much had been used), were all trimmed to just above soil level and the lot thrown into the pot, stalks and all, along with a handful of lentils.
These were left to simmer for an hour or two, and as simmering does not tend to soften vegetables very much, I raised the heat for a further half hour and then left it to cool slightly before blitzing in the food processor, needing to have two goes as there was quite a panful. The puree I pressed through a sieve, retaining the residue just in case. The resulting - albeit thin - liquid tasted very good, so I put it into a smaller pan to reheat, adding a spoon of beef stock concentrate (but vegetarian bouillon would be as good). Then put back some of the residue from the sieve back into the soup to thicken it, and (shock, horror) a tablespoon of dry tomato soup mix (like cup-a-soups, but you can buy them in jars now). Have to say it really did taste good. Beloved and I ate a huge bowlful each, and then had seconds, using up all the soup. I even added some of the sherry he had poured out for me, which was more of a refinement than an improvement. With a bowlful of vegetable residue still left, I intend mixing that with mashed potato and using it to top a Cottage Pie for supper today.

Today's recipes are a selection of seasonal dishes which can be eaten as snacks, party food, or at any time for that matter. The first being made in four-portion Yorkshire Pudding tin, which would give a size suitable for a starter, or use smaller tartlet tins and make up to a dozen for the buffet table.
Tomato, Pesto and Goat's Cheese Tarts:
6 oz (175g) puff pastry
pesto sauce
2 tomatoes, sliced
2 oz (50g) goat's cheesem sliced into four rings
basil leaves (opt)
balsamic vinegar
Roll out the pastry thinly and cut four circles to fit into the the tin, Bake each at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 8 minutes until well risen and golden.
Remove from the oven, spread a thin layer of pesto over the top of each, on this place the tomatoes, finishing with a circle of cheese. Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese has melted. If you wish garnish each with a basil leaf an drizzle over a little balsamic vinegar as a glaze. Serve hot with a salad.

Red cabbage is becoming much more popular since the word got around that it is even more nutritionally better for us than the white. So a dish of this, served alongside the turkey, would give a colourful addition to the table. Equally good served with hot or cold meats. But always remember to add the acid when cooking the cabbage otherwise it will turn blue, then nobody will want to eat it.
Christmas Cabbage with Apple: serves 6
1 medium red cabbage
1 oz (25g) butter
1 onion, chopped
3 eating apples, cored and grated
1 tblsp soft brown sugar
3 tblsp red wine vinegar
5 fl oz (150ml) water
salt and pepper
If necessary, remove any tough outer leaves from the cabbage, and cut the remainder through into quarters, removing the white core from each. Shred the leaves.
Melt the butter in a saucepan and saute the onion for 3 minutes, then add the cabbage and apples (leave on the apple skins), stir to combine, then add the remaining ingredients, cover the pan and simmer for one hour until tender. Season to taste.

Although several recipes for flapjacks have been posted throughout the past twelve months, this one has a seasonal flavour and at a pinch, homemade muesli could be used instead of the two main ingredients.
Christmas Flapjack: makes 16
14 oz (400g) mix porridge and jumbo oats
4 oz (100g) mix almonds and Brazil nuts, chopped
5 oz (150g) butter
3 tblsp golden syrup
2 tblsp sunflower oil
14 oz (400g) mincemeat (amount variable)
Mix the oats and nuts together. Put the butter, syrup and oil in a pan and heat gently until melted, then pour over the oat/nut mix and stir until well combined. Spread half over the base of a greased and lined 8"x 8" (20 x 20cm) tin, then spread the mincemeat on top (you could use less mincemeat if you wish), topping with the remaining oat mixture. Press the surface down firmly and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for around 20 minutes or until golden. Mark into bars whilst still warm but leave in the tin to get quite cold before removing and slicing. Store in an airtight tin.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Storecupboard Specialities

So today I am offering recipes that use just the basics and, although my idea of basic may not be yours, the ingredients are cheap enough. Also, as ever, many of the ingredients can be substituted with another of the same kind.

Starting with a delightul party fish dish that has the advantage of being made a day ahead of use and will also freeze. The cream cheese in the recipe (Philadelphia) is always in my fridge, bought when either reduced or bogof, and in various types, 'light', 'extra light', 'garlic and herb'. It has so many uses both in sweet and savoury dishes, used instead of butter in sarnies, spread on biscuits for snacks, tucked into celery stick grooves for party nibbles. The uses of this cheese are endless. Unopened and kept chilled it also keeps quite a bit longer than the use-by date.
The sardines that I buy are the cheapest (35p can) and having tested the flavour against a well-known brand (same weight, much more expensive) I prefer the cheaper one.
Bread is the padding for this dish - preferably home-made granary, but bought wholemeal would work just as well. Although the recipe specifies using an uncut loaf, medium thickness ready-sliced would do at a pinch. Just roll the slices thinner with a rolling pin.
Sardine and Parsley Layer: serves 8 - 10 (F)
4 oz (100g) butter, melted
1 lb (400g) cream cheese, at room temp.
2 tins sardines, drained
1 tblsp lemon juice
1 - 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
salt and pepper
handful of parsley, finely chopped
1 small wholemeal or granary loaf, thinly sliced
Take a 1lb loaf tin (9"x 5"/23 x 12 cm) and butter it generously. Put the cream cheese into a bowl and begin mashing it up with a fork, add the sardines and work these in with a wooden spoon, adding the lemon juice, garlic and 3 oz of the melted butter. Work together until well combined. Season to taste.
Pour the remaining melted butter into a bowl and stir in the chopped parsley then spread this over the base of the prepared loaf tin, pressing it down to flatten. Remove crusts from the bread and cut a slice to fit the base of the tin. Spread with a thick layer of the sardine filling and place the bread, filling side up, on top of the parsley. Cut another slice of bread to cover (remember each slice will be slightly larger due to the tin becoming wider as you move up), and keep layering with bread/filling/bread ending with the bread. Cover with foil and chill overnight (at this point it can be frozen for up to a month).
To plate up, dip the tin quickly in and out of hot water and invert onto a serving plate - the layered loaf should slip out easily. Smooth the sides with a knife if looking a little ragged. Keep chilled until ready to serve. If frozen, thaw overnight in the fridge then turn out as above.
Tip: if you like a touch of zing, add a tsp of horseradish sauce to the filling mixture.

This next recipe for soup is one traditionally made on Boxing Day, using the leftover vegetables, turkey stock, and a few other ingredients normally lying around. By using the recipe as a guide you can adapt to suit what you have on the day you feel like making it. If vegetarian, use vegetable stock. Make stock using a cube if you have none home-made.
Warming Winter Soup: serves 4 (F)
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
12 oz (350g) potatoes, peeled, chopped
2 tsp curry paste (or more to taste)
2 pints (1.2lts) chicken, turkey or veg. stock
20 oz (550g) cooked veg: sprouts, carrots, parsnip, squash
Fry the onion in the oil until softened. Add the celery, fry for a further five minutes, then add the potatoes. Stir-fry for five more minutes then stir in the curry paste. Pour in the stock, stir well, bring to the simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Chop the leftover cooked vegetables into small pieces and add to the pan. Heat through for a minute, cool slightly then blitz the soup in a blender or food processor. Thin down if necessary with water or more stock (at this point it can be chilled and frozen). To serve, heat through, season to taste and serve in individual bowls with a dollop of yogurt or creme fraiche on the top.

Another warming winter soup, this time made with proper storecupboard ingredients if you count the stock as being made using stock cubes. If no cumin or curry powder, substitute curry paste to taste. If neither, then add a dash of chilli sauce. Or season with cayenne or paprika. I use canned plum tomatoes as they are cheaper and have more flavour than the chopped, but they also have seeds, in which case you may prefer to sieve them out. Otherwise used cans of chopped tomatoes.
Spicy Lentil and Tomato Soup: serves 6 (F)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely diced
5 oz (150g) red lentils
2 x 400g cans plum tomatoes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp mild(ish) curry powder
2 pints (1.2 ltrs) vegetable stock
salt and pepper
Put all the ingredients, except the seasoning, into a saucepan, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for half an hour or until the lentils are very soft. Cool slightly then blitz in a blender, this may take several batches, season to taste (at this point it can be chilled and frozen). Reheat and serve with that dollop of creme fraiche or yogurt on the top.

Next comes a dish which works equally well if you have cooked ham in the fridge, or use canned ham. Myself am very partial to Spam, so might use that instead, or again - might not. But this is one of those recipes where substitutions can be made, using canned salmon or tuna instead of ham. It doesn't matter which pasta shapes are chosen, the pasta bows just look the prettiest. Amuse yourself and see how it ends up. Remember, never throw away mistakes, if not burned, then eat them, or process them, turn them into something else (amazing how almost any savoury dish, when blitzed in a blender, can made a very good soup). Just never discard.
Pea and Ham Pasta: serves 4
4 oz (100g) butter
4 oz (1oog) frozen peas
4 oz (100g) cooked ham, diced
salt and pepper
12 oz (350g) farfalle pasta (bows)
grated hard cheese, pref Parmesan
Put the butter in a pan and heat until melted. Add the peas and ham and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Season to taste. Meanwhile cook the pasta according to the packet directions, drain well then add to the pan of peas and ham. Toss well, put into a warmed serving dish and top with the grated cheese.

Today's final recipe has only 3 ingredients (plus a pinch of salt) and it is said that Queen Victoria enjoyed eating these biscuits with her afternoon tea. One way to remember the quantities (by weight) is: one part sugar, two parts butter, three parts flour, then you can make as many or as few as you wish. I will give you the original recipe although you may prefer to make the mixture up slightly differently.
Balmoral Shortbread: makes 3 dozen
12 oz (350g) plain flour
pinch salt
4 oz (125g) sugar
8 oz (250g) butter
Sift the flour onto a pastry board and sprinke in the salt. Make a separate pile at the side with the sugar. Using both hands, work the butter into the sugar then begin kneading in the flour a little at a time. When all the flour has been used, you should end up with a firm ball of dough. Roll out very thinly onto a lightly floured board to the thickness of eighth to a quarter inch thick (3 - 5mm). Cut into circles about 2 1/2" (5 cm) diameter and prick with a fork (it says domino fashion - giving three pricks, but I have yet to work this out).
Bake on a greased baking sheet at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for half an hour (don't overcook or they may beome too brittle, my words not theirs).