Sunday, March 16, 2008

Learn Something New Every Day

Although I tend to cook lamb shanks in the oven, after first browning in a frying pan, then transferring into a lidded casserole with a little water, cover and cook at a low oven temperature (17oC, 325F, gas 3 - or even less) for about a couple of hours or until the meat falls from the bones - this is the hob-top method.
To cook lamb shanks:
Use, if possible, a heavy metal saucepan (pref not non-stick kind), with a tight fitting lid, and one of a size that will hold the shanks fairly easily.
Remove any excess fat from the surface of the shanks, but make sure you leave the membrane. Salt the shanks and put a couple of tablespoons of oil in the pan, and when hot, brown the shanks. Turn down the heat to as low as possible, and cover the pan. Cook the shanks for at least one and a half hours, turning them occasionally. The idea is to let the shanks stew in their own juices. Depending upon the type of pan used, these juices should hold their own for up to an hour, but with some pans the juices evaporate too quickly, so as soon as the pan begins to sizzle, then add a tablespoon of water from time to time so that a very little liquid always remains at the bottom of the pan. Once the meat has become tender, and dropping off the bone, stop putting in the water and when all the liquid has evaporated and again the pan begins to sizzle, remove the meat to a plate. To make a gravy, deglaze the pan with white wine, stirring with a wooden spoon to remove the caramel. You need only enough 'jus' to coat the shanks. Serve one shank (still on the bone) with chosen vegetables. We like the shanks with new (small) potatoes cooked in their skins, tossed with a little butter, and minted peas. Serving also mint sauce and redcurrant jelly. But shanks can be cooked as a stew, after the initial browning, with onions, potatoes and carrots, adding water or stock, all in the pot together.

Although we don't normally need to take advantage of all this 'ready-prepared', if this is the direction cookery is going, then at least we can move with the times and show the younger ones how easy it can be to follow the trend in our own (or their)kitchens, for it takes little time to dice, blanch, and then freeze vegetables (or even prepare ahead ready for the next couple of days to keep in the fridge) . We could do the same with minced or diced meats, cook them first, cool them down, bag them up, then freeze (a bag of cooked minced beef can be turned into chilli con carne, a biryani curry, a spag.bol meat sauce, meat balls, a cottage pie, and many other dishes to numerous to mention). With a little thought we can all 'do a Delia', yet in our case it wouldn't be cheating at all. Just advance planning, and all that money saved. Think I'll call it this economy fast-track.

One of our daughters told me that she had been talking to a friend who - strangely in this day and age - didn't have a freezer. Our daughter (only two in family) has a chest freezer in their garage and another (smaller) in their house. Couldn't manage without them, she told the girl, who found it puzzling that someone would eat that many ready-made frozen meals, for she believed that was all a freezer was used for.

With fresh vegetables for sale, two recipes today are based around 'greens''. The first being a pasta sauce that needs no cooking. Although spinach is the green ingredient in both recipes, steamed kale should work just as well, or even any dark green leaf that will soften and wilt when steaming. Walnuts could be used instead of pine nuts.
Green Spinach 'pesto' Pasta Sauce: serves 4
4 oz (100g) spinach leaves (or other dark green vegetable leafage)
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
juice of 1 small lemon (or half a large)
1 x 250g tub cream cheese (Philly type) or mascarpone
1 oz (25g) grated Parmesan cheese
2 oz (50g) toasted pine nuts
Wash the spinach and cook in a dry pan until just wilted. Leave to cool. Put into a food processor with the remaining ingredients and whizz to a smooth sauce. Stir into hot, drained cooked pasta, and serve with extra Parmesan sprinkled over.

This next is for a cannelloni type dish, but using spinach pancakes instead of the pasta tubes. A low-cost vegetarian dish it looks very appetising because of its colour. Again, any wilted/cooked green vegetable leaf could be used instead of spinach. Instead of making the tomato sauce from scratch, you could use bought passata and add extra seasoning to taste. Although nutmeg is not included in the recipes, it goes well with greens.
Spinach Pancakes with Ricotta: serves 4 (V)
5 oz (150g) plain flour
2 eggs
9 fl oz (270ml) milk
salt and pepper
4 oz (100g) frozen spinach, thawed, drained, finely chopped
2 x 250g tubs ricotta cheese (or cottage cheese, sieved)
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp tomato puree
2 tsp chopped fresh basil
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
2 oz (50g) Parmesan cheese
Make the pancake batter by beating together the flour, eggs and milk (or blitz together in a blender). Stir the prepared spinach into the batter and season to taste. Heat a little oil in a 10" (25cm) frying pan and pour in about 5 tblsp of the batter, tilting the pan to cover the base. Cook until light brown underneath, turn and cook the other side for about 30 secs. Remove, put on a plate and repeat with the remaining batter to make four pancakes in all.
Season the ricotta with salt and pepper, and divide between the pancakes. Roll up into tubes and place in a greased, shallow ovenproof dish.
Make the sauce by frying the onion in the oil for four minutes, add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Stir in the paprika and tomato puree, then stir in the chopped tomatoes and cook until heated through. Remove from heat and stir in the basil.
Pour the tomato sauce over the filled pancakes, sprinkling the top with the grated cheese and season with a little more pepper. Bake for 20 minutes at 180F, 350F, gas 4. Serve with a crisp green salad.

Herethis is a way to make a veggie sausage, the best cheese to use is one that melts easily. As I absolutely love Wensleydale cheese on toast, then this is my choice. Choose a different herb if you wish.
Yorkshire Meatless Sausages: serves 4 (V)
1 lb (450g) cooked, mashed potatoes
1 oz (50g) butter
4 oz (100g) button mushrooms, finely chopped
4 oz (100g) Wensleydale cheese, grated
1 tblsp chopped parsley
3 0z (75g) white breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
0il and butter
Melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the mushrooms for a couple of minutes. Put the potatoes into a bowl and tip in the mushrooms. Add the cheese adn parsley, adding seasoning to taste. Form into 8 sausage shapes and roll into the breadcrumbs. Chill for half an hour (or to make them easier to handle, freeze for no longer than half an hour).
Put a little oil and butter into a frying pan and when hot, add the sausages, turning from time to time, for about 8 minutes, until golden brown. Serve with salad.