Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Suitable for the Purpose

Yesterday's supper was another bargain bag experiment. This time I chose the can of curry sauce (5p) and the pack of noodles (8p), planning to make a prawn curry with the remaining tiger prawns from the freezer (half-price pack bought some time back). Beloved was given rice as the noodles made only enough for one, the sachet containing the flavouring was kept for later use. Obviously the prawns were the costly ingredient, but cheap enough, Beloved had most of them.
Considering the price, we were both very surprised how good the curry sauce was, the can even coming with a ring-pull (usually adding a couple of pence to the price of a can). Reading the label, the curry sauce contained sultanas, mango chutney, think it might have had coconut, spices of course, and few (if any) unwanted additives. It took only a couple or so minutes to heat up, the noodles likewise took less than 3 minutes to cook in boiling water. The (thawed) prawns were heated with the curry sauce, the rice (apologies for using a micropouch) took 2 minutes to heat up in the microwave. My helping of noodles, few prawns and half the curry sauce cost in total, about 25p.
Apart from remembering to bring the prawns out to thaw in time, the actual 'cooking' of the meal took less than five minutes.

Although many would say I should be ashamed of serving such cheap foods, in fact I was overjoyed that sometimes (and I stress only sometimes) this can work well, although perhaps more to do with what they have been cooked with it. Certainly I feel the curry sauce bought was good value for the price. Naturally not as good as the top brands of canned and bottle curry sauce, that goes without saying, but this particular sauce was tasty, mild - similar to a Korma - and would go well with fish, chicken, even poured over hardboiled eggs. Although not yet tried, I would expect, when thickened in some way, once cooled, it could also turn into a very good curry dip.

Buying and using low-priced food works well only if the money saved is put towards buying other, and mainly fresh produce, of top quality. This way we get the best of both worlds - at (when you think about it) no extra cost than when buying the mediocre. Although my £5 bargain bag was eye-opening, most of the items are intended to have a supporting role, rather than acting as the star ingredient of any dish. With cheap food, such as the bread mentioned in an earlier posting, all can have a purpose, and not always the one originally intended (cheap bread = sandwiches, NOT!). As Janet commented ( about food) : "learn to think, and think in different ways". I couldn't have put it better myself.

This next dish is one where we need to use the right rice for the right purpose, so when making a risotto always use Arborio or other risotto rice, otherwise don't bother and make something else instead. Basically this is a green risotto, so vary the green vegetable according to the season. Always worth growing a few mangetout or sugarsnap peas in the garden, as - apart from the pods - cookery fashion now decrees we should pop a few pea shoots into our salads as well, so these too now have a purpose other than growing taller. What next I wonder?
Green Vegetable Risotto: serves 4 (V)
1 - 2 tblsp sunflower or olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
8 oz (225g) risotto rice
1.5 pints (900ml) hot vegetable stock
6 oz (175g) small broccoli spears
2 oz (50g) peas
1 can asparagus spears, drained
2 tblsp fresh chives or other herbs, chopped
salt and pepper
2 tblsp pesto
2 - 3 tblsp grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and saute the onion until softened. Stir in the rice until the grains are coated with the oil, cook for a further 2 minutes. Pour one third of the hot stock into the rice and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed, then add another couple of ladles of stock, simmering until that also has been absorbed. Add more stock and the broccoli to the pan, continuing to add more stock as necessary. Finally add the peas, and asparagus tops (keeping the stalks for something else, see foreword), and when the rice is just tender, stir in the herbs. The rice needs to have absorbed the liquid but should still be creamy, not at all dry. Season to taste.
Divide the rice in half, stir the pesto into one half, the cheese into the other, then lightly fold together so that not all the rice has turned green (purely for presentation/appearance, it can all be mixed together). Serve at once.

This next recipe has been adapted for using the packet of chicken noodles (8p), some of the canned sweetcorn (approx 5p worth), chicken stock (could be home-made but the sachet with the noodles will give the flavour), leftover cooked chicken taken from the carcase after making stock (free), and a few extra items from the fridge/cupboard. Altogether a good lunch dish which could easily be stretched to an extra helping or three. Keep fresh ginger root in the freezer, then it is always there to grate.
Chicken Noodle Soup: serves 2 plus
1.5 pints (900ml) water or chicken stock
approx 6 oz (175g) shredded cooked chicken
1 tsp grated root ginger
1 clove garlic, finely chopped (opt)
1 small pack chicken noodles
2 tblsp canned or frozen sweetcorn
2 mushrooms, thinly sliced
a few very thinly sliced shreds of red bell pepper
2 spring onions, thinly sliced diagonally
2 tsp soy sauce
few small basil or mint leaves for garnishing
Boil the stock, break up the pack of noodles and add to the pan, adding the flavour sachet if using water, but can also add it to chicken stock. Stir round, then add half the spring onions and the rest of the ingredients, simmering until the noodles are cooked (about 3 minutes). Ladle into bowls, sprinkling over the remaining onion and garnish with strips of pepper and a leaf or two of herbs.
Vegetarian variation: use vegetable stock, plain noodles, and tofu instead of chicken.

Sorting out my endless scraps of paper scribbled with suggestions discovered in the past, have come across one which would make good use of that cheap bread bought the other week (and stored in my freezer).
Perfect for topping all kinds of broth, from the chunky winter warmers, to the cool summer soups. Although I bought medium sliced bread, toasting thickness was also sold for the same price.
Pesto Croutons:
4 thick slices bread, cut into chunks
3 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp pesto
Put the olive oil in a bowl with the pesto and mix together. Drop in the chunks of bread then toss together until the cubes are evenly coated. Tip onto a baking sheet and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for about 10 minutes or until crisp.

Right - a further attempt to find a recipe that could use up almost-ready-to-throw-away apples, plus the dented cheap can of pears bought in my bargain bag, was needed, and surprise, surprise, has suddenly surfaced - right in front of me. Not only that, it can also make use of the cheap bread and blackberries from the freezer. Sometimes I think I must have a guardian angel doing my filing. Always the right recipe turns up at the right time.
Pauper's Pudding: serves 4
1 small can pears
2 cooking or eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced
juice of half a lemon
3 oz (75g) light brown sugar
4 oz (100g) blackberries
slices white bread, crusts removed
Strain the pears and put their juice in a pan with the lemon juice and sugar, heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then add the apples and simmer until soft. Stir in the blackberries and cook until they are just softened but still holding their shape. Chop up the pears and add these to the pan. Stir together then remove from the heat.
Drain the fruit and pour the syrup into a shallow bowl. Cut the bread to fit over the base and around the sides of the dish and dip one side of each into the juice before arranging the bread to cover the base and sides of the bowl (juice side facing out). Make sure there are no gaps, overlap the bread if necessary.
Spoon the fruit into the bread-lined cavity, along with more juice (any remaining juice can be served with the pudding), and fit a lid of bread over the top. Place on a saucer and a weight (baked bean tin for instance), and leave in the fridge overnight to chill.
To serve, remove weight and saucer, and invert basin onto a shallow dish. Remove basin and the pudding into wedges to serve with reserved juice and creme fraiche.