Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Grains of Truth

Quite often semolina can be used instead of another grain (such as cornmeal) with and without flour when baking cakes, biscuits, and savoury drop scones.

Semolina Polenta or Gnocchi:
2 oz (50g) semolina
half pint (300ml) milk or water *
half tsp made mustard
salt and pepper
3 oz (75g) grated cheese
egg and breadcrumbs
Cook the semolina in the milk until boiling and thickened. Keep stirring as it cooks so the mixture remains smooth. Stir in the mustard and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add half the grated cheese. Pour into a shallow dish (small Swiss roll tin) – it needs to form a layer about ½” thick, and leave to cool. When quite cold cut into 1” squares (for gnocchi) or larger if using as polenta. Dip into the egg and crumbs and fry until golden on both sides, serve with the remaining grated cheese and a tomato sauce, OR arrange (as polenta) in overlapping slices in a greased ovenproof dish, sprinkling over the remaining cheese plus a few dabs of butter. Heat through in a hot oven or brown under a grill.

Note: *gnocchi are best made with milk, polenta can be made with milk or water. Either can be prepared well ahead of time to be heated up prior to eating.

Summer Cake
3 oz (75g) soft margarine
3 oz (75g) sugar
grated zest and juice of one orange
2 large eggs
3 oz (75g) self-raising flour
3 oz (75g) semolina
½ tsp baking powder
Cream together the sugar and margarine until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and the orange juice. Sift together the flour, semolina and baking powder and lightly beat this into the creamed fat and egg mixture. Spoon into a greased and floured ring mould and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 45 minutes or until cooked. Leave in the tin for five minutes then turn out and cook on a cake airer.
Tip: if using an electric oven, turn out the heat after 30 minutes and finish baking the cake in the stored heat, allowing five minutes longer before removing from oven.

Custard powder is another useful store cupboard ingredient that can occasionally be pressed into service. Even when making custard the traditional way, with eggs and milk, chefs take to adding a teaspoon of custard powder or cornflour to prevent the mixture curdling.
Custard powder can be added to flour when making pastry, cake or biscuits to add extra flavour. Just remember that custard powder is basically flavoured and coloured cornflour, so whenever cornflour is used in a recipe, custard powder could be used instead. Not sweet in itself, suppose it could also be used to thicken liquids in savoury dishes, as long as it will accept the flavouring - that possibly being faintly vanilla.
Here is a biscuit recipe using custard powder:
Alexandra Biscuits: makes 16
2 oz (50g) custard powder
2 oz (50g) self-raising flour
2 oz (50g) butter or margarine
1 oz (25g) caster sugar
1 egg
Sift together the custard powder and the flour, stir in the sugar and rub in the fat. Stir in the egg and mix to a firm dough. On a lightly floured board roll out the biscuit dough and cut into circles using a scone cutter (or top of a glass). Put on a greased baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 160C, 325F, gas 3 until golden. Remove from oven and place on a cake airer to get cold. Store in an airtight tin.
Tip: do not cook any biscuits until hard, as they harden up after removal from the oven. If taken out too early, and once cold found to be soften than required, just replace in pre-heated oven and cook for a further minute or two.

Several store cupboard ingredients have more than one use. Cup-a-soup mixes, as mentioned yesterday, are very good to adding to a home-made soup or casserole to give extra flavour and also work as a thickening. Instant potato is another good addition to thicken up a savoury dish.
Canned soups, especially the cheaper ones, can be used instead of a packet 'casserole mix', particularly good to use in slow cookers when cooking meat. Condensed soups, used undiluted, make excellent fillings for vol au vents, especially when more of the 'flavour' is folded into the soup. Add finely diced raw or cooked mushrooms to the mushroom soup, diced cooked chicken to chicken soup, perhaps finely chopped ham to the chicken soup. Canned asparagus tips can go into the asparagus soup, with the stalks being blitzed with egg and milk to go into an 'asparagus quiche (saving a few tips to pop on top before baking).

Dried milk can be used in ways other than reconstituting - instead of adding milk to anything, just add the required amount of powder and make up the dish with water. To give a richer, creamier flavour, add more powder.
Dare I say this - but at one time, having discovered a 'bottle' of 'five pints' dried milk years past its, actually dissolved it into my bath water and wallowed in that. Well, if it was good enough for Cleopatra...