Sunday, February 17, 2008

Healthy Eating the Cost-cutting Way

In a catering book it gave a guide as to how much to charge if I was running 'an eating house' - this was normally five times the cost of the ingredients (the rest covers the overheads, and interestingly those packs of ready-meals sold in the supermarkets usually cost five time more than the ingredients.
At home we don't have overheads (well we do, but as part of the household running costs we can ignore most of them), so when I see the cheapest starter on the menu is Home-made (?) Soup of the Day priced at £3.50 per head, (including a bread roll and butter), then I think any of us could provide that for less than 60p a head. More like 60p for four.
So personally, if eating out, I would buy the dish that gives me the most value for money.
The desserts made me laugh. The cheapest pudding in the world to make is Jam Roly-Poly (you will remember I gave the recipe for this about a week or so ago), but on the menu I was reading was priced at £3.50. Likewise profiteroles, another cheapie, and possibly only three, but again £3.50. I can make about 3 dozen of these (sans cream) for about 50p.

I know it is fine to eat out and I'm not suggesting we should all stop. The point I am trying to make is that we should not believe that the price we pay for a dish that we have enjoyed when eating out, bears any relation to the cost when made at home. So many times I have heard someone say they eating out because home-cooking is never as good, or they couldn't afford to cook it anyway. Nonsense. Home-cooking is often much better, and far, far cheaper. With the fashion now turning so obviously to the traditional home-cooking (cottage pies, fish pies, steamed puddings, fruit pies), we have a head start - and all made from scratch, none of your bulk-buying of pre-prepared foods as used in the pub chains where everything tastes exactly same whichever branch you decide to patronise.

The following recipes are adapted from those in a catering cookbook, all expected to serve 8 people, so allow for this when costing out. To feed four, reduce quantities (and cost) by half, although I would allow a little extra for seconds, not all restaurants give generous proportions, often dressing up the remainder of the plate with drizzles of jus, and a few strategically placed veggies as happened one year when, for a birthday treat, Beloved took me to Windermere to a well known restaurant, now under different management. We were able to stay at the house, and this was very luxurious. For the meal I chose a platter which contained a small piece of veal on a very large plate, surrounded by seven different vegetables, with a good gap between each. Very small amounts of each vegetable, just a taste really. It was too long ago to remember what I was given, but I do recall there were three tiny new potatoes, three mangetout peas, a little carrot, perhaps two asparagus - honestly can't remember what else. All seasonal produce, but you get the picture.
At that time I was giving some lectures at one of the University departments - think it was one that dealt with Domestic Science or something. Anyway they wanted me to talk about cost-cutting. So I took them the menu, and we costed out all the ingredients for that particular dish. It came to £2.50. Admittedly some years ago, but it was a great deal more than five times the cost that we were charged. More like ten. OK it did come from the kitchen of a known TV chef now retired, but it just proves that we at home are perfectly capable of cooking something similar, just as good, and well within even the tightest budget (suggest chicken instead of veal).

Time now to take the professional approach.
Starting with soups, this could be anything you wish - menus usually give a choice, or maybe you have only one choice: the soup du jour, which is the chef's choice of the soup of the day, which can often be (and often is) made from yesterday's leftovers. I hasten to say this is sensible use of ingredients which were bought but not able to be used up at the time..Sensible chefs do not waste good food. And as we are now chef in our own kitchen, the soup du jour is our personal choice. Certainly the two recipes given would be priced highly enough if eaten out, as even cheaper ones to make could be offered. Carrot soup for example (a pub favourite).
Spiced Cauliflower Soup: suggested 8 servings
1 tblsp butter or olive oil
pinch whole cumin seeds
1 onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 lb (700g) cauliflower florets*
1 tblsp ground cumin
1 3/24pints (1 ltr) veg. stock
salt and pepper
Put the butter or oil in a saucepan and fry the whole cumin seeds until they pop open and begin to flavour the oil. Stir in the onion and saute until softened but not browning. Stir in the ground cumin, then add the cauliflower and stock. Simmer until the cauliflower is tender. Blitz in a food processor to a puree (or rub through a sieve or mouli), and season to taste. Serve hot.
*Tip: remember that the outside 'frame' of leaves and core that hold the cauliflower florets together, should be kept to cook and make a soup, that - together with a flavouring of Stilton cheese - can be absolutely wonderful. Details were given a few weeks previously. If you prefer to make the above soup without the cumin, just crumble and stir in Stilton crumbs at the end instead.

Another spicy soup, this time using butterbeans and lemons. As mentioned more than once, dried butterbeans can be soaked overnight and cooked in bulk, to be frozen in small quantities to use later. Likewise lemon zest and juice can be frozen, so this soup could be, to the cook-who-plans-ahead, an easy one to make.
Although the recipe suggests cooking the (unsoaked) dry beans in the stock, I would personally soak them overnight in the stock and then proceed, so I give my version. Once the soup has been cooked, it can be left in the fridge overnight for the flavours to develop, and be reheated the following day. Or could be frozen for later use (wonder if any of the pub soups were freshly made on the day).
Spiced Butterbean Soup: serves 8
1 lb (450g) dry butterbeans
1 onion, finely chopped
3 pints (2.2 ltr) vegetable stock
zest and juice from 1 large lemon
1 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
Put the butterbeans, the onion, and lemon zest into a large bowl and pour over 2/3rds of the stock. Leave to stand in the fridge overnight. Next day, tip the contents of the bowl into a large saucepan, heat to a boil, then cook until the beans are soft. Add the remaining stock, the cayenne and lemon juice. Season to taste. Leave to stand overnight in the fridge. The next day it can be served as a chunky soup as-is, or pureed to a less chunky or totally smooth thick soup according to your choice. Serve hot.

Two main-course dishes coming up, one a vegetarian hot-pot, complete all by itself, the other a dish with which you would offer vegetables. I think it should serve 6 not 8, but then we are greedy eaters in the Goode Household
Somerset Hot-Pot: serves 8
2 onions, sliced
3 potatoes, sliced
8 oz (225g) pearl barley
1 cooking apple, sliced
3 parsnips, peeled and sliced
4 courgettes, sliced
1 tblsp chopped fresh sage
pinch of salt
good grind of black pepper
4 fl.oz (100ml) thick Jersey cream
1 pint (550ml) cider (or half cider, half water)
3/4 pint (425ml) vegetable stock
8 oz (225g) Cheddar cheese, grated
Into a large deep casserole dish layer the vegetables, in the order given (up to the sage),starting with the onion. The barley is layered between the potatoes and the apple. Either do one thick layer of each, or make several thin layers of each. When the layers are complete, scatter over the sage, and add the seasoning.
Pour over the cream, the cider and the stock. Cover and cook at 300C, 150F, gas 2 for a couple of hours. Check the flavour, adding more seasoning if required. Raise the heat to 170C, 325F, gas 3, scatter cheese over the top of the hot-pot, and bake - uncovered - for a further 15 minutes until the cheese has melted and turning golden brown. Take the pot to the table and serve from there together with a basket of fresh crusty bread to dip into the juices.

This second main course (although served in ramekin dishes could be a starter) is something you would probably find only in a restaurant as it is a souffle. However, the recipe is well worth giving as it can be made with any pureed vegetables, such as leeks, spinach, peas, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, squash, onions, and often a blend of several. This one is made with potato and (in this instance) broccoli.
Souffled Broccoli: serves 6 - 8
3 lb (1.33kg) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 lb (450g) broccoli, broken into florets
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 oz (25g) butter
4 eggs, separated
salt and pepper
Boil the potatoes in salted water for seven minutes (or until nearly done), then add the broccoli and garlic and cook until the broccoli is tender, but still has 'bite', and remains a bright green colour. Drain well, returning to the pan to gently dry off any excess moisture. Then turn into a warm bowl and mash together with the butter to a puree. Season to taste (I do not normally suggest blitzing potatoes in a food processor as it makes them rather less than appetising, but in this recipe it might work, however you could blitz the broccoli first to give it a bit of a start before adding the potato with the butter).
Beat the egg yolks until thick and frothy, then beat this into the pureed vegetables. Whisk the whites until thick then fold a little into the vegetable mixture to slacken, then carefully fold in the remaining beaten whites. Turn the mixture into a well greased baking/souffle/serving dish, roughing up the top with a fork. If you run your thumb around the edge of the mixture/rim of the dish, this helps it to rise up with straight sides. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 (not time given, but suggest 25 minutes) until risen and golden brown. Do not open the oven door as it cooks or it will collapse. Let us hope you have an oven door with a window so that you can watch it rising and change coloour. Otherwise, fingers crossed.

For the first of the desserts, although it might seem expensive, it is very similar to the soft-scoop ice-cream recipe I gave months ago. So a batch could be made and then scoops served as ice-cream - or served in individual dishes as the recipe suggests, calling it 'an iced souffle'. Almost any fruit puree could be used, I suggest canned peaches (drained of syrup or juice (freeze this to make up jellies), cans of which are sold quite cheaply (loss-leaders?) at the supermarkets. Although the original recipe uses all cream, I have used a blend of half cream half yogurt as being less costly and less rich.
Iced Fruit Souffle: 6 - 8 according to ramekin size
1 can peach slices, drained
6 egg whites
12 oz granulated sugar
half pint (275ml) double creme, lightly whipped
half a pint (275ml) thick yogurt
Keep back a couple of slices of peach to use as garnish, and puree the remainder. Put the sugar into a small pan and add just enough water to cover. Bring to the boil and when a little of the syrup when dropped into cold water, forms a soft ball, then it is ready. Remove from heat for the moment.
Whisk up the egg whites until very thick and have stiff peaks. Replace the sugar onto the heat and bring back to the boil, then very slowly (and very carefully) pour this into the whites while they are still being beaten. When all the syrup has been beaten in, stand the bowl in cold water to cool it down as rapidly as possible.
Meanwhile whip the cream to the thickness of the yogurt and fold them together, then fold this into the fruit puree, finally fold that into the meringue.
To serve as ice-cream, just spoon the lot into a lidded container and leave to freeze. Scoop out as required.
To serve as an iced mousse: wrap parchment paper around ramekin dishes, about an inch or so higher than the dish itself, then pour the mixture into the moulds and freeze. To serve, peel off the papers and decorate with a small sliver of peach or a sprinkle of grated chocolate.

The final recipe is one I remember from my youth. Not mentioned much these days but well worth making, a more upmarket version of an individual apple pie. When our crop of apples are ready, I peel core and freeze some whole ready to fill the centres and wrap with pastry (or I could fill and wrap, then freeze). They can be cooked from frozen, just allowing a little more time for the apple to cook - if so, tent with foil half-way through cooking to prevent overbrowning the pastry.
Apple Dumplings : makes 8
1 batch shortcrust pastry
milk or water
8 Bramley or large cooking apples, peeled and cored
1 jar (or part jar) mincemeat*
4 oz (100g) demerara sugar
Roll out the pastry fairly thinly, and cut out 8 circles, each large enough to wrap around an apple (get a kitchen paper and practise first to get the size right). Brush each circle of pastry with milk, then stand an apple in the centre. Stuff the hole in the middle with mincemeat, folding the pastry right round the fruit. Stand the apples on a baking sheet with the fold under. Use some of the pastry scraps to use for garnish, cutting out leaves and brushing with milk to stick a few onto each of the the apples. Brush the whole thing again with the milk and sprinkle over the sugar. Make a hole in the top to allow steam to escape and then bake for half an hour at 180C, 350F, gas 4. Serve hot with custard.
* Tip: if you haven't any mincemeat, soak some dried mixed peel with a little brandy or rum overnight and use this instead, or if only a little mincemeat in store, add this to more dried fruits adding a little brandy for an overnight soak. No brandy? Then use orange juice.
Leftover scraps of pastry should never be thrown away, stack puff pastry trimmings on top of each other (to keep the layers even), or just gather up short pastry scraps in a ball to be re-rolled later. They can be frozen.